Saturday, September 27, 2014

Girls' (and Boy's) Weekend in "The Pearl of the Orient"

This past weekend was again a long weekend for us. While my husband flew off to Manila for a grueling three-day IB training, and endured a nearby active volcano and some heavy rains and flooding, my son and I played hookie from school on Thursday and flew to Penang, Malaysia, for a little holiday weekend with my friend, J.

Penang, also known as "The Pearl of the Orient," was fabulous. It is a beautiful place with an amazing culture influenced by the west, China, and India, just to name a few. There were such eclectic mixes in its architecture, food, and languages. I heard Mandarin Chinese that mixed with what sounded like Malay, which was interesting because I could understand parts of sentences, but not others. I also heard some language that sounded like Taiwanese, but not quite; Hindi; Malay; and English, just to name a few. We ate all kinds of foods and saw people of all colors and ethnic groups.

I also loved how international everyone seemed to be. Many people who talked to me were fascinated by my history of having been born in Taiwan and raised in the U.S., and now living in Thailand. J, while at the Bangkok airport, met a Pakistani gems dealer who was living in Bangkok. While in Penang, we met and hung out with a man who appeared to be from this part of the world, with Krishna as his name, but who identified himself as Jamaican, and who had been living in Madrid for the past 13 years, teaching English at a university there. It was just so cool to see and meet people who are truly global.

This was the first time I had ever gone on an overnight trip alone with my son, and it was our first multiple-day trip overseas without my husband. Traveling by myself with my son was a very different experience from traveling as a family. For one, everyone, from taxi drivers to shop owners to fellow passengers on our flights, stared curiously at me -- it isn't every day here that one sees a woman, especially an Asian woman, traveling with a child by herself. Many people asked me where my husband was and what I was doing in Penang -- questions that no one ever asked when we traveled as a family.

Also, without my husband around, more strangers approached us and talked to us, asking where we were from, what we were doing in Penang, etc. Many people also were much more open with their affection towards my son. When we traveled together as a family, people would look at my son and smile, maybe approach him timidly to give him a high five or a treat. This time, many people would just come up to us and hug my son, pick him up, and talk to him as if they were familiar with him. At the restaurant where we had breakfast on Saturday, three men who worked there just went up to him and took turns picking him up and taking pictures with him! I told my son that I would ask them to leave if he felt uncomfortable, but he seemed to enjoy the attention. I also took a picture of him with the three men, but I know the entire interaction would never have happened had my husband been with us. It was just fascinating how differently people saw and treated us just because my husband wasn't there.

We stayed at Segara Ninda, a colonial building with traditional Malay motifs that dates back to the 19th century, that is located in George Town, the capital of Penang. It once belonged to Ku Din Ku Meh, the governor and king of Satun, Thailand. The rooms were very simple and utilitarian, but comfortable.

Our first full day in Penang, Friday, was spent in Penang Hill, the highest point of Penang, which could be reached by foot or in a funicular, and where we spent most of our day. It was on our way here, on a bus, that my friend, J, struck up a conversation with Krishna, who ended up hanging out with us for quite a bit. He even had me take pictures of him, J, and my son, We lost track of him after a while, and never got his contact information, so he now has pictures of people whom he will likely never see again.

The view on Penang Hill was gorgeous, and the air was so amazingly crisp and fresh, which is rare in this part of the world. The top was quite extensive, with a Hindu temple, a mosque, a playground, an owl museum, and a great area for kids with zip lining and climbing walls. My son loved that area so much he did all the activities five times!

We also spent some time at Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple (Temple of Supeme Bliss), which is the highest temple in Penang. It was extensive with a gorgeous view of the mountainsides and the town below. An inclined lift took us up even higher, where there was a 99-foot statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.

Saturday, our second day, didn't start out so well. Our original plan was to take the bus out of town to the national park, then visit the spice garden and butterfly farm. But J woke up with a slight migraine and decided to stay in her room to rest, so my son and I headed out of town alone to go to the butterfly garden. It was a timely excursion because my son's class had been studying butterflies the previous week. We had a lot of fun seeing all the butterflies and other creatures. There also was a show in which my son was chosen to be participate by walking around and showing the audience a leaf bug.

Later that day, after we returned to our guesthouse and J was feeling better, we took a self-guided walking tour around George Town, passing through Little India and Chinatown, happening upon and enjoying the sights and sounds of an amazing street festival at dusk, walking past Fort Cornwallis by the water, finding yet another park and playground, seeing street art, and just soaking up the general awesomeness of the city.

