"There are some kids who just make your hand itch to slap them."
Day 3 of the Great Penang Road Trip
And here's some of those kids;
There is no hell scarier than one in which you're trapped in an achingly slow moving inclined train stuffed door to door with noisy, sniffy, gangster-ish primary school kids traveling up a hill.
I am speaking of the funicular railway of Penang Hill, which is also known by its Malay name, Bukit Bendera - and when God made it, he named it the Peak of Boredom. Sure, it's the de facto highest point of the island. Suuure it's several degrees cooler than the rest of Penang and you can pretty much see the whole of Georgetown from there. But all that didn't stop it from being mind-numbingly dull. You can actually hear your brain cells die screaming one-by-one up there.
If you're one of the locals looking for a good place to jog or to practice your tai chi, yoga or black sorcery, Penang Hill is your mountain. But if you're a tourist who came to Penang for a good time - like me - you're way out of the map on this one, buddy.
For great sceneries and old-fashioned, feel-good natural tranquility...
... it's hard to beat the Ayer Itam Dam, further up the highlands where the famed Kek Lok Si Temple is located. Just drive past the temple till you fall into a lake, and thar you be, me hearties.
Okay, granted it's not that big a deal, but for Penang, it's kinda awesome in a small-islandish kinda way.
If I take a leak into the dam, all of Penang would technically be drinking my diluted piss right?
The clouds are causing a rad effect on the previous picture above, and on this next picture too;
That was my best picture in my whole three hours sojourn at the Kek Lok Si Temple, literally translated from Penang Hokkien as the Temple of Supreme Bliss.
Like I said, that was my best picture - so get prepared for a bumper-load of ugly, substandard ones. We stayed so long there because Sze Yin insisted to pay her respect to every deity in the place. But honestly, I don't drive that badly.
All I did was suggest that I turn off the engine and try rolling down the hill from the Ayer Itam Dam by gravity to save petrol. Perfectly reasonable, if you ask me.
And here's the kitten I played with while waiting for my genuflecting trip mates to catch up;
I half wanted to smuggle it back to our room at the YMCA. I was sure my grandmother would approve of my bringing it back to Malacca if I tell her I got it from the temple and it's gonna bring luck to the family or something. Old people are suckers for this sort of stuff.
It's a pity that on our visit, they were raising some sort of giant pavilion over the 30.2 m (about the size of a full grown blue whale) bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. I thought it was a daft idea really because she would look a lot more serene (and well, bigger) if she's just framed against the vast, empty sky.
By the time we reached the pagoda (in the first Kek Lok Si Temple picture I showed you), it had started raining - quite heavily actually - but pagodas don't climb themselves, you know;
It is seven storeys high but I can almost swear that it's closer to seventeen. The steps were steep and slick with rain, and the stench of lizard and roach droppings permeated the musty air. Considering the amount of devotees' cash they are getting *cough*giantpavilion*cough*, you'd think they would have enough left over to hire someone to sweep the place.
The pagoda has Chinese octagonal foundation floors, middle bits of Thai design, and a crown of Burmese aesthetics; reflecting the temple's embrace of both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. How they managed to do that is quite beyond me (I am referring to the inclusion of the two very different doctrines, not the architectural mishmash, of course).
Kek Lok Si is top-grade place to hang out if you're the religious sort - there's a Buddha of every imaginable shape and size to cater to your every worshiping need. Even if you're not a Buddhist, the temple complex is a veritable treasure hoard of architectural eye candy. Just be prepared to shell out some bucks for admission if you want to check out the giant Goddess of Mercy statue or climb pagoda à la Viennetta.
After that, we headed for a different kind of religious experience;
Right before the trip, Inn Shan and I performed in-depth research into the cuisine scene of Penang, the often cited (and constantly self-proclaimed) capital of good eats of Malaysia. By research, I mean we read blogs written by Penang bloggers and kept score - writing down whichever place that got the most hype. The island's most beloved dish is without a doubt, the Char Kuey Teow - the grub that launched a thousand inferior imitations all over the nation.
And of the hundreds of stalls on the island, Sister Char Kuay Teow of Lorong Selamat beats the crap out of all the others. It has overwhelming mentions.
OVERWHELMING, I TELL YOU!
I think it's cool that the Auntie wears a bright, funky red hat. There's no way you can miss her. And the way she fry is pretty out of the ordinary too. There were instances when she bends real close over the wok, squinting at the sizzling noodles, prawns and bean sprouts as if she was trying to spot any sign of imperfection on them (if they dare to be imperfect!), hence the goggle-like glasses she sport. All geared up and meaning business, I can tell ya.
The Char Kuey Teow.
It's the best Char Kuey Teow I ever had in my life, naturally - obviously superior to the one I had at the hawker center at Gurney Drive.
Notably, this was the only time I enjoyed eating prawns so much. So... very... juicy! Normally, I avoid seafood like dogs avoid baths. Prawn is an especial dislike of mine because they look like giant maggots - you can't argue with me there. The Auntie had fried thin slices of Chinese sausage (what we refer to as "Laap Cheong") with the noodles which added a sweet tinge of flavour not found in Malaccan Char Kuey Teow. I suppose the fact that she cook with a charcoal stove instead of a conventional gas outfit adds up to the great taste too. Simply said, 'twas amazing!
Anyone who visits Penang must try this stall for Char Kuey Teow. If you didn't on your last trip, go back and get some. Now.
It's only three days and I have sampled all three of Malaysia's finest food. Malacca's Chicken Rice Ball takes first place in my heart, of course (it's treasonous any other way). Sorry Penangites, but I have to vote for Ipoh's Nga Choy Kai over your Char Kuey Teow. Of course, this does not subtract anything at all from its awesomeness.
When I went back for seconds, I had to line up again. And serve myself. Oh well, it's a teensy bit of inconvenience I was willing to suffer for the best Char Kuey Teow in Malaysia.
Thus conclude my post today. Good morning.
The serial traveloguer,
k0k s3n w4i
Other posts in my Great Penang Road Trip series: