After paddling and Hari Raya I felt pretty unmotivated to plan any further travels, a first for me. At the last minute I set off for Kuala Lumpur winging it, with the idea of visiting two UNESCO World Heritage sites, Penang and Melaka.
Penang had me from hello, I’m such a sucker for a city that can surprise me. With street art around every corner, tightly packed colonial era storefronts with their peeling pastel paint and crooked wooden shutters, beautiful tile work covering the sidewalks and seemingly endless cafes and shops competing for my attention, I was sold. I took it pretty easy, three days of aimless wandering and one day spent hiking up Penang Hill for the view, cool sea breeze and coconut ice cream. In Penang it’s hard to miss all the cafes, they go on and on, within one block alone I found the #Selfie Cafe, the Cat Cafe, the Lover’s Cafe (filled with young couples canoodling), and the Rainforest Cafe, my favorite, where real Greek yogurt and bagels with cream cheese made my little western heart happy. In the early afternoons when I found myself getting overheated and sleepy I would pick a cafe courtyard to relax in with an espresso, and then spend the rest of the afternoon roaming around in a highly caffeinated state, until I drank a couple of Carlsbergs with dinner to put me to sleep for the night.
As always, my favorite activity remains people watching. My head would turn to watch women in full burqas passing by with sexy six inch heels and impeccable eye makeup. Large groups of Chinese tourists wearing t-shirts printed with English phrases continuously cracked me up, one of my favorites being ‘You’re With Enjoying’. The seamless coexistence of so many different religions and cultures in such a small city fascinated me- colorful Hindu dieties sitting next to Chinese Buddhist temples, St George’s Church kitty corner from a mosque, scantily clad tourists snapping photos. I’ve also never been in a city with quite so many quirky little museums, during my ramblings I was able to spot the following types: camera, ghost, owl, upside down, 3D, 3D glow in the dark, miniature toys, models, time tunnel, wonder food, coffee and chocolate, glass, gold, fluorescent light and batik. Of these, I only made it to the Owl Museum, which was filled with ‘owlsome’ puns, owl facts and collections of owl art, so about what I always imagined an owl museum would be.
And, of course, I ate. Part of the draw to go to Penang was the rave reviews I had heard about the food, and it did not disappoint. At Kapitol’s I had the best tandoori chicken and cheese naan of my life and could barely talk about anything else for the following 24 hours. I perused several different hawker streets, where the highlights were a heavenly bowl of laksa, a noodle soup simmered in a fish, coconut and lime based broth, and rojak, a fruit and vegetable salad covered with a tangy soy sauce and sesame seeds. One day I escaped the rain by ducking into Ming Xiang Tai Pastry Shop, where I let the nice owner talk me into buying what turned out to be a delicious egg tart. Another afternoon was happily spent surrounded by old Chinese men at Toh Soon Cafe for kopitiam, which I think means tea and toast covered in kaya, a sweet coconut spread, which you then dip into a bowl of soft boiled eggs. Kaya toast for me was almost Proustian, it reminded me so instantly of the cinnamon sugar toast my father used to make for me in the mornings when I was a child, the perfect snack for homesickness.
After a 10 hour bus ride I found myself in Melaka, happy to be able to get some fresh air and stretch my legs. The city itself was incredibly well maintained, walking around outside was like touring a giant museum. Thanks to the many informational plaques on nearly every corner I was able to learn a ton about the city’s history. Here is my half-hearted history report: Situated on the Straight of Malacca, the city has always been an important trading port for Arab, European and Chinese vessels. The Portuguese controlled the city in the 1500s, until it was taken over by the Dutch East India Trading Company in the mid 1600s. From there it was ceded to the British in the late 1700s, where they basically intentionally destroyed large parts of the city and let it go into ruins. This legacy is apparent when walking around, from the coral walls of the inner city to the windmills along the waterfront and the rickety wooden homes on stilts along the river.
Still, what impressed me most about Melaka was the kindness of the locals. Walking around alone I kept getting sucked into intimate, long conversations with strangers, who inevitably would offer me a snack or a little trinket. While window shopping, a lady ran out of her shop to offer me iced chrysanthemum tea because she thought it looked like I might be hot. These random acts of kindness never fail to touch me and always seem to stay with me a long time, inspiring me to do my best to pay it forward.
And that was my vacation! Feeling well rested, which is great since the next three weeks will be filled with basically nonstop work and then I am off to India for two and a half months, where I’ll eat all of the breads, climb some peaks, and complete a yoga teacher training program. I will miss my beloved Tioman, but I am excited/nervous for this next step, a dream four years in the making finally becoming a reality. I have not been practicing yoga nearly enough, something about 14 hour days working outside with children manages to sap all my motivation, but I have been listening to Janelle Monae’s ‘Yoga’ quite often,which I feel should count for something.