----------------------------------------------- Google Site Map ----------------------------------------------- Cindy in ...: May 2007

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Penang: A Place to Live?

In spite of the killer heat, and even though I am staying in a sort of historical district slum, I like it here a lot. I like the mix of people, language, food, and culture. I like seeing a Malaysian Indian woman in a traditional Malay kebaya, and a Chinese man in the standard white-with-blue-border longhi. Food is cheap, and the people are nic and friendly and definitely not pushy. There is a large ex-pat community, both those with a fair amount of money and those who are poorer, like me.

So I've been thinking about this as a place to settle for a year. The visa situation is good, since they allow you 90 days per entrance, no visa required, and you can take a bus up to Thailand and return an infinite number of times and get 90 days each time.

The down side is that if I'm going to settle somewhere for a year or more, I'd want to get out of the guesthouse situation and have an apartment, and I'd want a fairly decent one, with air-con and cable TV and internet access, and a Western bathroom. Suddenly I'm looking at a lot of money. The small studio or one-bedroom apartment is apparently almost non-existent. People live with their families until they marry, then they want enough room for a couple of kids. So apartments usually have three bedrooms. And cost $700 to $1000 per month. Now, I'm sure there are cheaper places, but I'm pretty sure that as a westerner, I'm never going to find them.

On the other hand, if I could handle the budget hotel, hostel thing, I could live pretty cheaply. In Chiang Mai, which eventually got on my nerves, the opposite is true. Apartments can be cheaper than staying in a guesthouse.

The solution would be to share, but I don't know if I could handle having two roommates. Or how roommates would handle me.

So for now I've crossed Penang off of my list of retirement locations. A lot of places have been crossed off recently. Chiang Mai, Phuket, and most likely I'll have to scrap Panama. I understand it has become much more expensive there.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Penang: My Missing Festivals

I'm making a career of missing festivals and parades. In Chiang Mai, the Flower Festival came and went, and I never even noticed. Here, I showed up for Sikh New Year just as it ended. Apparently I was here for a couple of festivals in March and April, and knew nothing about them, either.

More frustrating are the ones I know about but can't seem to get to on time, or at all. One day I decided to go to a procession for Buddha's birthday. I asked at The Malibu, "When does the procession start and where is it?" Armed with directions, I set off, only to find myself in Little India. An odd place for a Buddhist procession, I thought, even though there are several Buddhist temples in the area.

Then I realized that I was standing in front of a Hindu temple, watching people get ready for some sort of ceremony. There were a couple of floats, and young girls all dressed up, women in pretty salwar kameez. After wandering around, looking in shops, admiring flowers, and sipping on an iced coffee, I had learned that the sleeveless Punjabi suit is very popular here. But I still knew nothing about the festival. I asked a policeman when the procession would start. It would be a while, he said, so I decided I'd try to find the Buddhist event.

Once again armed with directions, I headed for Burma Road. After a stopping to take some photos, getting disoriented and walking several blocks in the wrong direction, I gave up. I was now too tired to return to the Hindu temple. I gave up and returned to my room, for a shower and a nap.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Penang: Women's Lib on the Funicular

Friday I took the funicular up to Penang Hill. On the way down I started talking to a group of six young Muslim women. They were dressed in the typical intermediate Muslim wear here. Jeans and blouses, with headscarves, very middle-of-the-road. We started with the usual introductory stuff. Where was I from? Where are you from? Why are you in Penang?

They were all from KL (Kuala Lumpur) and are studying at a university here in Penang. They had taken their last exam of the year that morning, and decided to celebrate by renting a car and doing some sightseeing before heading back home to their families and their summer jobs. They had really not seen much of Penang in their two years here.

Eventually I asked, "What are you studying?" "Civil Engineering." "All of you?" "Yes." I told them I thought engineering, and especially civil engineering, was still not a common career choice for women back in America.

"We all had good mothers," one said. "They told us that we could do anything a man could do, and we should." Big grins, and one fist shoved into the air!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Penang: A Sikh New Year

A couple of people told me that there would be a celebration for the Sikh New Year over at Fort Cornwallis. I didn't even know the Sikhs had their own new year. A show, free food, and some cultural things were planned for Saturday from 6 pm to 10 pm. The actual New Year was a few days earlier, but mid-week isn't a good time for a party.

I went with a Canadian woman who is staying at my guest house. She's just come from India, and I've come from Thailand. We got there a little after 7:30. Now, in Thailand or India, they wouldn't have been very far into the event. However, this is Malaysia, and all we saw was two dances, as the performance was almost over. The dances were an odd mix of traditional moves, hip hop, and swing, and a bit jarring to watch.

The lines for food were too long, so we headed off to a hawker center (sort of an outdoor food court) for some something to eat. We stopped again to explore a place called the Red Garden, a sort of hawker center with shops.

Our route to and from the festival took us past the old colonial buildings that house government agencies, museums, and such things. I saw them all when I was here in the early nineties (this is my sixth visit to Penang), but never at night. It was nice to see them all lit up.

It also provided a photo opportunity. Carol reminded me of Jellybean. One minute she's there, and the next minute I was talking to thin air. I'd look around, and there she'd be, standing on a park bench, her face hidden by her camera. Later we also stopped at the Hainan temple, which is just a few doors down from the hostel, for more night shots. I finally got Carol to put her camera down by reminding her that I could sleep as late as I wanted, but she was getting up at five in the morning!