Rushing and Struggling in Hectic Phoenix Ancient Town

The six-hour-journey (including toilet breaks) from Changsha, the capital of Hunan province in China and the birthplace of the late president Mao, to Phoenix (or Fenghuang) Ancient Town was not in vain.

The town built in the early 18th century, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty, has very well-preserved architecture from that period, that nowadays incorporates shops offering souvenirs, traditional handicrafts, eateries, silverware, local delicacies, traditional costume rentals, fruit markets and many more. Including those situated by the Tuo river (Tuo Jia) banks, old bridges and wood-structured boats crossing the river. The Tujia and Miao minorities, who have been resided for generations, still maintain their tradition from both the appearance and the way of live.

Therefore, fantasizing myself being on the set of kung fu movies or part of the character in Chinese traditional paintings was no longer necessary when I was there. It succeeded bringing me to the flashback atmosphere, when the last dynasty of China before turning into a republic was still on a blaze of glory.

What a great way to start my first visit to China.

Its magnetic attraction, that continues to mesmerize visitors across the country and around the world, comes with a price, apart from the entrance fee. The ancient town becomes a land of abundant opportunities to make a living, resulting in fierce competition among entrepreneurs. Street vendors never leave visitors out of sight, greeting them with merchandise and service to sell before they know it. Including those who dilly dally on street.

The streets are so packed with visitors who come like an unstoppable deluge. Brushing one’s shoulder while walking down the street is almost inevitable, especially in narrow alleys. It is quite difficult to take pictures of your favourite spots without being bumped. The “say cheese” and “selfie” may fail or turn easily into a candid when uninvited guests (read: crowds) unexpectedly appear in the picture.

Since then, I finally found out that waiting for a perfect moment does not always guarantee success. So I did a little twist in immortalizing my travel moments to adapt with the situation: press that button, think later! Thus, some of these photographs are results of imperfections, when the intended message may turn into a different story.

No matter what happened, now I understand why the phoenixes that once flew over the town were reluctant to leave, that leads to the discovery of the pretty old town. Legend has it.

phoenix ancient town

RAINY DAY IN TOWN

Rain momentarily stops people from flooding the street. But it won’t last long. The further you walk, the more crowds you get.

black tofu china

I’M LOVIN’ IT

I broke my “non- fried food consumption” daily regime for a day just for tasting the famous stinky tofu. The black colour and the fermented brine pungent smell didn’t stop me from trying. It actually tastes great, as the soy sauce is definitely the perfect match for the tofu. I just didn’t use the chili because I can’t take spicy food.

smoked meat

SMOKED MEAT

Yes, they look gruesome, yet edible. Smoking apparently is a popular way of preserving, cooking and flavoring food in Hunan province, from meat to tofu and bamboo shoots. The skinned pig face somehow reminds me of Texas Chain Massacre movie, but slightly better because it’s not a human face.

food

KEEPING THE TRADITION

One of the added values to buy souvenirs is to watch the makers doing it traditionally.

trading buffalo horn works

LOOK, IT WON’T GET BURNED!

Massage tools made of buffalo thorns are sold for RMB 5. Usually, the seller convinces future buyers by demonstrating a burning test and claiming those with reddish color have a better quality. I’m not sure how they matter for a better massage. I think it’s just another trick to lure the tourists. Other buffalo thorn handicrafts include (cigar) pipes, combs, hair accessories, etc. Something that animal right activists would hate.

chongde hall fenghuang ancient town

GHOST CHILD

At Chongde Hall, floods of people is often hard to avoid. That what makes the boy looks like a ghost.

flower crown

ARTISAN FLOWER CROWN 

Flower crown street vendors, from young to old women, are everywhere in town, selling their goods in competitive price for RMB 5. This old woman was tying up fresh flowers to the crown frame. Another particular item that Hunan villagers often bring (not only the vendors) is the “woven basket backpack” used for carrying just about anything, from merchandise, dirty clothes, groceries, to babies.

flower vendor in traditional costume

OOPS… WHATEVER….

