Putrie has been chiding me about “only thinking about other people” while here, meaning I bought all these gifts for people back at Smiling Hill and for my family in the States but had yet to buy myself anything. I’m sure I have a couple of ex-wives and a few ex-girlfriends who would choke if they heard I only thought about other people. Maybe I’ve changed; maybe those in my past didn’t understand me. Whatever. All I needed for myself was a t-shirt and a baseball cap, and maybe that pewter shooter if I could find one.
So this day we decided to head back to Chinatown and Little India to finish our shopping. But first we had the taxi drop us off in a part of town we had passed the day before that looked like it might be an interesting shopping area. It wasn’t. We walked for an hour in the hot sun before finally deciding to get on a local bus. Soon, we were packed like sardines, making one stop after another, with few people getting off while new people boarded. At one point, I found myself surrounded by young girls in their school uniforms, light blue and white, including haijabs over their heads.
When we finally reached Chinatown, we were left off in the area we had walked several days before. As we walked the street, We happened upon a small shop that sold all sorts of arts and crafts, including pewter items. They had pewter shooters! A pair for US$36. I bought one for $18, $40 less than the store wanted on our nature tour day.
After some more shopping – I finally found a t-shirt I liked that was big enough and a suitable baseball cap – we headed back to the hotel.
For dinner, we were headed back to the Golden Thai restaurant area, where we were told there were lots of seafood restaurants but our driver suggested a place in the other direction, at one end of Gurney Drive.
The Oriental Restaurant sat on the water, the strait between Penang Island and the mainland. A long, covered walkway, lit by Japanese lanterns and traversing shallow creeks, brought us to the entrance, where a long wall was filled with tanks of live seafood. Each tank had a sign stating what was in it and how much it cost (so much per 100 grams usually). On the opposite side was a long, iced table of fresh seafood and an assortment of vegetables.
Once again, we ordered our food here, not off a menu. We decided on steamed mud crabs (3) at 90 ringgits ($30), baby pak choy and rice, with the requisite Tiger beer and juice. A rainy evening meant we had to eat under the open-air cover of the restaurant but they had tables at the water’s edge, as well. The scene was probably quite beautiful in the daytime. A good meal to end a long day.
A little commentary
Penang is not what I envisioned. I thought we would find a quiet island paradise, barely modern, with lots of ancient stuff to see. It was quite the contrary. Penang is a bustling, cosmopolitan city, with numerous skyscrapers, sophisticated shopping, well-maintained roads and orderly, law-abiding drivers. It is maybe 20-30 years advanced over Batam. The island is home to a lot of electronics manufacturing and assembly, like Batam, but the industiral parks are far more modern in Penang. There were no squatter shacks along the roadside, no beggars at intersections, no scattered trash dumps along the road, no helter-skelter motorbikers weaving in and out of traffic. Penang is more like Singapore than Batam.
Penang, rather than the quiet, little island I hoped it would be, was more like Miami.
The other observation is about the differences in the Malays vs. Indonesians. First, Malays seem to be bigger in stature, probably due to the Chinese influence. There are a lot of Indian Malays, reflecting the relative proximity of the two countries. And there are a lot of Chinese Malays. Interestingly, in our seven days in Penang, I did not see a single woman I considered attractive, even when we were in the bar district and went to the disco. Anecdotally, I’d have to say Indonesian women are more attractive. Certainly more petite.
Also, Malays are much more orderly than Indonesians. For example, when queuing to get on a plane, Indonesians push and shove in a mob-like scene, a mass of people trying to squeeze through an open door; Malays get in a line and patiently wait their turn. On the roads, Malays drive in an orderly, law-abiding fashion; Indonesians seem to think there are no traffic rules, it’s everyone for themselves.
Interesting contrasts for two countries that share borders.