Like Luang Prabang Laos there is a level of honor and pride the locals of Penang Malaysia have for their city, as if there is a flashy sticker to wear that says something along the lines “I live in a UNESCO town”. The high level of dignity one has for Penang is nonetheless truly justified for the energy is bright and lively. There is so much history and culture in this port town.
Breakfast with my Canadian brothers and then a stroll again through Little India. Amma is coming to Malaysia in April and all are excited. I recall her hug in her homeland fondly, my face against her mushy chest. At the Goddess of Mercy temple (Quan Yin) in the same neighborhood I pay one ringgit (about thirty cents) for a pile of long incense sticks where I say a long prayer for all. The man throws in two red candles as well, in which I dedicate one to my biological and another to my soul family. I wish happiness, health, and freedom, and that all be sheltered and nourished. 2012 seems to be a year of transformation and we are all on for the ride. Fasten your seatbelt.
Turning the corner from the temple is a small sign for Mr. Wong who offers traditional Chinese card readings. For a small fee I sit in front of his elaborate altar as he shuffles a deck, I cut and choose cards. My luck is shit apparently for eight out of twelve months of the year 2012. He tells me I am traveling to run away from my life in NY and that I have consistent trouble with men. My palms are read as well as my face. He stares through my soul and says that I have very active dreams, my sleep is poor, and a lot of negative spirits are around me trying to pull me down that I have picked up along my travels in India and Thailand (listing the countries specifically without me telling him any details in where I have stepped). I have a difficult time feeling negative about any of his messages (he shakes his head at me despairingly for an uncomfortable amount of time repeating the words “bad luck, bad luck” over and over again) for I have been so blessed on this journey and so guided that nothing can seemingly bring me down. Intestinal infection, bloated fish feet, crappy slumber, late everything, I am still smiling. Light warrior training continues.
The concept of bad luck as shared from Chinese culture is something my heart does not believe in for everywhere I step on this journey I am presented with assistance, kindness, and friends. The magic is so powerful I can feel nothing less than the utmost appreciation. Too often I will have a thought, a whim or desire, and boom, a path is cleared, a stranger arrives to guide the way, a free ride offered, food to enjoy, support, etc. (one of countless examples…in Koh Lanta I thought about visiting the Old Town city and asked for directions at a hotel desk and the guy offered to drive me for free, 70 km and back, on his lunch break). I would define myself as a very lucky lady. I thank Mr. Wong and continue on my day, bad luck, good luck, all carried neatly folded in my found backpack.
At the Pinang Peranakan Mansion I tour the opulent home filled with antiques. It was the home of a 19th century Chinese merchant named Chung Keng Quee, a man also known for his leadership of one of the many secret societies (some of which still exist. SHHH!) The tiles and furniture are fabulous, demonstrating the wealth of the time.
I consider briefly about getting a haircut and then decide it would be financially wise to trim my own locks again, which I will do as soon as I am not in such a spotless hostel where hair in the drain is more acceptable. Alas at the hostel I share my morning with a Chinese uncle who divulges that he is a retired hairdresser of thirty years and would be honored to cut my hair for free. Bad luck Mr. Wong? Bad luck is pretty sweet it seems. We agree to have a hair date the following day. The hostel lends me a favored bike for a few hours and I pedal around the city, admiring the architecture, people, and cuisine. I cannot find any sticky rice so I am forced to consume other forms of sustenance. When in Rome…I taste a salad of colorful picked fruit with large pieces of nutmeg, sprinkled with spicy red salt and rojak sauce (something like hoisin).
Komtar is the tallest building in Penang and home to a lavish shopping mall where adorable young Malaysians play. I peruse the huge arcades feeling so foreign to the lights, the advertisements, the chaos of consumerism but enjoying myself well as a spectator. Everything is too cute, from the couples sharing brightly colored beverages and salted candy to those trying on stylish clothing and others buying countless electronics. Omg. Gadgets (and immeasurable accessories for the gadgets) are loved in Malaysia; one can purchase clothing, dangling earring like ornaments, for cell phones.
I return to my bicycle to pedal over to the Clan jetties, historical buildings along the Weld Quay sea and home to families of fisherman and dock workers. The traditional houses are from the 19th century and are built over the water on stilts and have wooden walkways. Many men lounge around the area, enjoying the preferred milky sweet tea with friendly smiles as I saunter through the community.
More exploration of the city in the evening, night markets, and crevices of a charming town that even has a street named “Love lane”. Penang I love you too.