My mom and her friend asked me to take a picture of them. But, all of the sudden, this old lady appeared beside my mom’s friend, offering a flower crown. In that moment, I wasn’t ready yet with my camera. Seconds later, she realized that there was no hope for purchase from the two women. She finally walked away in front of my mom’s friend, regardless what I was doing. I still took my chance to press the button and think later for the result. Well, only my mom was captured in the picture and there was nothing I could do about it.

tourist

THE TOURIST

While capturing the crowded alley on the way to Chongde Hall, I got this woman instead. I think she represents the real tourist of Phoenix. She doesn’t only have a flower crown on her head, but also a backpack in the front part of her body as a sign of pick-pocketing awareness. She also makes a statement, “This! is My New (followed with an Apple logo) Phone”.

phoenix town hunan

UNTITLED

traditional costumeSTREET PHOTOGRAPHER AND HER CLIENTS

Street photographers, who are surprisingly only women for this profession, were taking her clients who rented the Miao traditional costume to the famous view of Tuo river for a photo session. The woman with a gray jacket needed more patience until the photo session team left the scene, so her husband could take a picture of her properly.

tuo jia river

TRADITIONAL HOUSES BY THE RIVER

Nearly all inside these traditional houses are meant for commercial purposes, from restaurants, markets, handicrafts, to modern bars.

MIND YOUR STEP

The most challenging way to cross the river. The concrete blocks fear certain people to walk on it.

PHEW!

The woman, wearing a traditional Miao costume, rushed to the shore after successfully crossed the river through the concrete block bridge without falling down.

fruit vendors

RUNNING FOR LIFE?

I’m not sure what the fruit vendors were running from. But for sure, I adore their strength and agility. The can effortlessly walk on a narrow bridge with heavy merchandise on both shoulders, even precede the crowds, who are still occupying the space.

budweiser

BUD AT THE BAR

The ancient town has a modern bar, too.

native lady seller

CAN YOU TAKE CARE OF THEM FOR A WHILE? I’M BUSY!

Selfie. A global trend, no matter what.

THE LAUNDRY

Hanging towels, a bra and socks outside indicates a daily life, besides a mess. Until today, the locals still wash their clothes manually in Tuo River.

crossbow shooting gallery

NOBODY FEELS LIKE PLAYING

Silence means struggle when income depends on the traffic, like this crossbow shooting gallery.

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Bali Less Visited

Bali, nicknamed the island of Gods, is one of the islands in the world that could beat the fame of the country where it is located. Flood of foreigners all year long is no strange for a very popular destination like Bali.

Last year, my parents, their old friends and I headed to north Bali that took 3 hours starting from Ngurah Rai International Airport. We visited Bedugul, Lovina, Pemuteran until West Bali National Park, including small villages along the way. Our trip was only 2 nights, the time was tight and it wasn’t really a weekend break. The purpose of the trip: 80% villas and inhabited land observation, 20% leisure.

QUIETLY FAMOUS

Since the only international airport (Ngurah Rai) and more well-known areas namely Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Ubud and Uluwatu are in south Bali, the north seems less exposed. But don’t get me wrong. This is not the story about terra incognita or the discovery of a new land like Columbus discovered America.

                                                                    The first stop: Lake Buyan, Bedugul

There were not many people on street regardless high season. Are these places dead for business? On the contrary. Unless one of us made a reservation, we wouldn’t get any room to stay. In fact, the north has been the top destination for snorkeling, diving and watching dolphins at dawn. Beaches are more quiet despite tourist occupancy, a perfect place for total retreat from daily stress at work, since they do anything but getting drunk and make loud noises. Unlike the south, the sea is more crowded than the street during the day in the north. Most visitors are families, young and retired couples. I believe groups of adolescents prefer going to the south for more places to hang out.

DINING EXPERIENCE

Forget about Hard Rock Café, high-end shopping street like Seminyak, night clubs, rows of souvenir shops, world-class rock concerts and so on. I didn’t see any, not even McDonald’s and KFC. Eating out is only possible either inside the hotels, resorts or at warungs (traditional small shops selling food, drinks and daily necessities) along the street. No wonder why tourists prefer being under the sea and on the beach unless they search for food or groceries.

The best dining experience was at May Mena warung, a small eatery having 3 dining tables that could not accommodate more than 20 guests. My father’s friend has been a regular customer of the warung and knows the owner pretty well. The menu listed on its poster was very limited. He ordered all dishes not listed on the menu, from pork saté, pork with sweet soy sauce, sautéed morning-glory, roasted peanuts until grilled fish. It felt as if we had a personal chef coming to our house, cooking for us. Last but not least, the watermelon was the best dessert ever! Very juicy and sweet!

She had bought the fish the day before to cook for the next afternoon. The biggest fish I’ve ever ate!

PICTURESQUE ACCOMMODATIONS

Breathtaking view of mountains, mangrove forest, beaches, clear blue sky and water are the some of the most crucial selling points of these magnificent world-class villas and resorts apart from luxurious rooms, excellent facilities and hospitality to spoil their guests to the max. These are some resorts and villas we managed to visit in the neighbourhood of Pemuteran Village and West Bali National Park.

