A Travellerspoint blog

Malaysia look, Malaysia stare, Malaysia lose your underwear

by Kt

Oh yeah - we think we may have reached the pinnacle with Mark's blog title this time. He has quite possibly crossed over that line from juvenile idiot to creative genius!!

Anyhow, we are still in Malaysia. In Georgetown to be precise. This is situated in the far north west of the country not that far from the Thai border. Penang is a small island, accessible by a large bridge or by ferry. We caught a coach up from KL which took 4-5 hours. It was super cheap and all ran smoothly apart from it turning up an hour late and us not really having a clue what was going on. When we did get on though it was pleasant enough. Good air con - big seats as they'd ripped out the standard 4 berth and put in 3 larger ones on each row. I was audio-booked up, which was a treat and when the journey finally ended I didn't actually want to get off. Mark, unfortunately was not feeling particularly well. It had been touch and go if he could even travel that day but tabletted up and sat in fairly smooth, air conditioned comfort it worked out ok. The hot walk from the bus station onto the ferry was a touch challenging when we eventually arrived in Butterworth (hang over from British rule that one I should imagine). Within a few hours of being in Georgetown, I knew I was gonna like the place. It was everything KL wasn't. Kind of spacious and full of character. It was even a little cooler, as being on the coast there was a bit of a breeze (still sweltering though!) There was old, colonial buildings, a lot of the old style chinese shop houses, colour, vibrancy but also a quiet charm.
I'd been put off of coming as the prices are a little higher than other locations but I really wanted to go and once I read that you could sort out your Thai visas here, it seemed to make sense.

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The place we were staying, 'Moon Tree 47', looked interesting when I booked it but it far out weighed my expectations and we ended up extending there, eventually for 10 days. It was an old chinese shophouse from the 20s which had recently been restored. Georgetown got UNESCO world heritage status a few years ago which is such a good thing because it means that all these beaten up old places are being restored, as they work as a great tourist attraction and therefore money maker. What better incentive to keep historical things from being knocked down/left to disrepair than make it a money spinner. The standard shophouse, as was ours, are fairly narrow but really, really long.
There was a main front area which had seating and a bunch of vintage stuff on display and for sale. There was a little reception desk in the middle, underneath the stairs, then a narrow coffee bar, then a partially outdoor courtyard area with fish and greenery (shop houses were built to feng shui guidelines), then another bit undercover, then another outside bit, a tiny kitchen and finally at the back stretched out a few of the rooms. We never really saw these but I believe they were air conditioned but fairly small. We had one of the 3 upstairs rooms which are massive. It only has a fan, which has been tough in this kind of heat, but an aircon unit just wouldn't work. Our room has a high ceiling and wooden panelling. It, like the downstairs areas, has furniture in fitting with the heritage theme with simple deco type styling and a big glassless window with shutters. The bathroom is actually semi outdoors out on the roof terrace. Bricked around the sides with just a corrugated plastic roof, it's nice to be showering outside again.

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The whole vibe of the guesthouse is vintage, eclectic, quirky and nostalgic. It achieves a style, that many try hard places never will.
I couldn't be happier than when am sat in one of the beautifully shaped vintage leather and wood chairs, supping earl grey, reading a magazine
They also have (generally) great music playing - a really eclectic mix but even the cheesey stuff (some Whitney, instrumental 'Heart will go on' or Julio Inglesias) sound classy here. Lots of it is early to mid 20th century - Louis Armstrong's 'The Saints Go Marching in', jazz (and I normally hate jazz but this is cool), even opera and cinema paradiso style, tango-esque instrumentals.
There are old photos of Malaysian people, getting married, in school photos and stuff like that. Piles of books and nicknacks, bakerlite switches, a huge collection of baby food crockery which looks to be post war - possible 40s/50s which I'm now obsessed with wanting. Beaten up old mirrors, old luggage.
Vintage and retro loving folk will get what I'm on about here. It is a haven or the likes of us!!

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As the many shop houses are being restored, there are some interesting cafes. One we went to, was in an old tailors so was done out accordingly with vintage sewing machines and the like. Another, called Edelweis, although I'm not sure why, was a little grander and was a very sophisticated environment for an afternoon cuppa.

