Monday, 20 May 2013

at last

And here we are, the final photos and tales of our little Penang trip. Ah, I love the way that photos can feel like the sprinkling of memories, the little trigger/nod that unleashes all that lies underneath, the smells, the emotions, laughter, tears, the goings on beyond the frame.  
This photo sits still waiting, waiting for the chilli to be smelt for potency and for watermelon juice to be spilt all over the plates and table. 
My dad wiping the plates dry, a satisfied smile, anticipating the meal to come and the simple pleasure of being with his family, feeling relaxed and carefree.
The search for the Fittonia or 'nervous' plant that retracts when you touch it, is finally over. By the side of a busy road, we stop and poke and marvel.
The one meal that my aunt cooked for us (she is an amazing cook), so simple but the taste was amazing, she literally throws a few ingredients together and comes up with this. The noodles weren't gluggy, there was a beautiful hint of char and a flavour that was simply sublime.
Smells of dried shrimp paste, chills and pickled fruits.
Patterned tiles, arched hallways, wandering aimlessly.
Walking past these folk playing chess with beer bottle tops, before heading to dinner at a chinese restaurant, all seem quite innocent, no sign of the night of hell to follow. You see not long after this Ilo decided to lick, yes lick a glass door of a 24hr mart in downtown Georgetown. We were about to walk out said door (which was decidely grubby) and his little tongue just reached out and licked. I wiped his tongue on my skirt, washed out his mouth, plied him with probiotics and vitamin C and then a few hours later when a fever struck him, held him close and vowed not to sleep until the fever past. In the dark hotel room with Scott lying by me wide awake, my brain ran wild with catastrophic thoughts, of typhoid, hep B and then went even crazier as outside fireworks became explosions, it was a long night. Ilo awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed, oblivious to our despair (and sleeplessness).
These bundles and the following images of bits and pieces are a little peek into a very special shop on Chulia or maybe Kimberly Lebuh (street) in Georgetown, I can't quite remember which street as I kind of meandered about until I found it. Georgetown is the capital of Penang and is, due to it's unique colonial architecture and cultural significance, officially a UNESCO heritage site. It is full of quirky little terrace buildings in various states, some immaculately restored, others uniquely authentic and some in total disrepair. What I love to do here is to peer in and see so many skills being honoured, tailors sewing with old singer machines or hand stitching, herbalists with jars of all sorts of oddities, cobblers, artists, mechanics, basket weavers. All these special little shops, upholding their craft, providing the ability to fix what has been broken rather than have that object being thrown away due to the lack of anyone skilled enough to be able to fix whatever it may be. It is a space that holds customs, holds the simple way of life, of fixing with hands, with intent and purpose. This is both fascinating and confronting, confronting due to the lack of support given in our and many other western countries at keeping simple handskills and trades alive.
Anyway I digress, back to this little store. As avid readers might be aware I do love to op shop, both Scott and I (and our children and most of our extended family for that matter) prefer to buy secondhand, we wait for things, we search, we delight in the joy of finding treasures that others have discarded. So you can imagine my delight when on our last visit to Penang we found this shop full of wonderful bits and pieces and lots of old clothes wrapped up in these delicious bundles. Yes a lot of the bundles held rags and scraps but they also held wonderful and scrumptious morsels of vintage Kebayas,  white lace tops (heavily stained but easily fixed) a little but gorgeous patchwork quilt and a few patchwork baby tops.
I must admit I did have a moment of pure joy as the shop owner sat me down, once registering my interest in some 'old clothes', on a little stool and handled me bundle after bundle as offerings. It was quiet in the shop (Poe and Ilo and Scott were at the hotel) and I lapped it up, I sat and smiled and nodded to the lovely shop keeper (who spoke very little english) and did not feel rushed at all. Pure bliss. And then only after all the bundles had been looked through, and a gathering of purchases made, I was thrust back out in the sunshine, amongst bikes and cars, dogs, people and smells and I smiled all the way back to the hotel with my precious bundle of bits of Penang's, history, some of it's stories told through these worn cloths, tucked safely under my arm.