ANEKA LOVINA VILLAS & SPA

We stayed at Aneka Lovina Villas & Spa. Compared to other luxurious villas and resorts available, it is relatively affordable with direct access to Lovina beach. The rooms supposed to be better, but we only got the leftovers since their best rooms were fully booked.

Aneka Bagus Lovina Garden

mangrove trees, the trees you won’t see on beaches in south Bali

Lovina beach behind the villas

MENJANGAN RESORT

Menjangan Resort is in the middle of West Bali National Park where it’s not supposed to be any properties allowed to build. Nonetheless, when money is power and the owner is rich, coming from a powerful family background like Tommy Soeharto, the youngest son of the former late President Soeharto, the story turns otherwise. It provides facilities that other resorts might not have, such as helipad and a double-decker minibus that can take you to the wildlife. Due to limited time, we only visited Bali Tower Restaurant to view the skyline of the national park and the ocean facing East Java by going up to the top floor of its wooden tower.

Facing East Java

Staircase to skyline

GAWANA NOVUS RESORT & SPA

Even drinking coconut water (the welcome drink) at Gawana Novus Resort and Spa could be an unforgettable experience while viewing the beauty of nature in front of you!

View of mountain and mangrove forest. The sea is calmer and no wave at all.

swimming pool with sea view

JEDA VILLA

Definitely, the owner of Jeda Villa is Dutch. It explains why Dutch language is in a language options on its website. I mean, French, German and Spanish are more common than Dutch, aren’t they?

THEY ARE AHEAD OF US!

As an Indonesian, It was surprising to find out that the only Indonesian people we met were those working in tourist attractions, hotels, local village people and our driver. Hotel officials greeted us in English as they didn’t expect to meet local tourists staying in their place. While having breakfast and dinner at the hotel, I only could hear ourselves speaking Indonesian. The rest spoke French, English, Spanish and other foreign languages. And who were on the beach? Local fishermen, local vendors and foreign visitors.

How both local and foreign landlords mark their inhabited lands

Foreigners seeking for tranquil and unspoiled nature have found their heaven on earth. Moreover, they have had property investments: several thousands of meter of land for capital gain and villas to rent for cash flow. Non business-oriented people build retirement homes for themselves. Either way, they have been ahead of locals to notice the future potential of the north.

It’s a common thing that locals, regardless of which country they come from, appreciate their homeland more after foreigners visit their place, embrace its beauty and finally make it “home”. Recently, locals outside Bali and a huge Indonesian corporation start to follow their footsteps, but still in the form of empty lands. The Balinese are happy enough to earn more money by selling their lands to outsiders. The expansion plan of the local airport, Letkol Wisnu Airfield, to ease the burden of overcrowded Ngurai Rai International Airport, have driven more investors to own lands in the north, even though the project remains uncertain.

Have these foreign investors earned anything yet? The answer may vary. The value of some most wanted lands have increased over 300% in less than a year. Some villas have gained popularity and had their guests via online, while others are unexpectedly quiet and less popular.

“I’m a friend, not food” – an implicit message from a local’s piglet

I’m amazed and proud that The Island of Gods I’ve visited more than 3 times still have more areas to explore, which is beyond my imagination. I only have one wish: the unspoiled nature remains unspoiled in the future after more tourists coming, more resorts and villas in these areas. In fact, as corruption has infiltrated in our government’s culture, it won’t be as easy as it sounds, although not impossible to achieve.

I found a sentence on the websites of villas and resorts that intrigues my mind, “We are located in the unspoiled nature of north Bali……”. Something like that. They are highly potential for spoiling the unspoiled nature, and implicitly confirm it. It is extremely necessary to control the amount of accommodations in touristic areas. I’m happy that so far, there are not so many of them yet in the north.

Perfect sunset in Gondol village. Some investors bought the land and built a villa facing the scenic beach.

LESS VISITED BY WHOM?

Until the day I wrote this, the north side we visited is still much less visited than the south, especially by local tourists (Indonesians outside Bali). I believe the old point of view remains in their mind: no shops, lavish buildings, restaurants and cafes to hang out equals to “nothing to see”. But at the same time, they complain that nowadays Bali is too crowded, the traffic is worse or too many annoying street vendors. I’ve heard it millions of times. I agree, partly, because these complaints are usually meant for south Bali. In a nutshell, they haven’t seen the whole Bali yet!

Sometimes, I don’t know whether my story is to tell my fellow readers about north Bali or to remind myself that I was left behind particularly about new facts and surprises I experienced in these less visited areas. But thank God, now I’m less retarded about my own country. Just a bit less. But, better late than never.

