Friday, September 21, 2007

Georgetown and About

"I wonder if we are allowed to stay in the YMCA. Inn Shan and I aren't Christians. Sze Yin isn't even a man."

Me, right before we checked into the YMCA Hostel of Penang

We were sort of fretting, till we saw a Muslim woman manning the receptionist's counter.

Still Day 2 of the Great Penang Road Trip.

The highway north of Ipoh is a harrying stretch for about 10 kilometres after the tunnel. The road is about as straight as a politician, and mega-sized trucks kept zipping past me in that very-narrow mountainside corridor when I was concentrating hard on preventing our untimely deaths down a limestone gorge. I could almost hear those beer-bellied, chain-smoking truckers calling me "Noob!" back at me as they cut me off.

The view was awesome. I noticed that in some of those precious few seconds not spent eyeing some fourteen-wheeler flashing its headlights at me from behind. Bloody hogs.

We passed the toll at about two-o-clockish, and I am convinced that Butterworth, Penang island's neighbouring city on the mainland, is nothing more than a place for roadsigns pointing to the either the ferry terminal, or the Penang Bridge to stand. I opted for the ferry trip, in spite of initial but half-hearted protests from Inn Shan and Sze Yin. Sze Yin had a minor panic attack when I told her - while we were waiting to board the ferry - that our car will be hoisted with us in it onto the ferry using a giant crane.

Honestly, people would believe anything these days.

One of the few places in Malaysia where you can get seasick in a car.

The crossing took us less than half an hour and it was kind of novel really 'cause i have never been on a boat with my car before.

I kept thinking that there should be a big, flaming eye sitting on top of KOMTAR, for some reason.

Then, we landed in Penang. The three of us. For the very first time.

The narrow streets of Georgetown, the city of the island, are strongly reminiscent of the ones found in the crumblier side of Malacca (the "historical bit", pffft). I heard that the conversion of most of the streets to one-ways is part of the city council's plan to reduce intra-city traffic congestion. The plan's not working, I'm afraid.

We spotted something I wanted to see while we were cruising along Jalan MacAlister;

UMNO's Gentle Reminder to the Populace of Who's Really In-charge Hereabouts.

Apparently, this was designed by "a prolific Malaysian architect and writer best known for developing environmental design solutions for high-rise buildings in the tropics" (to quote his Wiki shrine article). I never gave a flying two-pence about architecture before (I called the Petronas Twin Towers Mahathir's Double Penis) but this one's special because I actually personally know the eldest offspring of said "prolific Malaysian architect and writer".

Take a good look at your Dad's work, kid. I risked life and limb (of three people, no less) when I took my hands off the wheel to snap this photo as I was driving past. I deserve a bit of gratitude here; especially since I also risked those same lives and limbs twice when I came from the other side;

I always wanted a mini tripod screwed on my car's dashboard.

People of authority always loved owning sky-scraping monuments as obnoxious symbols of their power. On Penang alone, we got two of 'em - that UMNO Tower, the ruling regime's island home base, and KOMTAR or Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak, named after Malaysia's 2nd or 3rd Prime Minister (let's face it, the two of them aren't very distinctive at all) who belonged to that same ruling party. At 65-storey high, it is Malaysia's 6th tallest building - though it did enjoy a short stint of fame as Asia's loftiest concrete prick till the Korean Life Insurance Building pawned its concrete ass;

The Tower of Dark Sorcery, KOMTAR.

Other notable authorities of absolute evhul who also boasted symbolic towers of power includes Saruman, with his Orthanc in Isengard, and Sauron, with Barad-dûr and Minas Morgul. Sauron got two 'cos he's more bad-ass. Of course, this is totally not a jibe aimed at Mahathir, no suh. Wouldn't dream of it. He got three in our capital city alone.

After lunch at a nondescript coffee shop at Jalan Penang, we headed for the Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram, an place of tourist attraction of some note standing somewhere between the aptly named Lorong Bangkok and Lorong Burma. I'd like to have a word with those blokes that named the roads in Penang.

The what?

It's pretty easy to find - It's not everyday you see a big, yellow pagoda standing in the middle of the 'urbs.

And here's the only reason why anyone who's not a devotee wants to visit this place;

Big lounging Buddha.

It's a 33-metre-long concrete Reclining Buddha (3rd largest in the world). I know it looks very plastic but it's concrete - or so I was told.

I'm a Buddhist, and I must say this;

It's real ugly.

Oh, now that I'm on the subject, I want everyone to know that Buddhists don't worship statues.

Anyway, the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple opposite of the Wat is a lot more worth the time to see (and a lot more easier to pronounce too);

Ooh, pretty.

This must be what they had in mind when they coined the word 'ornate'.

Yes, I'm precisely the sort of tourist that gets all excited over things like this and take a million pictures of it from every possible angle. Just don't expect to see me in Bermudas, a straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt.

I don't get why the Wat is more popular, especially since this temple is founded almost half a century earlier. I can't believe that a giant concrete effigy of Sid Gautama lying down trumped this;

In the main shrine hall.

