Saturday, December 22, 2007

Penang, Malaysia

Dave and I took the five hour bus ride northwest from Kuala Lumpur to the city of Georgetown which is located on the island of Penang. The island is about 295 square kilometers and is connected to the mainland via a long bridge. Georgetown is one of Malaysia's major cities and is known as a food mecca. There is a lot of history here because this is where the British first established a beachhead in this region. The island's population is roughly 700, 000.

As a sign of the level of diversity on this island (and in Malaysia), the taxi driver that took us to our hotel was a Roman Catholic Indian who had once lived in Britain and spoke fluent English. He was a real character and a very honest fellow who gave us lots of good tips on the way. We were asking some questions about Malay politics. Although this is very safe country, there have been some racial tensions recently. Apparently, the root cause is that there is some discrimination against non-Malay minorities (jobs, university placements, etc.) and this is enshrined in the Constitution. He was wondering aloud about American politics and figured that President Bush was a shoe-in for a third term. I patiently explained to him that a third term would violate the 22nd amendment of the US Constitution which limits a US president's tenure to two terms.

Our cab driver also pointed to an Indian restaurant named Jaya near our hotel and in his Indian accent said: "You will go to this restaurant and you will never want to go to another restaurant in town." Those words proved prophetic as we found Jayas, pictured below, to have cheap and tasty Indian food, as good as any Indian food I have ever had. We ate there four or five times.

In fact, I am developing a mild Chai Tea addiction (Teh Terik, I think) -- I can't resist their wonderful spicy hot Indian tea here, available at most restaurants, at only about US $0.30 per glass. I have been downing about three glasses in the morning and three in the evening and, well, some in between, also ;-)

We stayed in the unbelievably misnamed Modern Hotel -- the name was probably more appropriate 70 years ago. Dave and I had stayed in a nice place in KL but I wanted to introduce him to the more typical Asian hotel so we stayed in this place with shared bathrooms and a private (but cold) shower (and our room did have A/C, not just a fan). We had a large room and the hotel did grow on us after a few days and it was perfectly located downtown (about $12 per night). Here is a picture from our balcony:

Dave has a Malaysian friend in the US and her mother lives on this island! Her name is Joanne and she offered to show us around. Joanne's friend, Connie, joined us later. Joanne took us to a Chinese food court and the food was fantastic. There is a large Chinese population on this island.

We also tried Malaysian White Coffee for the first time and really enjoyed it. Coffee beans in Malaysia are typically roasted with sugar and margarine. But White Coffee, which uses the same type of coffee beans, are only roasted with margarine. This makes the roast less dark. When the coffee is brewed, the white coffee is mixed in with some regular dark roasted Malaysian coffee beans. There are chains here that serve White Coffee for a fraction of the cost of Starbucks.

Here is a picture of Joanne and I:

Later we all went to an all-you-can-eat Japanese place. And then we ended the evening at a live music venue. Here is a picture of Dave and Connie there:

The song "Hotel California" has followed me around Asia. I had to actually sing this in front of an audience in the Philippines and the locals always seem to like to request it for us at various live music venues. Dave says it is sort of a theme my Asia trip: "You can check out, but you can never leave". ;-) After spending a few weeks with me, Dave seems to think that I won't be going back to the States anytime soon.

By the way, I keep getting email questions about the safety situation for foreigners in Malaysia. We found absolutely no issues about safety in the places that we visited and no discrimination against us as foreigners. In fact, I found the people to be warm and incredibly friendly and I can't wait to go back for a return visit. It might be a little different in the eastern part of the country away from the big cities. We did not visit there because it is the rainy season in that part of the country.

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