On Sunday, my son and I were left to our own devices because J's flight home was at 8:00 a.m. Because it was Sunday, most places were closed, so we just walked around some more looking for more street art, and returned to the playground for a little while. We came upon another street fair and stayed there for a while until it began to drizzle. At that point, we hurried back towards our guesthouse to get some lunch, then returned to the guesthouse, where the proprietor was kind enough to allow us back to our room (even though we had already checked out) to hang out until our taxi came to take us to the airport for our 7:00 p.m. flight.

We had a great weekend in Penang, and it was so nice to get away. We didn't get home until 8:30 on Sunday night, though, so Monday morning was a little rough. My husband had it even worse -- he had his third full day of training on Sunday, and didn't even get home until midnight on Sunday night. All in all, it was a fun and successful weekend away for all of us.
Segara Ninda, where we stayed. Our room was in the back, to the left of the building, where the little light is in the picture.
Penang Hill, the highest point in Penang.
Going up in the funicular.
The ride up took five minutes!
The view from that house must be spectacular.
The view with the funicular going down.
This picture fails to convey the beauty of the scenery.
Walking around at the top.
Shops and snack bars at the top.
Where do you want to go?
Hindu temple at the top of Penang Hill.
Playground at Penang Hill.
View of the mountains and attractions below.
A mosque.
The beginning of the play area.
Zip lining was one his favorite activities.
There were four levels of climbing, and he did all four five times.
This was the easiest level.
This was the hardest level.
Ringing the bell at the top.
The end.

At the owl museum.
Wood carvings of owls from all over the world.
Owl art.
Taking a break with mango ice. YUM!
At Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple.
Inside the main temple.
Wish ribons for 1RM each. My son picked one for his wish to come true.
Wish ribbons from visitors.
Wish ribbon tree.
I have not seen one of these since I was a little girl in Taiwan.
It's not hard to feel spiritual with a view like that.
The second character of my son's Chinese name, made with coconut shell.
Ceiling of the temple.
Kek Lok Si Temple.
Another view of the temple.
This sign cracked me up.
I love the Chinese characters carved into the boulders.
View from Kek Lok Si Temple.
A wall of elaborate carvings.
The gardens were beautiful with all kinds of plants and flowers.
One of the gates at the temple.
View through a gate.
This picture doesn't pick up the layers of textures and colors. There was so much visual stimulation that it was a bit overwhelming and intense.
The 99-foot Kuan Yin.
Statues of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.
View from higher up.
An interesting place for a statue.
This little bird was gorgeous. About the size of a hummingbird, it was bright yellow and black.
Street art near our guesthouse.
The sidewalks of Penang on our way to the bus station.
Our view during the trip to and from the butterfly garden.
I could look at this all day long.
The city from a distance.
There at last.
Butterflies and crysalises. 
One landed on my son's hat.
A beauty.
The caterpillars.
My son got to touch and hold one.
We were able to get really close to the butterflies.
I love the colors on this one.
An iguana at the butterfly garden.
Some kind of lizard.
Another landing.
This tree was full of butterflies.
A toad that looked like a leaf.
A tarantula carefully held by a member of the audience.
A scorpion under UV light.
My son got close and personal with a leaf bug like this one.
Another kind of leaf bug.
Down the street from our guesthouse was the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, which has 38 rooms. Cheong Fatt Tze was a Chinese financier, tycoon, diplomat, politician, and philanthropist who maintained homes throughout Asia. This was his most lavish and elaborate home.
The state art museum.
The playground across the street from the state art museum and Fort Cornwallis.
Love the architecture.
A cute European coffee shop, where we took a break from our walk.
Textile shops all over Little India hung richly colored saris and fabric all over their stores, which made for a colorful background to our walk.
The street fair we happened upon.
More street art.
At the street fair.
At the street fair.
More street art.
Upon closer inspection, I realized this was not drawn onto the wall, but was actually three dimensional.
The sunset that day was gorgeous.
A mosque at dusk.
The streets of George Town.
More street art on our third day.
Queen Victoria's Memorial Clock Tower.
A street fair on Sunday morning.
People would actually have these two characters pose with their babies for a photo.
A giant game of Chutes and Ladders that my son enjoyed for a while.
Cats made with twine or yarn.
More street art.
This is 3D too.
Seeing the sun set from the plane was wild. It went from bright orange to pitch black in five seconds, but as we flew west towards Bangkok, the sun actually came back a little.

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