The Time Machine to Old Batavia

After more than two decades of my life in Jakarta, I’ve finally found an instant getaway to drag me out from hectic, worsening road traffic, never ending dirty political games and corruption sagas in Jakarta for a while without leaving the city. Entering Café Batavia at Fatahillah Square, one of the few remaining historical sites of the old town Jakarta (Kota Toea), felt like being in a time machine to the Dutch Colonial Era in early 20th century.

The gramophone sound of music was hypnotizing with its vintage interior combined. My mind and soul wandered to the years before my parents were born and when my grandparents were young. It also triggered me in a mysterious way to start a conversation about Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence. My friend and I agreed with two things: it’s still one of the scariest horror movies of all time and the old-fashioned songs we listened was kinda spooky. Spooky enough to remind me of Jack Torrence murder attempts on his wife and little boy.

The atmosphere of old Batavia, the previous name of Jakarta from 1619 to 1949 given by the Dutch Colony Empire, inside the café wouldn’t come alive without the oldies background music from the year 1930’s (just a lucky guess).

Listen to the music while reading and viewing the following photographs. I hope you second my emotion about the place known as one of the Jakarta’s oldest cafés. It’s All Forgotten Now by Al Bowlly, The Shining’s soundtrack composed in 1934, coincidentally sounded much alike the ones played in the café. Thanks to Kubric, the song has somewhat a horrific aura. Please note that images on the clip has nothing to do with the content of my post. 

Either I didn’t hold my mobile phone camera still or the battery was too weak, let’s consider these shabby and blurry images as part of the art, marking the beginning of the end of Dutch Colonial Era and a remembrance of 350 years of Dutch conquest they (locals) wish it didn’t happen. Nevertheless, the place is now one of the nation’s heritage.

DOWNSTAIRS

“Pics? Not again…!” mumbled the greeter lady, hiding her face behind the candle.

It doesn’t feel like being in the cafe. It’s just homey and full of privacy.

UPSTAIRS

Where could possibly Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn, Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, Indonesia’s first president Soekarno, Marlon Brando, Louis Brooks, David Bowie have a rendezvous in one place at the same time?

The former residence of Dutch governors in Jakarta that has been turning  into a café since 1930s could make it possible. The wall of fame – that’s how I call it- has become the main attraction of the cafe. Vintage images of world’s famous people, photography artworks from Helmut Newton, Sarah Moon, Man Ray, Irving Penn, Mario Testino mingle with old advertising campaigns. Seems like an eternal melting pot.

Have Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill actually met each other here?

My favourite spot – too bad the air con didn’t work so well on that day.

Selling local and international food (Chinese, Indonesian and Western) and beverages (cocktails, beers etc), historical value and vintage interior are actually the major selling points of the café. It delivers the most inviting, romantic and secretive atmosphere for dating with your love one(s) or your love affair (aha!), especially with deem lights in the evening. The only drawback to bring your love affair there is that it’s too easy too find and too publicly known ;). Newsweek Magazine awarded the city’s historical landmark as the best bars in the world in 1994 and 1996.

Facing Fatahillah Square

To tell the truth, it’s not my first visit to Café Batavia. Somewhere between 1995 and 1998 when I was in high school, I came there quite frequently with my family to eat dim sum and have a cup a coffee. I remember how much we enjoyed hanging out there, even though now I forget the taste of the dim sum and the coffee. It was a hip place for social gathering back then, long before the emerging development of shopping malls throughout the capital city of Indonesia.

The Bartenders

One day, a friend of mine asked me out to the café because we were tired of shopping mall ambiance. I replied, “Hell yes! Why didn’t I think of that??” Since then, I keep in mind that it’s a must-to-see tourist object every time I accompany friends and relatives from outside Jakarta. Last May 2012, I took my friends there and they loved it!

LA TOILETTE

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mean to be a pervert. But the café’s toilet is something you should not miss during the visit. The following images are ladies’ toilet. Yep, cause I’m a girl. Call me a pervert if I sneak in to men’s toilet just to capture its decoration!

Ladies’ and gents’ toilet are no exception for wall of fame

Nude art is the theme of the dressing room’s wall of fame.

 Interesting details

In front of the toilet seat, there’s a big mirror with the size nearly as big as the wall where it’s hung. Nothing peculiar with the mirror, but the size is. Indeed, you can see a reflection of your own face expression while doing number two and of your vital body parts. It’s a good medium to adjust your dress, but I think the room is a bit too narrow to stand and dress up. What are the pink curtains behind the sinks for? What do they cover? Nothing but decoration.

