Monday, May 02, 2011

An Overnight Trip to Penang

My wife and I joined our daughter and husband for a trip to Penang last Saturday, they to attend a charity dinner to help the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami victims and we to see how Penang had changed/or not changed since we were last there in 2006.

Admittedly the short duration cannot produce a just and accurate impression so I depended on the opinion of a family friend who visited us on the evening of our arrival. He and his wife had stayed on the island for 21 years and would be fairly accurate in assessing if the present government is doing a better job than the previous one it ousted in 2008.

We stayed at the Hotel Royal Penang along Jalan Larut. The porter was quick to tell me that this was an old hotel, known previously as the Merlin, the Sheraton and the Dorsett. I did not have the chance to ask why so many management changes or if there were any problems before. Suffice to say that when we arrived at the hotel at 5.30pm after a long drive (no thanks to the holidaying traffic during the long Labour Day weekend) we noted the hotel facade was clean and looked new and the staff friendly and ready to serve. The hotel was also very central. We were fortunate to get a family apartment - 2 rooms with attached bath and another toilet, at the highest 20th floor and overlooking the sea and Gurney Drive.

Unlike the heavy traffic along the highway, when we got onto the Penang Bridge after paying the one way toll (RM7 for non-Penang residents, RM5.60 for the islanders) we felt like entering an easy going territory. I wonder if on a working day the scenario had not been vastly different as workers moved in and out of the island to their workplaces and homes. Once on the island we took 15 minutes to get the the hotel.

At 7pm our family friend and wife came and took us for dinner nearby. Although I had read and heard great reports about how Penang has improved under the administration of Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) a member of the opposition coalition front, Pakatan Rakyat, I need to see for myself and hear from an independent person. Maybe it is the weekend that Penang displayed its genteel and old fashioned character. Maybe Penang had gotten stuck in a frozen time machine, maybe I was not where the actions and development are. But I was actually looking for faults to tell myself that this government had not improve the life of Penangites. 'Sadly' I found the streets relatively clean (by which I am saying that it still cannot compare to the like of Singapore or Honolulu) but overall it is a clean and neat city by Malaysian standard. This my friend affirmed over dinner.

The following day we enjoyed some of the Penang delicacies as well as visited the morning bazaar along Jalan Kuala Kangsar. Here are some pictures I took.

Looks like the White Coffee craze had also hit Penang. Supposedly originated from Ipoh now everywhere there are white coffee available.

This is where we had our dimsum breakfast.

The bazaar scenes. You can buy almost anything (but I could not find an aquarium shop).

A surprised find. While driving for our assam laksa brunch I saw this familiar sign of a hotel, Ai Goh Hotel, which was where I stayed in with my late grandmother around 1960 when she took me to Penang for a visit. The hotel never change at all! I wonder if it still take in guests but appear well maintained in the exterior.

Our laksa and cendol brunch. I was dismayed that cost of food has crept up here. I remember the same laksa I ate in 2006 cost RM2.00. And the cendol cost RM1.90 a bowl if drank at the stall outside the coffee shop which levy a RM0.50 surcharge to the customer if he ordered it to consume inside. Apparently justified since the customer would not be ordering any coffee or tea from the shop.

I caught this sign at a traffic junction. Even sign-makers are riding on the Japanese tsunami tragedy to donate 10% of their proceeds to help the victims.

Ah ha! Penang is not as perfect as I thought. This is the worst I caught with my camera. As I said I cannot have the right perspective with just a 24 hours fleeting stay on the island.

Before we checked out of our apartment I took this composite panorama taking advantage of the clear morning skies. Click to enlarge. Hope you like it.

We returned to the mainland via the ferry to let the children enjoy the breeze and water.

The drive home to Seremban took 5 hours although SIL was a capable driver. The delay was caused no less by the very heavy monsoon rain that struck us from Butterworth all the way till after Kuala Lumpur with intermittent break of cloudy skies.

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