The Main Shrine Hall is adorned with an pleasant mix of wood and gold, shaped and carved into amazingly intricate designs. The way those carvings were hung over the polished, white marble floor reminded me of curtains (really, really starched curtains). There's a genuine feeling of serenity and peace in here, as opposed to the more hodgepodge aesthetics in that temple across the street.

Hey, just my opinion.

Next up on our list was Fort Cornwallis, and the Victoria Memorial Clock Tower. The ancients have been so considerate in building them so close together. Saved us from driving around so much.

The Victoria Memorial Clock Tower.

The 60-feet clock tower was donated by some rich bloke called Cheah Chen Eok in 1987 as a gift to Queen Victoria to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of her reign. Why anyone would celebrate someone's protracted colonial rule over their heads is beyond me. Ironically, before the tower was completed in 1902, Queen Vic went the way of the pharaohs and bit the royal dust. Though, I got a feeling that she probably didn't even know a clock tower was being erected in her honor on some piddling island in the East Indies anyway.

I heard that the clock tower tilts a litte due to some bombing incident at the nearby King Edward's Place. Can't say I notice.

Fort Cornwallis.

One of the surprises I got there was my discovery that an admission fee was required before I could enter the fort.

I mean, the even the A Famosa in Malacca ("one of the oldest surviving European architectural remains in Asia") is completely open to the public! And Fort Cornwallis is way out of the A Famosa's class. About 200 years short. How dare they charge me for entry!

Anyway, the diamond-shaped fort was built by this bloke;

Sir Francis Light, the founder of the British colony of Penang. Morons not included.

And his illegitimate son, Colonel William Light founded Adelaide in Australia. Here's a picture of the bastard;

Light father, Light son (OMG, kill me now! I just made the lamest joke in my life!)

The picture's kept in one of the fort's prison cells or provision storehouse (you can't really tell the difference) though they were converted into museum booths full of boring stuff that requires reading. They were air-conditioned, however. Prisoners those days sure had it easy, eh?

No - I don't care, the A/C still didn't justify charging for entrance.

Upon closer inspection of the picture;

Cameltoe! Cameltoe!

Colonel William Light has cameltoe! I must remark that he does look rather gender-confused. Check out his rosy cheeks! He's got a blush an eighteen-year-old Southern belle would envy!

And these are the wild horses we were warned about that were left loose on the grounds;


I don't know. I felt really disappointed when I saw them. Wild my ass.

Probably the coolest thing I saw in the whole place was this, the Seri Rambai Cannon;

The almighty voodoo gun.

This canon was initially presented to the Sultan of Johor by the Dutch (yep, Malaysia was once owned by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Brits and the Japanese; making us one of the most pawned countries in the world). Then is was given to the Acheen and installed at Kuala Selangor before it was finally seized by the purloining Englishmen and planted right here in Fort Cornwallis in 1871. Beats me why they wanna move such a heavy metal tube around so much. It seems so pointless to me.

There's a local superstition that if barren women put flowers into its barrel with an offering of a special prayer, the canon would help them conceive. It kinda made sense to me though. The bigger the gun, the better the chance.

Only, it'd be incredibly embarrassing to be caught stuffing daisies into the canon. People might point and laugh and go "Haha, infertile!" when you were doing it. I dunno about you, but that would certainly put me out of the mood for sex.

A view of the sea, from the most northeast corner of the island, where Fort Cornwallis is.

By the time we left, it was nigh 6 pm. We chose that time to embark on a quest for a rather obscure tourist attraction of Georgetown - only, we never anticipated just how "obscure" it was. Remember how travel shows are always proclaiming something or other to be some place's 'best kept secret', though it almost always aren't? Well, I think I finally found one that really deserved to be called that.

More in the next post, readers.

Off a-questin',
k0k s3n w4i

Other posts in my Great Penang Road Trip series:


InnShan said...

i think i look a bit fat in the picture with KOMTAR building.

bevE said...

sigh (missed it) *like in xiaxue or kennysia's blog*

2nd comment

Jen said...

the ferry ride was far too short! i'd barely gotten used to my "sea legs" when it docked. when i grow up, i'm-a-gonna get my own wiki page *scoffs at said kiddo*

the plastic/concrete(so they say) buddha doesnt exactly make me feel like picking up a couple of joss sticks and lighting up. tsk.. what a flop. and i bet those horses get really wild when night falls. y'know, a lil bit of tequila hay shots and you've got yourself a party.

i'd toss flower seeds into the cannon. that makes more sense. i think. ok fine, maybe a whole bouqet of flowers then. oh wait, its to get pregnant. sorry. my bad. its back to the florist i go.

p.s. leave ol' bill light alone. i'm sure camel toes were all the rage back then. slave to fashion, he was.

i love rambling at 2am.

k0k s3n w4i said...

I think i look gay in that picture with Sir Francis Light.


I hardly imagined it requiring any sealegs at all - it was pretty smooth.
I suppose u guys did see that funky cannon when u were there? I remember it was quite empty tho. Apparently, the women of Penang got no problem in that department at all.
About Bill, it still leaves the issue of how he got a cameltoe in the first place. Poor Bill, indeed.
I love rambling whenever :D