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Penang, Day 9, Sunday

Written on: Sunday July 15th, 2007

A journal entry from: Elective

After a 2am wake-up call (thank you Martyn), I got back to sleep and woke up early once again for our 9am tour of Penang. It was off to a rainy start once again, and given that I had lost my raincoat, I was most unimpressed. I did manage to borrow an umbrella from one of the other girls though, so all was not completely lost.

The first stop-off on the tour was the Penang State Museum, which cost us an extortionate one ringget to get in (about 20p, if that). It was fairly interesting, in parts, particularly seeing the original will that Sir Francis Light (the builder of Fort Cornwallis) penned in the 17th Century. Mainly though, it was a lot of reading, which got tedious very quickly, specially as there weren't a lot of items to actually look at.

Next on our list of things to do was a brief stop at Fort Cornwallis, a star-shaped fort built in the 17th Century. It was closed, being a Sunday, but we stood outside and listened to a brief history about Malaysia, delivered by our leader, Hannah. It was hard to concentrate while stood in the rain, but I managed to pick up some bits about trading and ships travelling through the Malacca Straits.

After this, we all piled back into the minivans, and headed to another area to see the Chinese stilt houses. They were very interesting to see - small wooden huts, balancing on concrete stilts. All the houses were very nicely decorated, and looked well kept. Apparently they are no longer the original houses, but they were still pretty impressive. We had to walk along wooden planks to get to them, which were difficult to walk on due to the rain, and as I stepped on one, it lifted a little and a disturbed crab came scuttling out.

Our fourth, and final stop, was at the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia - Kek Lok Si. There were plenty of ornate towers, decorative pagodas, and ponds filled with magnificent orange and white koi carp. Huge Buddha statues were everywhere, in stone, gold leaf, bronze and various materials. Some were in glass cases, while others were surrounded by smaller statues. Every statue had a different hand gesture, of which each one apparently has a separate meaning. There was the musky smell of hundreds of incense sticks burning, which added to the atmosphere of the temple.

We took a cable car to the top of the temple, to get a closer look at the giant statue that stood proud there. The statue was called Kuan Yin, and although it was complete, there was plenty of construction still to be done, with huge engraved pillars being erected around the statue to form a massive dome that will go above the statue's head. We also wandered around the stone carvings of the various animals that each have a standing in the Chinese year system, and I found my 'rat'.

We headed back to the bus at around 1pm, through eager stall owners, all
clamouring for attention by shouting, bargaining, grabbing you - whatever means they thought would work best. Trying to get a break from it, we found a small pagoda with a moat of turtles around it. Obviously they were in water, but there were that many that it looked like a sea of shells.

When we reached our meeting point, Hannah persuaded us to sample a drink
from a coconut. The vendor used a knife to slice the top of the coconut off, and then dropped a straw into the milk inside. It had a very strange taste, that wasn't very coconut-like at all. Although it was fairly refreshing, it left my mouth feeling a little dry, almost like paper. I wouldn't have it again, but it was an interesting experience.

The minivan dropped us off at Prangin Mall, at which point I embarrassingly showed more excitement at seeing a Starbucks than I had at the temple! I had a vente caramel hot chocolate, which went down a treat with the humongous slice of marble cheesecake that I wolfed down. It all came to 23 ringgets, which is around 3 pounds - bargainous!

The mall itself was enormous - 5 square floors, crammed with hundreds of shops. We had a good go at wandering round it all, stopping in at the ever-classy McDonalds to fuel ourselves. I was quite amused to note that instead of barbeque sauce, it was chilli sauce that was readily available. I didn't mind, it tasted good anyway! Despite it being absolute junk, it was nice to have Western food again for a change.

We shopped for a couple of hours and then made our way back to the hotel to get ready for the night ahead. We had arranged to meet our friend Andy, from our course, as he had arrived in Penang that afternoon. He turned up in our hotel lobby around 6pm, and joined us for dinner. We were led to a tiny restaurant, that was sweltering hot, but apparently served amazing food. Instead of plates, we were given banana leaves, and we had to eat with our hands - right only, as left is considered a 'dirty' hand (it's used to wash yourself with after using the toilet, as most places don't have toilet paper here). It was difficult to remember, particularly as we were served a giant roti, filled with masala, and tearing bits off with just one hand is definitely a skill that requires much practice. We also tried yoghurt and cucumber raita, and spicy vegetables, both of which were really tasty. For dessert, Hannah treated everyone to a sweet dumpling in rose oil, which was fantastic, but terribly unhealthy!

After dinner, we made a beeline for a local bar to swap travel stories with Andy and have a few drinks. It was interesting to note that Andy had been working in a private hospital in Kuala Lumpur, and had been picked up every day in a blacked-out Mercedes with air-conditioning, then ushered into the hospital which was the lap of luxury. Very different to our experiences. We went our separate ways around 11pm, due to the annoyance of having to pack for travelling again tomorrow, but it was great to see someone from home and catch up. We journey to the Cameron Highlands tomorrow.


From Mum on Jul 18th, 2007

I think your experiences will stay with you for a very long time, black mercedes or not!! Love Mum xxx