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It was a good thing we liked where we were staying as we didn't spend a lot of time out for the first few days. Mark was still not feeling very well. Unfortunately as he was feeling so dodgy he couldn't face the idea of anything asian, not even plain rice. He could barely handle being in any food establishment but we ventured out to find places that did mainly plain, western food. A bit gutting being in the foodie capital of Malaysia, which is in itself a foodie destination. The food we had for those first few days was decidedly unispiring, as were the establishments. Turkey ham seems big here, I guess due to the muslim population. Have come across this a lot in the States and I really just don't get it. It's just hideously processed turkey. Yuck. I spent an uncomfortable 45 minutes picking turkey ham out of an omlette in a decidedly odd hostel cafe, with a guy who clearly had OCD, lining up the cutlery, salt and pepper, napkins etc on our table. Another guy was singing the same song over and over even though there was 2 lots of music being plaid simultaneously already and the lady just descended on our table at some point to stare. Just to STARE!
I did feel sorry for Marky. Poor thing. It's not nice when you're ill away from home let alone abroad and especially when having to deal with things like shared bathrooms and hot, humid days and nights. On the whole though, in all honestly, I mainly found it annoying. You do though don't you? Other people being sick is tedious and gets in the way with what YOU want to do and worst of all you can't complain (much) about it, as you seem like a right cow. Those few days did drag on to say the least! When I reached out a comforting hand what I was really thinking in my head was I'd like to slap him with that hand and tell him to get over it. It's not just me who's florence nightingale side is not fully developed. I know it's not just me. You know who you are the rest of you. And to be fair, Mark is worse than useless when I'm ill. I was really sick once and he'd been out all day and evening and still came back and didn't bring me anything - I'd had no food or medicine for 24 hours - nada. I have a bad back and he'll do something odd like pull my leg! No, not metaphorically - literally. Or jokingly punch me in the stomach when I have a stomach ache. He is terrible to be around when you have anything wrong, so we are as bad as each other then I'd say. Although at least I mostly pretend to be caring and don't bizarrely attack him when ill. Anyhow, it took a fair few days for him to get back on track and we could get out and about and eat in more interesting places.

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Malaysia is a mix of Malay muslim (predominantly), Indian and Chinese cultures. Georgetown is a happy mixture of all these if ever you did see one. In the centre of town you can be stood metres away from a mosque, hindu and buddhist temples. The call to prayer rains out at the relevant intervals, the incense burns outside the buddhist temples (they have cool, big incense sticks!!). It really is a great example of cultures working alongside each other and not segregated into different quarters. I'd say that the Chinese are definitely more prominent in Georgetown.

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There are lots of different types of buildings - some from 1800s, much from the 20s and 30s and some very identifiable with the 40s and 50s too.
Even the largest building in Penang, a hideous 70s tower kind of is okay - it's it's own thing.
It's a pretty quiet place. The traffic mainly circles the centre of town but it's not that crazy or fumey. They have kind of pavements - it's part of the front of the shophouses and you can walk on it most of the time but sometimes need to go off into the (probably quite empty) street to get out of the way of a moped or some boxes from a business. It has an old fashioned feel to it that I like. You go past these places and people are running proper businesses. The guy with the printing press down the road is always there, late at night, churning out the paper. Lots of wholesalers and old fashioned trades. I have likened the place to France. Mark doesn't really get what I mean. But you know those, quiet, middle of france towns - where it functions as a town - the businesses generally support the town, with a sprinkling of tourism mainly. Even the 70s bits reminded me of the purpose built areas on the outskirts of Paris. Or in someways it's like Valetta, in Malta, which is almost like an abandoned city of old. It's the old fashioned-ness but with it an every day practicality. I don't even know what I mean really, but all in all, I jolly well like Georgetown.

The further out of the centre you go, of course, the more modern it gets. That's when the maccy d's and the furniture outlets appear. Not in a bad way though - nowhere is garish. Most of it retains an air of character and interest. We went out of town to a massive mall, by the sea. It was full of large modern buildings but along the street by the sea, and at the night market slap bang next to the 8 storey mall, were cheap food places and hawker stalls. It just works here. No-where really feels contrived. The mall was pretty impressive - my mall hating ways have been changed in Malaysia. I think it's because, again, there was very few people there so it felt like I had most shops to myself, or the odd other person.
Mark had gone to the cinema complex on the top floor to watch Titanic 3D. Yes, Mark had. Not me. I do not like the schmaltzy rubbish that is Titanic. Mark, however, rates it as one of his favourite films. Uh huh - yep that's right. So he was very excited to spent 3 and a half hours watching the whole commotion in 3D. Meanwhile I walked every inch of that massive plaza - that place was big so at the very least I had some major exercise. Picked up some much needed bargain togs. Mark, although having enjoyed his Titanic experience, had found the 3d effects a little lacking and was also a little distraught that a certain 'scene' had been cut out of the film, presumably to give it his U rating.

Trickshaws
The trickshaws here are the little seats with a bicyclist in the back. Most of the drivers look pretty old and we were most worried the weight of us pair, may give someone a heart attack. Most have flowers intertwined around the structure and some are really souped up with flashing lights, windmills and banging music. They are undeniably cool.

