Wednesday, November 16

a god for all seasons

Whether you bat for Buddha, Jesus, Allah, Mohammed, Shiva or Confucius, there is a place of worship for you in Penang.  Ornate, smoky and gilded, with evocative names like the Temple of Supreme Bliss, they are both enchanting and obscene.  Is a 30.2 metre bronze statue of Buddha beneath 16 carved dragon pillars really necessary to find inner peace? All of this ornamentation and colour does however make for a beguiling photo subject.

Rather than waffle on with facts and adjectives, you can get more information about the religious and spiritual sights in Penang from the LP gurus here.

Monday, November 14

penang trishaws

Pedal powered rickshaws are a carbon friendly way to travel the streets of Penang, if you don’t mind someone else sweating on your behalf.  Known locally as beca, they number around 200 in the Georgetown area, and provide a nostalgic means of transport for visitors.  The world moves by at a human friendly speed and the driver imparts a store of local knowledge and stories, with the opportunity to stop as your camera or rumbling stomach desires.

With the recent World Heritage Status, steps have been taken to preserve the dwindling numbers of beca, and encourage riders to maintain and beautify their vehicles and undergo tourism training.  Sadly the beca culture is under threat by an increased cost of living, desire for speed, and the lack of young men taking over from the ageing riders.   

On this occasion I refrained from taking a trishaw ride, as I’m still scarred from an incident where some slightly inebriated friends and I hijacked a cyclo in Vietnam and left the poor driver running behind in the dark.   

Wednesday, November 9

georgetown shophouses

Georgetown, the capital of Penang, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.  This title affords official recognition of its unique architectural and cultural landscape and preserves a district that is home to the largest number of pre-war buildings in Southeast Asia.  The old quarter is an engaging area to stay, and  for affordable and convenient accommodation in a renovated shophouse, we can recommend the Old Penang Guesthouse.
Walking the laneways in the cooler hours of morning and evening, we uncovered the living character that is testimony to Georgetown's multi-cultural heritage and traditions.  The architecture and urban landscape are forged from over 500 years of mercantile exchanges between Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures, and three successive European colonial powers.  The town's heritage is expressed in the diversity of religious buildings, ethnic quarters, music, language, dress and food.

I had expected the gentrification of Georgetown to be more complete, and was charmed by the dilapidated facades and layers of peeling paint on walls and louvers.  Residences and light industrial businesses are slowly being replaced by cafes and guesthouses, but for now the shophouses offer a view into the kitchens, loungerooms and workshops of local families.

Next up on the tour - the famous trishaws of Georgetown.
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