I’ve been in Penang for two days now, but spent much of today catching up with photos and blog posts and logistics I might not have time for in Sumatra, so I’ve only had a limited time to explore. That said, Penang is probably my favorite of the places I’ve seen in Malaysia. It’s basically all about funky old architecture, art and tons of food, and who can go wrong with that?
I’m not usually as comfortable with Indian and Chinese food as I am with Thai, sushi and other cuisines, since there are so many dishes I’ve never heard of and flavors and spices that are completely new to me. But I did have the best butter chicken and mango lassi ever at Kapitan, some Koay Teow (Chinese fried noodles) at a huge night market called Red Garden FOOD PARADISE, and even French toast that I swear is better than any I’ve had in San Francisco – with no hour-long wait and for a fraction of the price!
I thought I might do some shopping in Penang since I’m not sure what to expect when I get to Indonesia. In particular, I wanted another pair of pants for jungle trekking, since right now I only have one long pair while the rest stop at my knees. I learned the hard way that shopping for pants in Asia if you’re anything above a size 0 back home is one of the most frustrating and discouraging experiences imaginable.
Any pants I found that did fit were made of some unthinkably awful synthetic crap that I couldn’t wear for more than five minutes in the air-conditioned store, let alone in the Sumatran jungle. So I’ll manage with what I have, I guess… I have half a mind to open a store for Western travelers in Asia that sells all the travel gear they stock up on at home since it’s so impossible to find here. Hmm…
One thing I did today that probably isn’t on most travelers lists is I walked a little (but not much) out of my way to find the Penang Jewish cemetery. There was apparently a small population of Jews in Penang that peaked around the turn of the century, with the last member of the community passing away this year. Now all that’s left is the cemetery. The gate was closed when I approached it but there were several men inside doing what appeared to be maintenance work.
I didn’t ask to come in, since I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. It’s a cemetery of people I don’t know. I guess it’s odd to realize I’m in a city where there is a Jewish cemetery… but no synagogue. I haven’t given much thought to the official Malaysian attitude towards Jews/Israel, since I haven’t encountered it directly at all – ironically, Malaysia was the easiest country to get into by far (“Here you go, 90 days, no visa necessary!”) and I’ve already done it twice. Nobody has batted an eye at the “Israel” birthplace on my passport, and of course when I’m asked where I’m from the obvious (and honest) answer is “USA”. I wonder, as I plan to spend I don’t know how long in Indonesia, whether the political realities will ever actually affect my experience of these countries.
Anyway, I’ll end my last Malaysia post on a more positive note. While I passed up really exploring Langkawi for extra time on Koh Lipe (which I don’t regret!) I did manage to stop by the one place I had to see before heading to Penang: