Published: January 28th 2008January 27th 2008
Rich and I arrived in Pulau Penang in need of excitement. (Note Pulau is Malay for island). Our time in Kaki Bukit was fun, and very relaxing, but it was time to get back to civilization, get our glad rags on (well my one nice shirt) and get out on the town. Unfortunately no-one else shared our enthusiasm for Wednesday night drinking and we soon find ourself playing "Find the bar with more than 5 people". A difficult game, and one that soon lost its charm. Disappointing to say the least.
Penang is a small island off the west coast of Malaysia. A prosperous trading port in colonial times the island has been ruled by several governments (Malaysia has only had full independence from British rule for the past 51 years) and now has a strong mix of Indian, Malay and Chinese cultures. Georgetown is the central hub of the island and seemed like a fun little city (if you get the night right). The colonial influence was less noticeable than i expected, but Georgetown still has some charm. Little India and Little China are nice places to wander around. Fantastic food frangrances floated out of little canteens. Music blasted its way out of an array of different shops. Scooters scooted past. And i felt like was back amongst the middle of the living world again. As for the rest of Penang, i didn't see any of it. I had ideas of spending a day zipping round the island on a scooter but after our lacklustre night out getting to somewhere more lively seemed a higher priority. Hence we brought forward our exit to the bright lights of Malaysia's capital city Kuala Lumpur (or KL to the locals).
Penang food is also reputed to be a great place to eat and based on my brief experience i wouldn't disagree. Stopping at a little canteen, on a random corner, i was presented with an amazing array of curry by a man with a particularly impressive moustache (Malaysia seems to have a real love for the Freddie Mercury moustache). Several different dishes for under 10 Ringgit left Wes a contented traveller. (the local currency, the Ringgit, is strangely abbreviated to RM and also confusingly referred to as dollars sometimes!.) It was i must admit, quite sad to leave a possible food heaven after just one night.
2 strange sights that i should share though occured in our brief stay in Georgtown.
One was the site of a near quadraplegic motoring along outside some bars/cafes/hostels offering to play songs over his wheelchair mounted soundsytem for a small sum. I felt sad that someone would be reduced to being a "Karaoke Cripple" and needed raise money on the streets. Rich felt less sad and was happy he was meeting people (people did stop and have a good chat with him). Either way it was a very strange, and ironic, sight watching his brightly lit wheelchair bouncing down the road blasting out "Born to be Wild". Maybe it is all about your attitude.
However thinking this couldn't be topped in the strangeness stakes was a definite mistake.
The next morning a mini-parade paraded through the centre Georgetown. I think it was related to the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations. Nothing odd about this. We sat down at an internet cafe. Nothing strange. People wandered past, some semi naked with pots on their heads. Perhaps a little peculiar but nothing too crazy. Then someone wandered past with a skewer through both their cheeks. And thinks took a turn for the untoward. We then noticed the guy had a lot of hooks pierced through his back.... and strings were attached to each of the hooks.... and someone was pulling on the strings!!! Very very peculiar... especially for 11am on a thursday morning!! Apparantly masochistic feats are a big part of the Chinese New Year celebrations being a celebration of their perfromers/victims powers of meditation. Rich and I were going to see more of this sort fo stuff when we got to KL but it took longer than expected and we missed a big celebration by one day!!!
Next stop KL...