First impressions on Penang
Moving country at nearly sixty years of age is a strange thing.
Those who have read my other articles will know that I have lived in Spain for 25 years, and breaking old habits comes more difficult with age, which has led to me trying to order things in Spanish in a country that speaks English in the main.
The last time I was in SE Asia was 30+ years ago, when I had some strange events which brought me down here, which are better forgotten!
This time I have a clearer vision and more relaxed inner self, and nobody is liable to kill me!...so my observations will hopefully be more balance than in earlier times.
So what's Penang like?
Actually it's really beautiful in an unkempt way, with a mixture of high tech modern buildings and infrastructure mixed with old colonial architecture and legacy which though often in disrepair, is still standing and protected from demolition.
So in the middle of the main city Georgetown (feel that British influence ) a magnificent colonial house will stand between skyscraper office blocks and apartments, despite the land value being staggering IF they could destroy it and rebuild a skyscraper.
Fortunately it seems the Malaysians value their heritage.
An American friend wrote me asking if I had 'experienced' any signs of Islamic discrimination against Christians, which shows us that folk must get out more, because generally I have found a society which is truly multi cultural and seemingly integrated.
Yes Malaysia is a Muslim country, but Penang is an island which seems to have been settled by more Chinese than Malaysians, followed closely by a large Indian community, so religion, whilst always evident, is not intrusive.
The only odd thing I've seen so far was that the Muslim checkout girl in my local supermarket put a plastic cover glove, similar to those you see in gas stations, before she picked up my pack of bacon to run it through the till.
Interesting, especially as the bacon was already vacuum packed in a plastic envelope!
What is amazing is the low cost of living here, in my new project we work strange hours, so breakfast is liable to be an Indian meal at Kapitans, a favoured curry house.
Eating curry at 7am is not natural to me, but we enjoy a great Indian curry breakfast and never have to pay more than 9 MR (Malaysian Ringgit) which is about $3 US.... even the local Subway joint is only 12 MR for a 6 inch sandwich on good bread, so eating out is a definite low cost bonus, especially when you are earning in dollars!
Taxi's are cheap also, as well as housing and car rentals, and even gasoline is cheaper by 50% than I was paying in Europe.
But the weather is rather unsettled, especially as we are entering the monsoon season, when it can deluge with (warm) rain for an hour, then be dry and fresh until the next downpour.
This weekend I visited some beach bars, one 'posh' establishment, the other a bamboo shack style, the beaches are not spectacular, unless you come from somewhere that has no beaches, like the UK, but coming from Spain, they are just 'so so' which is I guess because on this side of the island we face the Mallaca Straights, which carries some heavy sea traffic.
Now beach bars are always more expensive, and these are no different, especially as they cater to tourists and ex pats, but still in the posh one we ate spring rolls, satay and some strange but tasty seafood dish, washed down with two Mojitos and a coffee, and it cost less than 50 MR, which is about $13 US, and the other bar was even cheaper, where a Mango Laasi (mango and yogurt drink) and a nasi goreng (a rice dish with prawns and chicken, plus satay sticks on the side) cost only 16 MR, which is about $5 US.
Definitely a place to visit if you want good food at very low cost!
My strange hours mean I need to sleep a while now, but I will report further when I have had time to explore more of this place.
Coming from Spain it's hard to get too excited about Penang, like a travel agent friend once said, when I asked her about the Seychelles.... "It's just another tropical paradise!"
Hasta la vista!