Tuesday, February 4, 2014

George Town days

Thursday, October 31

We spent the morning checking out of Hotel 1926 and moving to Banana Boutique Hotel. In retrospect I preferred the former, even though it was difficult to get to and from on crowded buses. But the latter had the advantage of being right in the centre of town and it was an easy walk to most places of interest. It also had Helen, the most charming and helpful front desk clerk in existence. I'm surprised that there wasn't a line-up of local hotel management types trying to lure her away.

A major feature of the public space at Banana was its open atrium complete with fountain and pool of koi. When the afternoon rainstorms occurred, water poured into the pool from above causing the fish to thrash about in excitement.

Once we were settled again, we made our way around a couple of corners to a camera museum we had already noticed.
 A simple set of display cases held an amazing array of cameras from very early Brownies through to the present digital marvels. My favourite was an elegant 1930's Leica upholstered in snakeskin. There was a small room demonstrating how a pinhole camera worked and a tiny gift shop. We were the only vistors and were fortunate to have a very well-informed young man to show us around and point out some special features. Sadly, my photos of cameras did not work out (some kind of irony there), but I did get a nice shot of their mural.

When I googled the source of the quotation, I discovered that it is attributed to Ted Grant, described as Canada's "premier living photojournalist."
Emerging from the museum we found a posh little cafe nearby attached to a posh little hotel, and treated ourselves to a light lunch of tea and scones.

Refreshed, we made the short walk to Penang's art gallery only to find it was between exhibitions. One small room had some of the permanent collection on display, including a woodcut of chickens that appealed to me.

Another short walk brought us to Fort Cornwallis, the remnant of the old British star-shaped fort with its guns facing the Straits. The original prisoners' cells now contain a quite good history of the fort in quite bad English.
At a small stall in one corner, we bought popsicles. I played it safe with a mango one, but Michael bravely asked for durian, which he then regretted, describing the flavour as like eating a 3-day old unrefrigerated chicken. So much for the Asian delicacy!
We had hoped to catch the free shuttle bus back to our hotel, but after waiting ages, we gave up and trudged back on foot.
In the early evening we crossed the road and had drinks in the Hong Kong Bar, which we discovered was the favourite watering hole for Australian airmen attached to the Butterworth base on the mainland.

 It was not surprising then that the drinks were good. So was dinner, fried rice with chicken, at a street stall.

Friday, November 1

At breakfast we were able to observe some of our fellow guests, a rather seedy lot of expats, some with young Thai women in tow. We learned that they were in Penang on a "visa run" from Thailand, ie. their visas were running out and had to be renewed from outside the country. There is obviously a lucrative little business in shuttling them across the border in minivans, putting them up at various hotels while they apply for new papers, and then shuttling them back to Thailand. Fortunately, they were leaving later that morning.

Our event of the day was a visit to the Cheong Fat Tze heritage house, once the home of a wealthy Chinese merchant and two of his seven wives. After his death it fell into disrepair, but was bought and meticulously restored by a very determined couple. Now it's both a
museum and an upscale bed-and breakfast.

As the sign below says, Lonely Planet called it "one of the ten greatest mansions in the world."

The owners are justly proud of their restoration and we were lucky enough to have one of them conduct the tour we were given.

In the afternoon we rode the funicular up to the top of Penang Hill. It was a bit of a disappointment. The view from the top was spectacular, even though a bit cloudy,

 ...but the surroundings seemed somewhat rundown and neglected.There were a few stalls selling drinks and snacks, a have-your-photo-taken-with-a parrot-or-snake booth, and a small temple with this little piece of sculpture nearby. I liked the rat.

The return journey to our hotel took forever through very heavy traffic back to our hotel.Then the familiar lashings of rain began so that was it for the day.

Saturday, November 2

Without the visa-run guests the hotel was much quieter. After breakfast, we set out for the botanical gardens at the foot of Penang Hill. There we paid 2RM for a golf-cart ride that gave us our bearings for retracing the route on foot.

 Macaques were everywhere but seemed mostly well-fed and not too aggressive.

Among the interesting plants were a cannonball tree that was producing fruit and flowers at the same time,

...and several bat plants, with their trailing whiskers.

For the rest of the day we alternated between strolling the streets and retreating from the searing heat to the coolness of our room. Dinner at the Red Garden, a fabulous food court under canvas where dozens of food stalls offered Malay versions of cuisine from around the world.

Sunday, November 3

We went back to the National Park for a longer walk to a place called Monkey Beach. Shortly after we set out, the paved path became an unpaved trail. We persevered, scrambling over tree roots and through muddy patches, but when we eventually arrived at a sign saying we had 2 kilometres more to go, we turned back. We tried another paved path that promised a treetop walkway, but it too soon deteriorated and we were too hot and tired to continue. It might have been a better option in the dry season when the trails would be dry.

All the same, the scenery was worth the struggle.

That afternoon's rain was so torrential we had little choice but to stay indoors and get ready for our departure in the morning.

It gave me time to look over a few additional photos I'd taken during our stay that captured a little of the flavour of Penang.
These included the beautiful colonial Eastern and Oriental Hotel with its facade facing the sea

and with a lovely period washroom, which was the only room I could afford to occupy.

In the streets we saw a variety of vendors.

... and  some interesting murals, some of them installed by the city...

...and some of them not.

There were lots of lovely old Chinese shophouses,

...some of them meticulously restored,

...and some not.

And some where restoration was ongoing behind bamboo scaffolding like a work of art in itself.

So ended our last day in Penang.

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