Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Day 2 in Penang: Head for the Hills

My second day in Penang was to be my chill day.  There would be no temples, no museums, no fighting with maps in busy cities.  I just wanted to go out to Penang Hill, 6 kilometers outside of town and enjoy some fresh air, a nice view and maybe a hike or two.

I grabbed my camera and knitting supplies and boarded the bus that dropped me off at the bottom of the hill.  There is a funicular that takes you the rest of the way but since it was a weekend, the line for tickets was long.  No problem, though, a Pitbull-loving dj (as in Dale!, not as in Heel, boy!) was there to keep us entertained.  The crowd was mainly families out to enjoy the day.

We moved quickly and soon were whisked to the top of the hill.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Day 1 in Penang: Street Art & Khongis

Good vegetarian food, cheap beer, extensive street art, exciting architecture, cool museums, laid back venomous snakes and cheeky non-venomous monkeys.  These are a few of my favorite things.  At least, I think that is how the song goes.  Or better yet, that is a rundown of a few of the things I loved about the kick-ass island of Penang.

As I have mentioned before, I purposely did very little research prior to this trip.  Therefore, it came as the most welcome of surprises when, after an 8 hour bus ride, I checked into my hostel and was handed both a city map and a street art map. There was enough street art to warrant its own map!  This was looking promising.

My hostel, the excellent Magpie Residence, was about a fifteen minute walk from the heart of Georgetown (or a free bus ride away) so the first evening I only explored a bit of the outskirts of town.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Me Like-a Malacca, Malaysia

Malacca, Malaysia is a lot of things. It is a state in the southern part of the country. It is a UNESCO world heritage site known as the 'Historic City' and celebrated for its well-preserved architecture. It is a former prime trading post that exchanged hands between the Portuguese, Dutch and British. It is the source of one of the more bizarre origin stories I've ever heard. It is sometimes spelled Melaka, don't ask me why. It is home to a large population of Baba Nyonya, or Peranakan Chinese, partly as a result of a 15th century Chinese Emperor's daughter who was married off to a Malay Sultan. She brought along with her 500 attendants, who themselves ended up marrying Malays and Indian traders, creating a hybrid culture also referred to as the Straits Chinese. It is an artsy town with a rich abundance of small galleries and antique shops. It is almost certainly the set of a Quentin Tarantino film. I can not find any publications to substantiate this, even Wikipedia is notably silent on the topic, but I know what I saw.

Take the principal means of tourist transportation. Located primarily around Dutch Square, you will find a battalion of brightly decorated tricycles.  They are more than simple conveyances, they are mini-mobile works of art with a couple of dominant themes that repeat themselves in all this garish accoutrements.  These motifs are (in no particular order):  Hello Kitty, Frozen and some blue cat-like thing that I have never heard of.  Most are equipped with speakers and have made some demonic pact that requires them, regardless of decor, to play "Let It Go" on an endless loop. I never personally witnessed any of them involved in a slow-motion drive by shooting, but you know how Quentin is. He likes to spring these things on the viewer when you least expect them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Country #99: My Malaysia

After two long days of flying, I landed in Malaysia, my last double digit country. I'd arrived late in the evening and didn't make it to the hostel until after midnight so my initial enthusiasm was mixed in with a healthy dose of jet lag. I was in that phase of exhaustion where you don't want to do a damned thing but you can't really sleep either, so I grabbed a beer from the front desk and went up to the rooftop patio. From the comfort of a swing chair, I looked out at what could possibly be a Petronas Tower. It wasn't the two side-by-side sleek cylindrical structures that I expected but with a bit of squinting and a touch of imagination, it was not unreasonable to believe that this was a side view of the iconic landmark. Or a hallucination. At this point, I wasn't ruling anything out.

Daylight and a long night's sleep proved me right.  It was official.  I was in Kuala Lumpur staring at 1/2 of the world's former tallest building. I wanted to immediately run over there for a closer look but having arrived without my usual rigorously planned agenda, I opted to have the lady at the front desk plan out my day for me.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Incheon my way to Malaysia

Last February, I was in the Montreal's Pierre Elliot Trudeau Int'l airport waiting for my flight. Apparently, all the Quebecois citizens in possession of a passport were sitting alongside me. It was the start of spring break and every single flight was oversold. The gate agents had morphed into auctioneers, offering ever-increasing amounts for anyone willing to give up their seat. Since I had nowhere to be in a hurry, when the game began for my flight, I jumped in early, with the caveat that my compensation not be locked into the current amount. I would play along as long as I got whatever the highest amount was. So I sat back, willing everyone to stay put, as he called $500, $600, $700... He finally got a taker at $1300. That is $1300 US Dollars to be used towards any Delta flight just for agreeing to go on a later flight!

I have gotten vouchers in the past and the trickiest part, believe it or not, is using them before they expire. Sounds silly but they are good for only one year from the date of issuance and it is all too easy to throw them in a drawer and forget about them until it is too late. Knowing this, I used my extra time at the airport to start researching places I'd like to go. New Zealand was too much. Easter Island was a no go. A r/t ticket to Malaysia during my vacation in December: $1313.