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Toy museum
I had read about a toy museum in Penang and wandering the streets one day we spotted it and decided to go back again later, only to lose it.
When I looked it up I realised this wasn't the one in all the tourist literature anyhow. The toy museum everyone goes on about is outside of Georgetown and is not toys as such but figurines - mainly from movies and anime. It is pegged as the largest toy museum in Asia - but that's not toys in my book. I don't like action movies and neither does Mark really so that was definitely not our cup of tea, but when we found the small shop in town 'Ben's Vintage Toy Museum', that was definitely our kind of place. They had only recently opened and had a great collection of proper vintage toys.

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This was definitely the best collection I've seen and this is the kind of thing I do like to go to. I was particularly obsessed with a set of french musical dolls.

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We ended up chatting to the guy about what he had and where he'd gotten it and he showed us some of the rare wind-up toys going.
Ben's vintage toys facebook page. We took his ebay shop details for future reference but lost it somehow but have the facebook page at least. It was a funny reminder of some of the things we have left behind as we flicked through some of his collectors books - our yellow plastic pacman game and donkey kong for instance managed to sail through the 'sell what you don't need' period of our trip organisations. Well you have to have pacman and donkey kong, don't you?

As with vintage toys there was, of course, some delightfully sinister characters.
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Food
So, as I mentioned, Penang is known for it's food and when Marks health finally returned (sounds very Jane Austen doesn't it?) we got about trying some nice stuff.
There is posh cafe up the road from us that we went to when Mark still wasn't great and he had a chicken pie (yuck at any time) and I tried a Curry Mee which is a local soup like curry which I had a gorgeous version of with fried soya skin (to make it muslim friendly as it often comes with fried pig skin). It had fishballs and prawns and squid and came with chill paste on the side to heat up to your liking. My heat tolerance has definitely increased in the last few months so I got quite brave with that.

Not far from us was the 'Red Garden Cafe' This is an outdoor but undercover place with tons of tables and tons of different eateries which is an absolute gem. It's for tourists you could say, but having, say 20-30, different styles of food to choose from, meaning you don't have to have the same thing was fantastic and it was cheap too.

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They had the most amazing Dim sum, we had some fried soft shell crab, mark had lots of pork and we we finally had some amazing Malaysian Indian food that was definitely worthy of the reputation.
On one of our first days we took a photo of the frog porridge claypot and put in on facebook to have a laugh.
On one of our last days, we took the plunge and ordered chilli frog and porridge. How brave of us, don't you think? Well the frog looked very frogish. Had to mind over matter it and get the flesh off old hop along. The flesh was nice. Very soft. Somewhere between chicken and fish Mark said, which I guess kind of sums up a frog to some degree too. The chilli sauce was blow your head off strong whilst the porridge was do your head in bland. It is rice based and has a consistence like that in cheap work canteens where they use some crappy flour to create a gloopy sauce. It didn't taste terrible but I'm not quite sure what you could do to it to jazz it up. It must come under the category peasant food, surely?

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Later in the evenings there is entertainment on which generally consists of some enthusiastic singers. Some of them sure could sing and there was indeed some interesting covers, lots of glitter and swooshing.
An interesting 'feature' of the red garden cafe was it's advertising etiquette was perhaps lacking...
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One night we ate at a chinese recommended to us by the guy who runs our guesthouse. This place only had chinese people in which of course is a good sign and we were a little baffled by some of the menu (Judas's ear wax anyone?) and weren't wildly experimental by opting for squid for me (I LOVE squid) and (you guessed it) pork for Mark. My squid was to die for and I don't really do pork but having tasted his it was darned fine. The accompanying fried rice was also divine and actually reminded me of my mums more so than the rice you get in take-aways restaurants at home. It was more moist and fluffy than that and had lots of egg and tit bits in it. It worked out a fair bit pricier than the red garden cafe and many other places but it is tempting to go back as it was sooo good.

In the early, Mark is sickly, days we ate at westernish places. We chipped up at one indian run pizza and pasta place and tucked in to some surprisingly tasty pasta only for me to choke on my spaghetti half way through the meal when I remembered we didn't have enough cash to pay for the pasta I was currently inhaling. We had about 3 quarters of it but that was it. There are no ATMs in this central area for some reason - the nearest one's were pretty far away considering it was quite late and dark by this time and Mark couldn't go far because he was ill. Cards were a no-no, as were US dollars. The young waiter pretty quickly re-assured us, to our shock and horror, that we could bring the money in on Tuesday night. This was sunday night. They were trusting us to bring in the money owed to them in a couple of days time. Can you believe it? How trusting is that? I felt terrible and thanked them profusely as we left. As we got up the road we spotted a currency exchanger still open and so luckily managed to change up the US dollars and go back and pay them. With a healthy tip for their generosity of course! What an untrusting world I live in that this totally freaks me out!!!

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Posted by KtandMark 21:19 Archived in Malaysia Tagged georgetown_penang_toy_vintage

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