Stuck in Penang

My few days in Penang has sort of turned into a week in Penang. Penang is an interesting place and not quite like anything else I’ve experienced in my travels so far.

Penang (along with Malaka) was recently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Penang is an old port of the British East India Company and you can see that reflected in the architecture of the city. When you usually visit cities like this (thinking of old Spanish or British colonial cities in North America) the old buildings are usually restored and most of the buildings in the town, save for a few blocks, are new buildings. Not in Penang. Most of the buildings here are older Colonial buildings. Most have not been restored. They are used for day to day business and many are falling apart.

I have heard it said that George Town is what Singapore would be like if it hadn’t been kicked out of Malaysia in the 60’s. I think they are right.

Penang is a very Chinese city. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were walking around a Chinese city rather than a Malaysian one. Malaysia is a true multicultural country. The term “multicultural” is often thrown around in the US, but in reality it is more multiethnic than multicultural. The difference is subtle, but important. I know lots of people of Indian or Chinese descent from the US. While there are certainly some cultural influences they carry, they (like most European immigrants) will speak, follow sports, and otherwise carry on like Americans who have been in the US for generations. You can find enclaves where this is not true, but for the most part it is. It is certainly true for second or third generation immigrants to the country.

Penang is pretty cheap and the food here is very good. I’ve had great Indian and Chinese meals, and the have a night market with all sorts of food booths. I can get an enormous mug of limeade for a little over a dollar and large portions of grilled seafood and/or tandori chicken for only a few dollars on top of that.

A few days ago I woke up early and heard roosters crowing. Over the roosters came the sounds of the morning call to prayer from the mosque, and then on top of that, in the other direction, came church bells from the Catholic Church. I don’t think you are going to hear sounds like that in many places.

I finally leave for Thailand tomorrow. I’m scheduled to fly from Penang to Phuket, but yesterday the Phuket airport shut down because of the political protests. I hope they take Sundays off. My place in Phuket is stupid cheap. $8/day for my own room and bathroom. I can see why so many people go to Thailand.

Part of me is dreading Thailand for the same reason I was ambivalent about going to Bali. Thailand is an enormous tourist destination, especially for Europeans and it draws a lot of hippies. When the tsunami hit here several years ago, it was the biggest natural disaster in the history of ……Norway.

I haven’t been doing much writing this week. This is due 95% to sloth and laziness on my part and 5% to the wireless connection not working in my hotel. While there is nothing stopping me from writing offline, for some reason it is just easier to do when I have a live connection.