Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Penang, part II: Aim High, for the Gods are Tall

Penang, Malaysia (Palau Pinang, Malaysia)
5 March 2017
Our next day in Penang began with finishing off the half watermelon of the day before and meeting up with Jarold while he ate his dim sum breakfast. Catching an Uber ride to the base of the Kek Lok Si Temple, we took a less travelled way up. 
Though not "the main way", there were still several souvenir shops doted along the zigzagging staircase, as well as piles of gravel and other construction materials near labourers sipping drinks. 

The pathway had many offshoots which led to shops and houses, and this one featured a sleepy cat!

Once at the top, we entered the temple and found it to be huge and amazing. It was so colourful, with innumerable yellow and red lanterns, and brightly painted railings and roof tiles. 

We had managed to climb rather high, and I give the sprawling views out over Georgetown top marks. 

The setting of the temple among the lush mountains made for a relaxing visit. 

For a small fee I was able to buy a wish! I selected "coming and going safely" because of our travels. All the wishes get strung up on sticks, and Jarold used a long tool to secure his right at the top because the gods are tall. It was interesting to see what wishes were available, aside from the typical "academic prowess" and "financial success". One that stood out was "constant happiness", which frankly sounds exhausting. There were special wish ribbons for children, which were designed with Disney princesses all over them. Some gems from these were "listen to my father" and "hurry up", though I feel like the parents would wish for these things more than the children themselves. 

After taking a cable car to the top we saw another wishing tree, this one with a special ribbon available for double the price: "pray for lucky blessings by auspicious dragon". Wow. That is definitely worth the extra dough. 

Still under construction, we walked up to a giant statue of the Lady Buddha, who was Jarold's Buddha of choice to pray to. 

Taking a different way down, our eyes were assailed by cluttered flashy souvenir stalls offering many different trinkets. At the base of the hill, Jarold introduced us to Muar Chee: Malaysian sticky rice balls coated in sugar, peanuts and sesame seeds. Quite delicious, and they were also very cheap from the roadside vendor. Inside a gift shop, Yannick found a packet of coconut dodol (a sweet made from coconut milk, sugar and rice flour) that he had taken a strong liking to on our last trip to Malasia, so he bought a packet. This was in spite of Jarold claiming that it wasn't true dodol unless it was durian flavour! No thank you. In the same store I found some delicious looking dried mango, so procured a packet for later nibbling. 
Suddenly one of Jarold's friends Jake turned up and drove us to what was apparently the best Char Koay Teow place in town - a little stall in a hawker centre that had been run by the same lady for forty years. 

While there, I had fruit for lunch and was able to try something new: ciku! This soft little fruit tastes exactly like brown sugar. I also discovered that carrot juice in Malaysia automatically comes with added milk, so I swapped my strange concoction for Yannick's (thankfully dairy-free) apple juice. 

From there we were driven to Then Kong Thnuah Temple, where it began to rain. Pink umbrella in hand, Jarold led the way up the steps and into the grand entrance. Jake stayed behind, as his mum forbade his from visiting the temple of the sky god as it was "too big a god", who he likened to a CEO god. 

Though not as high in elevation as Kek Lok Si, the views from this temple were also stunning. 

Inside, much insense was burned and many shoes were removed. 

Our next stop was to Bats' Cave Temple, which had an actual bat cave! With bats! They were surprisingly tolerant of all the commotion that the worshippers were producing; one lady who was just out of our line of sight was somehow making sounds like she was dropping a plank of wood at height repeatedly. Perhaps she was, thought I've never seen that method of prayer before. 

Pineapple shaped candles were very popular here, and when I pointed out how affordable they were to Jarold, he went off to have a look. That's the last I saw him. 
We searched high and low, until we finally found him outside playing with a cat. He always finds cats wherever he goes and I suspect that he's a superhero in disguise (his superpower being super cat radar). 
With space still in their bellies, Yannick and the others shared a laksa and some fried radish cubes with spicy sauce while I ate yet more fruit in the form of pineapple and mango. 

Then Jake kindly dropped us off at the botanic gardens, where we encountered a few packs of monkeys. Some looked like sad old men slumped on the edge of the footpath waiting for a bus that would never arrive. On our last trip to Malaysia we had visited Batu Caves, where the monkeys are very aggressive and will steal anything they can get their pesky hands on. Here, they largely minded their own business and groomed each other. 
We were lucky in that the day was cloudy, so we didn't overheat too much while walking around, and searched for a rumoured secret lotus garden. Though we weren't sure if we had found it or not (no lotus were blooming, but it may have been the wrong season), we enjoyed sharing the packet of dried mango while looking out over a scenic pond where a cute turtle peered at us. 

Inside the Bromeliad house, I found a pineapple plant! Oh, how I would love to own a pineapple plant. We also saw a hummingbird. 

From a roadside stall, Jarold purchased an icecream sandwich as a snack, which turned out to be a literal chunk of ice cream stuck into a bread roll (and the ice cream was sweetcorn flavoured). It's a different sort of place, is Malaysia. As he was munching away, a nearby monkey spotted the treat and made a run at him! Instinctually, Jarold crammed the sandwich into his mouth and the monkey turned away dejectedly. Once he had swallowed, Jarold declared "I came from Batu Caves, bitch!" 
Then we began the walk back to downtown. Along the way we saw a huge woodlouse, which Jarold poked experimentally. It tucked itself up into a ball and slowly rolled down the sloped footpath. Soon afterwards we smelled fire and saw that there was some sort of blessing ceremony going on for a car, utilising burning coconuts and petals scattered over the windshield. 
Before we had to leave for the airport, Jarold insisted on one more dish for Yannick to try, which was a duck soup from a very popular stall. For dessert they found a cendol vendor and sat on tiny plastic stools while eating. Our time in Georgetown quickly drawing to a close, we said our farewells to Jarold and caught an Uber to the airport. Apparently it's traditional to bring back specialty Penang biscuits to your coworkers after a holiday, so Yannick went around trying the free samples in the airport store to find the best flavours. He accidentally tried a durian one, but felt better after a massage we got in coin-operated chairs. I found it exceedingly weird, but Yannick said that he would do it again in the future. Biscuits in hand, we caught our flight back to Singapore. 

Today's post was almost called: Monkey Dreams of Sandwich