One of Scott's most favourite meals away was the curry mee, as well as a variety of other noodle soups so full of flavour, not much oil with just the perfect amount of chilli. This was his last soup of the holidays it was at Viva, an outdoor food market just a stroll down the road from my aunt's.
This food market was the perfect place to sit and watch, looking and smelling all these different and delicious foods like satay, roti canai, clay pot rice, fresh seafood, char kway teow, kuih, dumplings, apom and more. Seeing the people cooking on the simple stoves, others eating, talking, staring, laughing.

Another pretty special Georgetown moment happened on the first day in town, when Poe, Ilo, Scott, my dad and I stepped out onto Penang road (the busy main rd in Georgetown), my dad looked up and across the road and said with such lightness and delight, 'Over there was where I saw Pushpa for the  first time, she was wearing a green Kebaya with flared jeans that had a drawing of Mickey Mouse on them, she was with her mum. I was wearing flared jeans and an orange tshirt. We caught each others eye and looked at each other, she was so beautiful'.
We all stopped and looked and took in the beauty and wonderful repercussions of that fortuitous first look, imagining my mum and dad in their twenties in old Penang seeing each other for the first time, with no idea whatsoever of what was to come, just cherishing and delighting in that first flutter that came with that first look.
One particularly warm day, we decided to hire a taxi and go on a around the island adventure (well, really it was just a drive around the island, with only one little smattering of adventure). So with water bottles filled and a few snacks packed my mum, dad and our little family set off with a Taxi driver my dad had become acquainted with. It took a few hours to go around the island with a number of stops along the way. We headed off from Georgetown, out past the airport going in a clockwise direction. It was bittersweet seeing some of the old Kampung Houses and little villages, so beautiful yet so threatened by ' development', the taxi driver was saying that the government has the right, if they so wish, to just take the house off the people if they wish to widen roads or put in a development with very minimal payout. It will only be a matter of years before the whole island is full of unsightly, monstrous apartment buildings, estates and wider roads. It was so sad and really confronting to realise this, especially as you drive past these areas which are so beautiful and gentle and relatively untouched.

My dad recalled his first visit to Penang, he had just flown in from Australia and met up with a RAAF friend (my dad was in the RAAF for a few years, which was why he was in Penang when he met my mum), the friend put my dad on the back of his motorbike and offered to take him around the island, and he did. My dad said it was terrifying as they essentially raced around the island on a motorbike, it was definitely a surreal experience, particularly coming from a small country town in Australia and this being his first experience overseas, never having been on a motorbike before, least of all hooning around a tropical island full of so many strange sights.
Our taxi driver pointed out various attractions, the waterfall, butterfly farm, snake temple, spice garden, etc. but these already had spent some time in our past, so we were content to just look and talk and reminisce. But then he pointed out an old looking sign for a thai restaurant, claiming it was very good and suggesting we visit it. We agreed and he turned up a concrete road, past old bamboo shacks, and started climbing higher and higher up this incredibly steep road. We were a bit unsure but distracted ourselves by pointing out rubber and coconut trees, durian, logan, dragon fruit and countless other fruit trees as we climbed higher and higher and then we reached the top. The first thing I noticed was the incredible and unique view of Penang, it looked gentle and relaxed and with a decent amount of greenery still about, beguiling the frenzy that lay beneath. But then I turned around and was startled and amused by the worn but plentiful features of this place. There were concrete rabbits hiding in the grass, big fabric elephants, broken concrete giraffes, everywhere you would glance there would be some surreal theme parked style oddity.
A metal rocket ship teetering on the edge of a cliff, old bungalows offering tired accommodation, but perfectly manicured lawns being tendered to by a number of staff.
Sadly there were cages with squirrels running about, birds squawking and a very sad looking chameleon in dirty glass box.
We stopped and ate a few delicious thai entrees, the lone customers in this mighty place. The taxi driver said that when it first opened a few years ago (!, yes surprisingly this was not a remnant from the 50's despite all appearances pointing suggesting so), there were tremendous line ups and people would drive from all over the island and brave the ridiculously steep and long driveway to eat here. It was very good Thai and although we didn't try it, it apparently has the most amazing Tom Yum Goong.
As we clung onto our seats on the way down the hill (seriously, if you haven't gathered already this was steep and a little scary), we delighted in the surreal and pretty wonderful experience, we would never have found this place on our own.