To feel the real atmosphere of Café Batavia, my suggestion is to visit it when there’s no live music since it’s simply “too modern”. There’s no doubt that the vintage decor is the perfect match for the vintage (oldies) music background. If oldies music is the hypnotherapist, the decor will be the pendulum clock. Look, listen and let yourself dive to the old glory of Batavia once nicknamed De Koningin van het Oosten (Queen of the East)…..

Penang: Heritage in Hues Part 3 – End

PROLOGUE

Nothing religious about the next story of my journey. Not even if religious buildings are the centre stage of my post. My only belief is that “Heritage in Hues” will be lack of hues without showing enchanting temples worth to see on this island. I purposely created a separate post from part 1 and 2 to show ornamented details of each temple I managed to visit. Having nearly zero knowledge about Buddhism, religious events and all the carvings couldn’t stop me from appreciating and admiring the beauty of craftsmanship and vibrant colours in these sacred places of worship. It didn’t take a genius to enjoy them wholeheartedly. Especially in limited time.

GODDESS OF MERCY TEMPLE

Goddess of Mercy Temple (Kong Hock Keong) is dedicated to Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy, and Ma Chor Po, the patron saint of sea voyagers.

I’m not the only one who accidentally snapped the green shirt grandpa with his walking stick. I recognize the same grandpa appearing in other images of this temple on internet.

These birds are not meant for pets. They will be released from their cage as part of a religious event.

The sacred temple was crowded with worshippers burning and raising incense sticks to seek answers for their prayers. The strong smell from the incense sticks forced us to hold our breath several times and the thick smoke lead our eyes in tears. I squeezed among the crowds to be in the corner part of the temple to capture this moment without disturbing the religious activity. Thank God the pilgrims didn’t care much of their surroundings. Perhaps they are used to with bunch of curious tourists visiting the oldest temple in Penang, which is still actively in use.

KHOO KONGSI CLAN HOUSE

As we got off the bus, we were skeptical with the surroundings. We only saw regular shophouses, some were closed and untreated, middle class residential areas and a soccer field. No sign of a majestic edifice, proudly called “The Heritage Jewel of Penang” on its postcard, has ever existed. We finally found a shophouse lookalike entrance door at Cannon Street, the oldest part of George Town, after asking the locals about the road direction to the temple.

The temple façade is as stunning as what people said, and that’s not it. Go upstairs to see the peak of its beauty.

Khoo Kongsi is the clan house of Khoo family who migrated to Penang from Sin Kang clan village in Hokkien province of China. Khoo family was one of the richest Straits Chinese traders in early Penang and Malacca back in 17th century. Initially, the Khoo ancestors built a clan house in 1851, which was burnt down in 1894 by lightning strikes. However, some believed that the angry Gods were the cause of destruction triggered by the clan house’s resemblance to the emperor’s palace.

One of the rooftop details of the clan house

In 1902, the less grandiose version of the clan house was re-erected and finished in 1906. The temple is a family temple to respect the passing predecessors and a place to keep ancestral tablets. Wait a second – less grandiose a.k.a simpler?? I can’t imagine how magnificent the old clan house was. If I were the God of Jealousy, I would burn it down once more because it beauty exceeds my present palace. ;p

Passing through the red door is the starting point to be up, close and personal to the history and family tree of the wealthy Khoo family

Rickshaws are part of tourist attractions, but the rate is way too touristic for me. Compared to these rickshaws, taxis without meter are cheaper. Some shophouses situated around the clan house surroundings are being renovated. Those days, its neighbourhood was like a clan’s village where governmental activities including finance, welfare and education were held. These activities contributed a strong influence for civilization in Penang.

KEK LOK SIE 

We only had an hour to visit the largest Buddhist complex in Southeast Asia before its closing time at 6 pm. It could be enough although we had to sacrifice a bit of enjoyment of the visit. It was our last day in Penang, so we had no choice.

Kek Lok Sie, meaning “Temple of Supreme Bliss” in Hokkien, is the only Buddhist temple we visited outside the Heritage City George Town. It is situated on the hill of Air Itam town. Built in 1890, it took more than 20 years to complete the execution and it is still in ongoing process to expand, funded by the affluent Chinese community.

The Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas with its seven tier was completed in 1930. Its architecture is a combination of a Chinese octagonal base, a Thai middle tier and a Burmese crown.

