Monthly Archives: May 2016


On my first day in George Town, I visited the Keeling Mosque, built by the British East India company for the Indian moslims in their service. It  is a pretty building of Indo Saracenic architecture and seems more mature than the Jamek Mosque in Kuala Lumpur which, dwarfed by modern high rise buildings, looked a bit like a doll’s house. I had an interesting conversation with a moslim cleric in the small visitor’s centre, who explained several passages in the quran. He gave me a free copy of the holy book which I thought was a nice gesture, though, in terms of proselytising his faith, rather a waste of money . Back in the hotel I tried to read some of it, but it was very dull and repetitive. Hopefully I can change it for a Tom Clancy at the book exchange down the road..

After finding a small Malay restaurant I ordered Tom Yam which was a mistake. It’s a soup and even though I had eaten it before, I had forgotten the experience. One ingredient is bamboo and this time the cook had, in  a desperate attempt to find some sticks, cut up the garden furniture. The results were hard, undigestable bits of bamboo that I couldn’t possibly eat.


Obese Buddha. The long ears are a sign of wisdom. The double chin is a sign of eating to much sweet and sour pork.

Some days later I walked over to the clan jetties. These are the piers that were  built by Chinese clans to offload cargo that provided jobs for the coolies in the old days. Even though nowadays they represent a more sanitised version it’s still fairly exotic shambles of mainly wooden buildings with zinc roofs. The most authentic aspect of the neighbourhood was perhaps the bad smell from open sewers, which seemed to  to be essentially nineteenth century… To this day the inhabitants don’t pay any taxes as they aren’t living on the land.

This morning it’s unusually busy at the Chinese temple. Tons of joss sticks are burnt. Other practices are the releasing of caged birds and the burning of joss paper. The first is believed creditable, although its merit seems questionable, as the birds first are caught and caged for the purpose of selling it to the pious, who will set it free and after which it probably flies back to its owner.
According to Wikipedia: Burning actual money would be untenable for most people, and is also considered unlucky in Asian cultures. This shows how reading Wikipedia can be a waste of time. Burning money would be untenable for most people. Really. Hell money, a form of joss paper has some high denominations, 10.000 dollars for example. Easy money. You just jot a few extra zeros. The ancestors will understand… Very recently a local Chinese politician has received hell  money, because he had exposed a corruption scandal. The envelope with the fake money was an obvious death threat.

Most evenings I threw frisbees on the field next to Fort Cornwallis. There was just a brief window of time after the sun set and it cooled down a bit and before it got dark with the increasing chance of a frisbee knocking your teeth out. Every other day or so we climbed up Penang Hill. Occasionally all the way. Along the way it was nice to sit down and drink free coffee with biscuits which seemed to be provided by the Chinese community. It was notably cooler up the hill.

Some days I make minor discoveries. This morning I found out that the small alley behind the hotel is the only ‘street’ in Penang that has no name. This information was provided by way of a small notice that was one of many that explained some of the history of George Town. It remains unclear how the people in this street receive their mail.


Trying my hand at water colour

Most morning I drink kopi at a small hotel in Love Lane. This little street was long used by rich Chinese Merchants to  house their mistresses, conveniently hidden from their residential areas elsewhere in the city. Kopi, the Malaysian coffee, has the quality of molten Chokotoffs. Ordered in its simple form, i.e. just kopi, will result in a kopi susu. This is coffee with milk, the milk being a dollop of condensed  milk at the bottom. The coffee used is not pure coffee, but is roasted with sugar, margarine and salt.


Hiking in the Cameron Highlands II

During the last week I undertook some more hikes around Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. Some trailheads were difficult to find. To get to the start of trail no.10 you actually have to walk through somebody’s garden. No. 2 starts just behind the Chinese Temple. A monk escorted me through the temple and trhough the kitchen to the back door, where he pointed at the stairs. ‘Up here’, he said. No. 7 starts at a tea plantation but the path and the sign are only visible after you stumble through a hedge…

In Malaysia there are three main ethnic groups: the Malay, the Chinese and the Indians. When I was having dinner in a Chinese restaurant, Philip, a Christian of Indian descent,  explained the cohabitation of the groups.
The Malays have the political power, he said. They government jobs, civil workers etcetera, they are all Malays. Malays are lazy, they don’t speak English very well and are corrupt.
Very useful assets in that kind of work, I said. Philip smiled.
The Chinese have 80% of the business. They are very clever, they have a lot of money and make good investments.
How about the Indians? 
I asked.
Philip shrugged.
We work very hard…
Most Indians are Tamils from Southern India. They came here to work on the rubber plantations. These days there are also many Bangladeshis who mainly work in construction. There are several construction sites in Tanah Rata and they work from 7 in the morning to 10 in the evening. The workers actually seem to live in the building they are working at. Their laundry is hanging on makeshift clotheslines.

In the hostel I met an Eastern European entomologist who was collecting specimens for his university. He was specialised in tiny beetles that he shook out of the trees. I told him about the Indian collector that I had met before.
The Indian man. He runs up the mountain. Every morning. He sells butterflies to the souvenir shop. You know the big shop who sell the wood…. how you say in English?
The carvings? I  said.
Yes, the wood carvings. This shop is from a Chinese man. This carvings. They are not Malaysian. Hah! They are African carvings. The carvings, the masks, hah, they come from Africa. And he sells them to the tourist. Ha ha. This Chinese man, he sends the insects to Africa and they send the carvings back.
And that is legal?
I asked.
No, is not legal. Is illegal.
He said.

On my way back from Brinchang, I have a look at the Indian Temple at the edge of the village. To the right of the entrance is a shrine dedicated to the Sun, the Moon, Venus and, interestingly, Mercurry. No doubt, some Indian designer was thinking lunch when working on this text…


In the courtyard of the temple  I see a small pit with crashed coconuts, a traditional offering in South India. The architecture is very utilitarian and stands in stark contrast to the outlandish ornaments that adorn its façade.