The second last day of our holiday, we were back at the G for two nights to celebrate Scott's birthday and delight in that buffet breakfast for one more time. Even though we were paying the internet rate we were lucky enough to get an upgrade to this crazy suite, yes the bath looks onto the bedroom (or vice a versa), it did kind of feel like we were in a hotel room in a movie. We also received a special birthday message from the hotel for Scott, a bottle of red wine, and a birthday cake, yep, totally fancy and quite surreal. 
Our last trip to the night food markets, on our very last night, my mum, dad and I took more time than we intended as we wandered about soaking it all up. We took time as we stopped and watched and waited for our tofu Char Kway Teow, marvelling at the speed and effortlessness as this lady churned out dish after dish, and by the taste of it and the sign below, she sure knew what she was doing.
Thanks for accompanying me on this little trip, hopefully it wasn't too drawn out, I did do my best to chock each post with as many photos as I could and even still there are still many many photos sitting on our computer sobbing, sobbing that they were not chosen to star in the Penang series, oh well, what can you do.


  1. I've loved, loved joining you on your trip. I was in Penang in the 70s with my also in the RAAF ex-husband. So many memories of things I didn't know I remembered! I rambled all over the island in our bright blue 1950 car with the huge fins, baby tucked up in his car seat, visting local women in the kampungs, befriending street kids who I used to pay to watch my car, going places and mixing with people the airforce frowned on....and hubby too! I recognised so many places from your photos, but more I remembered the flavour of the place, and didn't realise I missed it so much. Oh, and the food, oh my char kway teow, my favourite. I'd love to see more of your photos.

    1. Oh wow Nanette, I am so happy that you have come along and enjoyed our trip. I loved your story about you and the blue 1950's car rambling all over the island, wow. My dad was in the RAAF in the early 70s. Oh the food indeed, it is amazing. So lovely to meet you. xxx jay.

  2. Thanks again so much for this series of posts, Jay. It was such a treat. I'm pretty sure I've been to that strange restaurant. I remember the floral clock. But I might be thinking of a similar one on Penang Hill. Love the old house altar photo above, too.


    Jeni waves to Nanette and says "from one of your long time blog readers - please post again soon, we all miss you!"

  3. Hello Jeni, awww, thankyou, waving back. I'm sorry I don't remember you, were you a lurker :) I had such a rought time with the internet for a while, trojaned twice, then a nasty virus that shut me down until I could get it fixed. Lots of time being spent with that adorable puppy of mine, who is now nearly one, sick for a while, and some days it just seemed too hard. I do want to crank it up again, so please watch for me and come say hello. And you've been to Penang too?

    ** don't mind us Jay, we'll just chat away together on your blog lol We were in Penang from 76 until 79 so maybe a bit later than your dad?

    1. Oh you two are so gorgeous, please feel free to meet and catch up here anytime!

    2. Jay: thank you, you are kind, we'll do that then LOL

      Nanette: Yes I was a terribly lurker :). I agree life can ready get in the way of blogging, and it's one of those things that if you stop doing regularly it's terribly hard to get back into. But we do miss you - some puppy photos especially would go down a treat! And yes, I've been to Penang several times. Only as a visitor (my family is in Bali). But it's always been one of my favorite places, and I often dream and scheme about how to get back there.

  4. Jay, there are very few blogs I visit these days, but your beautiful space here keeps drawing me in. It is like a sit and soak in your words, look at your amazing photographs and gain a sense of your warm spirit.
    Thank you also for sharing your journey through Penang. I have loved it. xxxx

    1. Oh Judith, that is so very kind, wow, thank you. I am so delighted that you enjoy visiting this space, I love having you here. xxx

  5. Such a delightful journey I've just been on thanks to you. Well, mostly delightful I held my breath upon reading the LICKING glass incident me oh my children are so unpredictable! And then I welled up with tears at the story of your parents laying eyes on each other for the first time. Sigh. Loved the fancy hotel birthday - two of my favorite things - fancy hotels and birthdays! And then true to form you made me laugh with your finish, the concept of photos that sob because they were left out. You crack me up. Gorgeous photos as always I am going back for a second slower look to study their detail. xx

    1. Oh nikki, i so loved your comment, such a delight to read, it too was funny and emotional. so lovely to see your smiley face. can't wait to see it even closer soon. xxx jay


thank you, thank you for sharing your words, thoughts, feelings. xx