At the breakfast, we met a bunch of University students who came all the way from the US on a cultural cum study tour. Incidentally, their group leader had visited Pakistan and in fact stayed in the earthquake area for a couple of years while working for an NGO!
Postponing our detailed discussion about her Pakistan experience for the next day, we took some help from one of the helpful group members about today’s sightseeing itinerary and walked to our first destination; Kuan Yin Teng or the Goddess of Mercy Temple.
|Trishaw: Penang's trademark transport|
Penang’s heritage scene is mainly consisted of British era buildings, Chinese clan houses and mansions, and places of worships. While the other interesting aspect, i.e. food, is evolved from a combination of Hokkien, Malay, Indian, and Continental cuisines! The island is not that well-known among nature lovers, however, the Penang Hill Railway, or the funicular, which climbs up the Penang Hill is a treat for everybody.
Unfortunately, and so unfortunately, the track had been closed for a major overhaul and did not open, even with many ‘dead’ deadlines, when we were there. A big disappointment indeed, especially when we were not that interested in staring those over glorified building structures!!
Without much choice, we started our sight-seeing day from the nearby Kuan Yin Teng which is the oldest Buddhist temple in Penang established by Hokkien Chinese back in 1801. Located on a narrow street, off Lebuh chulia, the place is frequently visited by followers and tourists both. We saw worshippers burning joss sticks and offering fruits to seek good health, peace in life, and a bright future for themselves and their children.
The ambiance was kind of suffocating and smoky, however, clean, peaceful, and original. Outside, there were street stalls selling joss sticks, including some big size varieties, and other offerings. A similar sight what one can expect from outside sufi shrines in Pakistan!
|Shop outside Kuan Yin Teng selling joss sticks|
|Joss sticks burning outside Kuan Yin Teng|
|More joss sticks burning outside Kuan Yin Teng|
|A sacred place|
|Shopkeeper sleeping after a busy week last month|
|Kuan Yin Teng|
We then walked to the now abandoned Chinese clan house, Khoo Kongsi, through Jalan Masjid Kapitan (Jalan = Road) and took a couple of snaps of the enroute Aceh mosque, built by Acehnese Muslims in the 19th century.
|Cheah Kongsi; one of Penang's clan houses|
It was not a fulfilling day so far, if not disappointing at all. Or maybe we were too demanding after the rich Bali and Cameron Highland experiences. In order to avoid further spoiling of our only full day in Penang, we looked at the tourism brochure, listing Penang’s various attractions, again!
We found no choice but to visit yet another temple Wat Chayamangkalaram, which claims to host world’s largest reclining Buddha and runs under Thai descendents! So, we took the red bus to Lorong Burma where we found another big temple, which runs under Burmese oriented people!
Actually both of these temples face each other hence making Lorong Burma a busy street. Before that, we bought bus tickets for Kuala Lumpur for tomorrow’s journey from outside Prangin Mall.
|The bust Lorong Burma|
First we entered into the Burmese one, where an innocent looking monk was engaged with children, brought there by their parents. Monk was sitting on an inclined seat and reciting holy words in front of respectfully bowed kids. He then came to us also and offered good wishes to Misha. We requested to have a couple of pictures with him, with a big Buddha statue in the background, which he happily agreed!
The ambiance was as peaceful and holy as was in the Kuan Yin temple we visited earlier in the day; however, it was not suffocating because of high roofs and spacious prayer hall. Probably that was the most spiritually inspiring and the least commercial looking of all the temples we visited during our Oriental Outings.
|The impressive Burmese temple|
|The monk is saving kids from bad luck|
|A big statue|
|Monk and the kid|
The gold plated reclining Buddha in the next door Wat Chayamangkalaram Temple was overwhelming. Extra large Thai style dragons were erected outside the prayer hall as they were guarding the sanctuary. The overall ambiance was, however, rather commercial looking, maybe because of tourist hordes. Unlike the other temples, burning of joss sticks was loudly prohibited, and instead small candles could be bought and lit up to show the expensive reverence.
|A fruit vendor on Lorong Burma|
|Fresh and juicy|
Around late afternoon, Chulia Street rather starts looking like a food street where hawkers sprung around with their respective specialties. We first stopped at a vendor selling Mie Goreng! Meaning “fried noodles”, the derivative of Chinese Chow Mein is not as innocent as it sounds! It is spicy and served really hot! Literally fried with Achar, Indian pickle, these noodles are so flavorsome that it is hard for me to control my Ramadan fasting while I am writing this!
Garlic, red chili, onion, tomatoes, and other vegetables are also added to enhance the tang along with other desi herbs. Think this is an Indian variety? I guess no! You may find it all over Indonesia and Malaysia but the Penang one has got its special feel. One reason I may think about going back to the island.
|Pineapple rip-off juice; more ice less fruit!|
Wandering around purposelessly took us to the Chocolate Boutique around Lebuh Leith. The shop showcases such an extended variety of chocolates that I fear start drooling, especially thinking of those unconventional tiramisu and chili flavors.
Good for us that the staff was giving a tour, with free sampling, to the tourist herd. We also bought some chocolate only to find out later that the same brand was available outside, with not-that-chic packaging, for one third the price! A rip off actually for poor packaged bound tourists.
Next door was located a big food court. Although, we had already stuffed ourselves with random junk; even then we had been tempted for the veggie stall selling aaloo bhaji (potato curry), with chapatti!