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.
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.
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.