Colourful ribbons represent wishes. Each ribbon, which has different Chinese inscriptions, is put on the table with the following English translations in front of it, for instance wisdom, health, wealth, success, prosperity etc. Visitors can write their name(s) and wish(es) on their chosen ribbon. Then, the temple officials hang them on the twigs that makes it look like a “tree of wishes”.

The other option is to write it on a roof tile. I preferred writing it on a ribbon as it is more colourful and I loved seeing my handwriting hanging on a “tree”. Moreover, the markers they provided to write on a roof tile were non-permanent ink. Since they really place the written roof tiles on rooftops, it won’t be a good news if one day the pouring rain washes away the marker ink.

I’ve made myself clear: I was there!

The Kuan Yin Goddess statue and its pavilion was completed in 2009.

Turtles on a turtle pond located inside the temple complex

After the turtle pond, we passed through the hallway with lots of souvenir shops on both right and left side. At the same time, the cab driver who drove us to the temple waited for us outside.

This vintage optical ad was seen on the hallway, marking the last thing I photographed before I left Penang

EPILOGUE

I could have selected only the best to share up to 10 images max, but I decided not to. I’d rather show several particular details I loved while visiting these wonderful places. It’s hard to tell that the carvings on the left wing room is better than the right one, for instance. Each element should be embraced as a whole, depicting harmony and unity of the architecture, as well as the interior.

En gros, Penang is all about showing off its Southeast Asian heritage to the world, from historical buildings (Straits Chinese shophouses, mansions, places of worship, town hall), delicious street food until peaceful environment and friendly people. Apart from that, many Indonesians come to Penang to get more affordable medical check-up in a hospital. Of course I wish you all are in great health, therefore you can put the hospital thing aside.

The heritage presented with full colour of life, art and culture – that’s what I love best.  I just don’t see any other reasons not to call it “Heritage in Hues”.

Penang: Heritage in Hues Part 2

Personally, eating local delicacy, taking taxis and buses in Penang brought back school life nostalgic moments. Therefore, this time I mostly highlight experiences that remind me of life in Petaling Jaya (PJ), Selangor (Malaysia) in 1999 where I pursued my study abroad for the first time.

Should I categorize this in travel or personal?

LOCAL DELICACY

Going to Penang without local street food equals to an incomplete journey. I regret not capturing great pictures of delicious food I ate that can arouse your appetite. I even need to replace some failed images with the better ones from internet. I hate doing this, but I think it’s necessary to do so. Otherwise, nobody knows what I’m talking about. That’s the last thing I wanna do with my blog.

Instant solution for chairs that don’t meet required size spec

Gurney Drive: Not about the Beach

Which ones do you prefer?

As described by the hotel receptionist, Gurney Drive is famous for its hawker centre along coastal line of Penang. I imagined it would be like dining by the beach in Jimbaran, Bali. Nevertheless, the hawker is actually situated across the street from the beach. The sand shore was partly covered by rocks. There were neither coconut trees nor sound of waves. I don’t think it’s suitable to call it “dining by the beach”. Quite dissapointing.

Hanging sotong (squid)

However, as the sun went down, there were more crowds coming to the hawker. Hearing the sound of chattering, laughing crowds and shouting vendors, I suddenly felt relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. I got the same feeling years ago when I hung out with friends at a hawker centre after finishing school projects. It was the best stress relief ever. Moreover, it represented all local food that challenges your appetite, from beef marrow soup, char kway tiauw, chendul, rojak, various kinds of seafood etc.

In a nutshell, Gurney Drive is about a social meeting spot for families, couples, friends, colleagues, and business partners, not the beach and the sunset.

Malaysian chendul (green rice flour jelly) have longer jellies than Indonesian cendol

 Hanging tutti frutti a laPenang

Pork char sieuw and intestine at the hawker near Sunway Hotel George Town

Herbal Eggs

http://sittingwishingeating.com/2010/02/24/the-love-for-%E8%8C%B6%E5%8F%B6%E8%9B%8B/

Best source of energy to start your day!

Herbal eggs or Chinese marbled eggs are hard-boiled eggs simmered in Chinese herb soup. Whenever I had no time for breakfast or lunch at school, I took them as quick snacks. I didn’t only love the taste of the herbs absorbed in the eggs, but also they kept me energized, “hunger free” for hours and much better choice than junk food.

I was so glad I accidentally found herbal eggs in a food court at Gurney Plaza, a shopping mall in Gurney Drive. Now they cost RM 1 per piece. Then, RM 1 for 3 pieces. I couldn’t expect to get the same price as before, but at least they still taste the same as that of 13 years ago.

