Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Penang

During the school holidays two weeks ago, we made an ad hoc trip to Penang. E managed to get two days off work so over dinner on Wednesday night, we were deciding between Penang and Melaka. If we were to choose Melaka, C wanted to visit the museum. She said she wanted to 'see Hang Tuah'. I thought I could show her the house I used to live in and the schools that I went to as well. If it were Penang, she said she wanted to go to the Snake Temple. And I could show her the university I went to there.

Since it was the school holidays (which also coincided with the Singapore school hols), a destination like Penang was popular and most hotels, especially those by the beach were fully booked. Many of them had school holiday promo packages.  After dinner, we made a few phone calls and internet checks on hotels. We ended up with one right in the centre of Georgetown, near the landmark Komtar.

We had plans to visit the Snake Temple, the currently much-debated Botanical Garden (I wanted to see the tilting arch) and maybe Penang Hill. Although I had spent four years in Penang in the late 80s and early 90s, I never ever visited the Botanical Garden, while I did hike up Penang Hill. I was hoping Caitlin would be up to some outdoor, nature activity instead of her usual favourite, i.e. swimming at the pool or beach. But alas, knowing my child who thrives only on creature comforts, who cannot stand heat, perspiration and non-aircon places like coffeeshops and hawker stalls, we visited only the Snake Temple.

E and I were hoping to satisfy our 'makan-makan' cravings with visits to recommended coffee shops (we had a trusted Penang food guidebook). Since we were there for only three days, we managed to check out five places only, with C dragging her feet and sulking and complaining about the non-aircon places. We did go to an air conditioned nyonya restaurant for lunch after the visit to the Snake Temple. The food was pretty good. Since it was a short, last-minute trip, I also didn't get the chance to catch up with some old friends who live there.

After the Snake Temple and lunch, we retreated to the hotel room and spent the better part of the afternoon watching tv (yes, going on holiday and staying inside the hotel room to watch tv! *eyes rolling*) before heading out to Gurney Drive for dinner.

Food at the famed Gurney Drive is no longer good. And for the price you pay, you'd be disappointed with the quantity and quality you get. You can get better tasting ones at various stalls at coffee shops around Georgetown like those on Macalister Road, Burmah Road, Penang Road and Pulau Tikus. There are some big and new food centres in Penang too but we didn't visit any of them.

After dinner, we took a short walk along Gurney Drive and ended up in Gurney Plaza mall. And guess who convinced us to visit Toys R Us and to buy her a toy!

We didn't get a chance to go on an all-you-can-eat durian feast in Balik Pulau. I figured it was worth foregoing that craving to keep my sanity. Imagine trying to savour the rich taste of durian while you have one 'little pest' complaining about the orchard surroundings and the durians (she doesn't like durians!).

Looks like it was more of a holiday for her than for us adults. She got to swim in the pool on the final morning before checkout. And luckily, lunch at a coffeeshop which served very good chicken rice (her favourite) before we drove towards the Penang Bridge made up for the lousy char kway teow we had the night before at Gurney Drive. The char kway teow and wan tan mee in that coffeshop was quite good too. The steamed chicken was smooth and tender, and boy, we had to wait rather long to be served as it was lunchtime and almost the entire coffee shop's patrons had ordered chicken rice.

Driving around Penang this time, I got to see how much this island city has changed over the past 18-20 years. There's land reclamation, more highways and overhead carriageways, more high rise buildings and apartments, and slightly less rubbish. We drove past the entrance of my university and even that looks different now, with a few more buildings on what used to be open grassy patches. I couldn't recognise the roads around that area as what used to be zinc-roofed one-storey wooden shoplots and foodstalls have become multi-storey concrete shoplots and apartments. Undergrads these days have it much easier. Many 'proper' shops for them to get supplies and there's even a Tesco just a few hundred metres away. During my time, I had to buy biscuits, bread or Maggi mee from the traditional, dilapidated kedai runcit just outside the campus gate. I could pay 70 sen for a  bowl of Penang prawn noodles  and 40 sen for a glass of barley drink then at the coffeeshop that's no longer there now.

Traffic and the motorists' attitudes are still the same. Motorcyclists in Penang are kings of the road. They weave in and out and expect you to give way. One old man who parked his bike in front of our car just as we were about to drive out of the lot grumbled and gave us the dirty look when we gestured to him requesting him to move his bike so that our car could get out. Not to be intimidated, I scowled at him and gestured to point out his 'wrongdoing' behind the 'security' of my car window. I think if I knew how to argue in Hokkien, I'd have done so!

If it was a more leisurely holiday, minus the kid, I think I'd have eaten more and taken more photographs. Again, I've yet to load the photos I'd taken into the computer so the pics will have to be in the next post.

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