A Travellerspoint blog

Penang Arrival

Penang. A real city again, with skyscrapers and proper buses and everything. Chris already misses the beach, though we just spent 4 weeks in the sand. We walk around in a daze of smells, alternatingly tantalizing and putrid. Dazed walking is not safe here, though--there's not much room between the aggressive cars and scooters and the wide cement trough that serves as a gutter.

It is as hot as ever. All I want to do is eat and sleep.

We came across an outdoor basketball game in progress this evening. Delighted, we sat down to watch as we always do when we find a game, exclaminig, "Malays like basketball, too!" Slowly we began to suspect that the players were actually Filipinos. Laughing, we shrugged. Figures.

Posted by chschen 18:17 Comments (0)

Penang Famous

Gently sweating in the pink Penang dusk, head full of wretched ache, listening to the mysterious and mournful honking from the street below. Yesterday the guesthouse was full of people, but today they all left and have not been replaced. Only we and the Russian lady with her sometimes-a-boy, sometimes-a-girl baby remain. We thought there used to be a husband, but he seems to have gone, too.

This languor--this languor reminds me of a sort of tropical languor that one might find in a Somerset Maugham novel. I have not read any of these novels, but I picture them to be full of sweating Englishmen and their pale, melting wives, holding parasols in their white-gloved hands. It is easy to imagine such people in Penang, easy to imagine them walking down the street, skirting Chinese, Indians, Malays, or getting pulled along in a rickshaw, their upper lips dotted with perspiration.

They make much of their colonial past in Penang, but the Chinese influence is even greater--at least the Chinese are still here. But the British left English, which greets our American ears in a charming, rounded sing-song. Here as everywhere people want to know where we come from--China? Korea? Japan? A man at the chendul stand, satisfied when I told him my parents are from Taiwan, asked, "So you speak Chinese?" I nodded. "Mandarin." He told me, "Sixty percent of the people here speak Chinese. Hokkien, Cantonese, Mandarin, too." He gave a friendly chuckle. "Eh? In Taiwan they speak Hokkien. I can understand them and they can understand me. But I can understand one hundred percent of what they say; they can only understand sixty percent of what I say. Why, I ask my friend. He say it's because forty percent of time I speak English and Malay!" And with a big laugh he turned around and left us sipping our dessert.

Between meals we sometimes pick up and leave off a historical walking tour of the city. Ever since we saw an educational sign showcasing the different Penang architectural styles over the past century, we like to point at buildings and guess which era they came from. Surprisingly many buildings in our quarter still bear their colonial facades. Our guesthouse is one of them. New structures nowadays would not have such high ceilings. These buildings--letting in the light but not the heat--are perfect, I think, for listening to opera. Opera on a gramophone. (On a side note, there is nothing quite as lovely as walking through a Penang side street at twilight, hearing old music filtering through someone's open window. It makes you feel fiercely close to everyone and everything.)

Penang days, Penang nights.

Chendul is Chris's new favorite food. "Imagine," he says, "if you'd never had ice cream, and then you come to this town and there are ice cream stands everywhere." Thoughtful pause. "Do you think they have chendul in other parts of Malaysia?" I shrug and laugh. "Because all the signs say Penang Famous Chendul..."

Posted by chschen 12:52 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Last Day

Let's go fly a kite...

Free man-made hot spring is no longer free. Free natural "hot" spring is empty. :(

About the millionth picture I've taken of a vaulted church ceiling this trip

Last skyr

Last shake out of our tent footprint

All packed up for home. The End.

Posted by chschen 05:00 Archived in Iceland Comments (2)


Pretty, peaceful, touristy Þingvellir

Thumbs up!

Þingvellir was the seat of ancient Parliaments

I would have chosen this place, too

I guess they used to drown people in this river for misdeeds committed (adultery?)

But it all looks so tranquil now

Sun, sun, sun

What am I pointing at?

Peaceful living

We ate soooo much of this fake Nutella on our Iceland trip, maybe a jug every three days

The water is amazingly clear here

It's a rift

So clear that people pay a good chunk of change to dive here. They say the visibility is as good as air.

We settled for the shore walking, though.


Ever-present moss

Alas, the rains approach once more

Posted by chschen 05:00 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)


Getting ready...

...and thar she blows

How pastoral

Even from afar, Geysir looks pretty cool

What a young, steamy land

* * *

Gone from the interior now, where the wind blew snow and sleet and rain at our tent and our faces. Tiny, fierce bullets. We shook in our shaking tent. At Hveravellir we sat for hours in the hot spring, just on the edge of enjoyment. The pool was comprised of two tubes of cold running water and one tube extremely hot. It seemed to us, with the rain pelting our faces, that everywhere the water was lukewarm or cool except near the hot water tube, where it was deliciously comfortable. Only, the hot water was fed from some geothermal vent somewhere so that periodically the pipe would sputter its contents willynilly and scald us. Therefore, our time in the spring became a dance--ten minutes of squirming contentment followed by a rapid but cautious easing away, ten seconds of twirling in the resulting gush, and then a rapid scramble to our original spot where we carefully adjusted our bodies to trap the warm water. "Why, why, why?" we cried, laughing each time. The fun of Iceland. (Also fun: standing pants-less and bare-bottomed in the horizontal sleet, struggling with the broken zipper on the tent as a busload of tourists descend. I could not bear to look into their faces.)

The infamous hot spring that Chris remembers fondly but that I fondly hated.

We leave the day after tomorrow. I confess I have not written much about Iceland, but mostly because I've experienced it in a benumbed daze. Half my mind is working at preparing my body for the next challenge while the other half is dealing with the current one. When we are gone I will be able to sort out the images, the impressions that must have stuck somewhere in my brain.

Posted by chschen 05:56 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

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