Marking George Town started as a competition initiated by the Penang state government. The idea was to physically brand George Town as a World Heritage Site. From among the entries in the international completion held in 2009 aimed at exploring innovative ideas in art and design for public places, sculpture work triumphed with its design concept of ‘voices from the people’. 52 unique and humorous illustrations in iron rod sculptures were installed against the city building walls. The sculptures have an element of Mario in them, or so I thought. The iron rod sculptures looked like Mario caricatures in Illustrated Weekly. The 52 locations marked in George Town are worth marking down in a walk because it gives one a walk down centuries of the city’s growth and history. I marked a few of them on my walk to Fort Cornwallis and back from the hotel on the day I reached Penang. Some of the interesting ones are:
1. Mr. Five Foot Way – Five foot ways were meant to protect pedestrians from hot sun and rain. As the number of immigrants increased and work became more difficult to find, many old and unemployed began using these corridors to set up small business. The Hokkiens began calling these traders ‘goh ka ki’ or ‘five foot way’ traders.
2. One Leg Kicks All – the Cantonese domestic servants from Guangdong multi-tasked all domestic chores and referred to themselves wryly as ‘yat keok tet’, or ‘on eleg kicks all’.
3. Cheating Husband – the rich men on Muntri Street are reputed to have kept their mistresses in this lane, and hence the name ‘love lane’.
4. Three Generations – Kimberly Street is famous for hawker food, where some stalls have a history of three generations.
5. Cow & Fish – not only were hapless cows slaughtered here, fish were hung out to dry, which gave the place a peculiar smell.
6. Waterway – Prangin River was a bustling waterway for all manner of goods shipped from all over the world to Penang.
7. Too Salty – salt trading activities here gave it the name.
8. No More Red Tape – Transfer Road is named after transfer of Straits Settlement from Indian office to Colonial Office in Singapore in 1867. This resulted in more efficient administration and an era of prosperity of the Crown colonies.
9. Shorn Hair – barbers who operated here swept shorn hair into the Prangin canal.
10. ‘Yeoh’ Only – Yeoh Kongsi was established in 1836 to look after the welfare of newly arriving Yeoh clansmen.
11. Cannon Hole – a cannon shot fired during the 1867 Penang riots made a large hole in this area and hence, the name.
12. High Counter – the counter of the pawnshop is typically higher than the place where the customer stands for security purpose.
I was happy that I had made the trip to Penang, once again. This time I saw more of it thanks to the helpful staff in the Museum Hotel and Tevin. The quality of service at the hotel was top notch. Without exception, they wore genuine smiles on their faces and every request was treated with respect. I had fallen in love with the chewies they had at the reception, which are very different from the candies that are normally placed there. This morning, as I was completing the checkout, the girl at the reception, who I had not met before, handed over a packet of chewies for the journey! That it is a place for special experiences was brought home with the welcome drink. The ginger and lemon grass concoction was so refreshing that I unabashedly asked for another. In case there is another trip to Penang it will be Museum Hotel. Tevin too, being a long standing resident of Penang, felt that the hotel is exceptional in pricing and quality.
Any number of navigational aids at my command will not deter me from experimenting with the wrong route! It was so this morning too on the drive to Kuala Perlis. Just after the Penang Bridge I took the exit too early and spent time and distance getting back to the correct route. Fortunately, it was not a long detour. I travelled mostly on the North-South Expressway, taking the state road only for the last 40 km. Right from Johor I have driven on a substantial portion of the 770 km North South Expressway. The ‘PLUS highway’, as it is known after the concessionaire, passes through 7 states of Malaysia and is the backbone of the western part of the Malaysian peninsula. The expressway is tolled and I have paid nearly RM 110 thus far. However, considering the quality of roads and the facilities provided en route I did not find it excessive. User fee is acceptable as long as the user gets proper service.
Kuala Perlis is in the state of Kedah and borders Thailand. With this I have driven through 11 of the 13 states and all three Federal Territories of Malaysia, thereby covering the entire peninsula during this expedition. The states I did not travel through are Sabah and Sarawak, which are separated from the peninsula by the South China Sea.
I reached the D’View1 Hotel without any hassle by 10.30 am. When I was told that the room would be ready only by 2 pm I went on a drive to Kangar, 10 km from the hotel and the capital of Kedah state. I did not find anything interesting to spend more time there and was back to Kuala Perlis in a short while. I drove to the ferry terminal and discovered a Ro-Ro vessel being loaded with vehicles bound for Langkawi. That aroused my curiosity. But the steep RM 380 for a two way ride and 2 hours each way put paid to my instant plan to travel to the beautiful island. I went back to the hotel and worked on documentation for a while. I could not concentrate much as I was feeling extremely sleepy, having woken up at 3 am this morning. Fortunately, the room was made ready before the normal check in time.
When I woke up, after a restful sleep, I was hungry as I had skipped lunch. I had noticed a few food courts near the ferry terminal during the morning drive and I went there looking to experience something local. It was in Kuantan that I had first come across Ikan Bakkar, grilled fish. I had not tried it thus far. I selected a full fish and it was grilled and produced with mild spice sauce. The dish was accompanied by rice, leafy vegetables, chilly paste and curry. Despite the sauce the preparation was bland as it was not marinated. It was a very different experience. After that I walked around the waterfront watching the sun go down and the bright lights of wayside eateries go up. I wondered if such a large number of eateries would be patronised. But, in a short time, people flocked to the food courts and wayside restaurants in their car with family. Eating out is the standard fare. Cooking at home was only meant for special occasions.
The stay in Malaysia has come to an end. Tomorrow I will drive into Thailand via Padang Besar. Eight weeks of the expedition are also over. In less than three weeks, travelling across Thailand, Malaysia and the north east of India, the South East Expedition will be completed in Tezu.