Indian Food

As Indian community is very rare in Indonesia, I purposely came to Little India to enjoy authentic Indian food which is hard to find in my hometown. Briyani rice, chicken masala, chicken tandoori, mutton curry…..yummy yummy! Besides, we went to Indian food stall close to the hotel to get roti tisu. Even tough I was so afraid of gaining weight, it was too irresistible to resist.

Roti Tisu

Back in PJ where I pursued my study, roti tisu, roti canai and roti prata were some of my favorite supper menus for lepak (hang out) at a hawker centre or a mamak stall. A very fattening and “heavy duty” choice for supper, but it was fun to share with my schoolmates and incredibly delicious!

Bak Kut Teh

Don’t judge a book by its cover: it tastes better that it looks

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t eat bak kut teh (Chinese pork ribs in herb soup) when I stayed in Malaysia. The only thing I remember about bak kut teh is a strange experience with Chinese cab drivers in PJ. Knowing I’m a Chinese descendant, these drivers -different person, time and place- approached me with a conversation mainly about Chinese community to get my sympathy, then they offered me instant bak kut teh for RM 2 moments before I got off from their cab. I didn’t take the offer, though. I kept thinking whether these people were doing multilevel marketing by selling instant bak kut teh in a sachet as their side job.

I finally ate the original bak kut teh for the first time in Penang that didn’t come from a sachet. I just couldn’t get enough, so damn good!! Besides, the dried version of bak kut teh with sprinkled salted fish. It doesn’t exist in Jakarta. So it’s something worth to try, even though I like the original one better.

Teh O Ais Limau: Bad Tea Day Saviour Remembered 

http://www.maeenflavor.com/Lime.html

SURGEON’S GENERAL WARNING: addictive when mixed with iced tea!

Teh o ais limau refers to iced lemon tea in English. However, what Malaysian people use in their traditional iced lemon tea is lime or key lime (limau), not lemon. It should be “iced lime tea”, even though nobody calls it that way. I believe a lime causes Malaysian iced lemon tea has exceptional taste, and that’s what I miss the most. Therefore I spontaneously answered, “Teh O Ais Limau!” at hawker centres in Penang almost every time the waiter asked me for drinks. By the way, limes are very common in my hometown, but not a common ingredient for iced lemon tea.

Well, how I end up as a lemon tea addict actually started from the first depressive month in PJ as I’ve been an unsweetened tea addict. Getting unsweetened iced tea  (Indonesian: es teh tawar) at a Malay mamak stall drove me nuts. I said teh ais (also literally means iced tea in English) confidently because I thought it was the closest term to es teh (tawar). But suddenly I got iced milk tea. It didn’t say milk (susu) at all!

I was advised to order teh o ais if I don’t want milk in my tea. So I ordered teh o ais next day. It was true there wasn’t milk, but sugar instead. It didn’t say sugar (gula) at all! A few days later, I ordered teh o ais again with a remark “no sugar”.  The waiter nodded. Still, there was SUGAR in my tea!! The week after was my last attempt. I tried to order in English “tea without sugar”, once in Malay “teh tanpa gula“.  Both have the same meaning. But again, the GODDAMN SUGAR was STILL there!!!

Finally, I gave up. I would rather get a different type of drink. I gave a shot ordering iced lemon tea,  although I didn’t really enjoy tea with lemon. Yet, at least the lemon could neutralize the sweetness of the tea. Et voilà, I love it!  Since then, it was my regular drink besides ais kosong (cold water).

I should have asked all the drink terms listed in the menu, but it was time consuming and I was Ms. Know It All, then (now I know I wasn’t). Although Malay and Indonesian are similar, Malay beverage terms could lead me to total lost in translation.

Gula Melaka Ice Cream

The best home made ice cream is just two steps from here!

The café across Yap Temple, unfortunately I forget the name, has one of the best home made ice cream I’ve ever tasted, from chocolate, chocolate chip, coffee until tiramisu flavour. Chocolate chunks on the chocolate chip flavour tasted really good despite being slightly oversized, even without the (vanilla) ice cream.

How about gula Melaka (palm sugar) flavoured ice cream? The lady who served me was a very honest person. She didn’t recommend me to try it, but I insisted on getting the tester. It was something new for me; the only food that has nothing to do with my school life flashback. Not so horrible that I wanted to throw up, yet I just couldn’t enjoy it that much.

Don’t get me wrong. I love palm sugar. I mix it with coffee, grilled banana and avocado. Nonetheless, I admit it was a bizarre ingredient to create ice cream flavour.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

http://www.penang-traveltips.com/taking-the-taxi.htm

“THIS TAXI USES METER. BARGAINING IS NOT ALLOWED. GET THE RECEIPT.” a.k.a they don’t do what they said

Sorry to say, but I don’t see the point of placing announcement on the front taxi door as shown above. In reality, I never found any taxis in Penang using meter.  The best thing I could do was to get preliminary information about the average rate to certain destination or ask the hotel security guard to bargain with the driver. Taxis in the airport don’t use meter either, but you can get fixed rate if you buy tickets from the taxi counter after claiming your baggage.

“We won’t earn much for living because Penang is just a small island where everything is close.” said the driver in response to the question why taxi drivers in Penang don’t want to use meter. Regardless of not using meter, the drivers who took us were friendly and love chit-chatting just about anything, from tourist attractions, food until their wife, children and grandsons.

On the other hand, exploring George Town was very convenient thanks to CAT (Central Area Transit), a free shuttle bus mainly concentrated on tourist attractions around the heritage city area.

There are many ways to enjoy Penang and see what this island has inherited to the world, especially in Southeast Asian culture. And that’s not all yet, my friends!  I’ll bring you more “hues” in the last part of the heritage sequel. Stay tuned…

Penang: Heritage in Hues Part 1

George Town, the capital state of Penang, Malaysia, is a modest and a laidback capital city at a glance. Mid 80s to 90s shopping centre and hotel architecture mingle with metal-roofed hawker centres, Komtar Tower -the highest skyscraper in town-, colonial style government buildings, churches, museums, Buddhist and Hindu temples, peranakan shophouses, mansions, mosques and a few recently built modern properties.

Despite major absence of modernity, George Town has been one of the cities preserving a remaining Southeast Asian legacy besides Singapore and Malacca. Once being a melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Indian traders and European colonies, it has formed exceptional multicultural heritage. Since 2008, UNESCO has awarded George Town as one of the World Heritage Cities.

What fascinating experiences did my parents and I get in Penang, especially the Heritage City George Town? Here in Heritage in Hues Part 1, I emphasize on peranakan shophouses, mansions and language. Peranakan (Straits Chinese) refers to Chinese descendants who acculturate with the locals to form their own culture. I find Peranakan culture is the most distinctive multicultural heritage in this old town, a must to see!

STRAITS CHINESE SHOPHOUSES

One of my favourite peranakan heritage is the shophouses. These are some words I use to describe them: colourful, contrast, unique, damaged, faded, tarnished, restored, eclectic. Not all of them were in their best condition, but I find this imperfect beauty breathtaking, it’s “vintage”. Nowadays, many of them are commercial centres, such as driving school, dental clinic, cake shop, etc. Straits Chinese shophouses are everywhere in the old town George Town, from busy streets until every block and corner of the street. Trust me, they are very recognizable, you can’t get wrong!

Row of eclectic shophouses at Magazine Rd.

Detail of a Chinese door from one of the shophouses

Restoration undone?

Colourful and patterned tiles are also one of the peranakan signature styles, depicting the detail of the previous shop house right above this image.

This “1938” yellow building is a local snack shop where I got free home-made pia cake sample and bought my favourite dried ikan bilis (anchovy fish) snack .

Restoration (nearly) done

I’d rather call a tooth fairy to check up or take my tooth out than coming to this dental clinic….

Still at Magazine Road, I prefer presenting this picture above in black and white. It’s just more classy.

Another shophouse somewhere not far from the hotel.

Shophouses at Canon St, just across Khoo Kongsi clanhouse.

STRAITS CHINESE  MANSIONS

Enough with shophouses? Let’s move to the mansion, shall we?

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, the proprietary of the mansion built in 1899, applied peranakan style to decorate his lavish mansion using the finest materials from China to Europe, such as English floor tiles and Chinese wooden panels. After several decades of neglect, the mansion was finally restored to return its former glory. People come to the mansion for studying the old generation of Straits Chinese lifestyle, shooting films, photography sessions, special event venues or simply enjoying the beauty of Straits Chinese art. It reminds me of chinoiserie applied in European castles.

From all the colours used in both shophouses and mansions, green wall of Pinang Peranakan Mansion is very distinctive. It reminds me of old houses in my hometown Indonesia during Dutch colony period. Many other shophouses I saw in the Heritage City use similar type of green. Turquoise and salted duck egg-shell kind of blue were also popular in this era, then.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Unfortunately we could only see this magnificent rare blue mansion from outside the fence. We came after 3 pm on Sunday and it was closed. Cheong Fatt Tze, named after its owner, was built in 1880. It doesn’t only display antiquities and exquisite interior, but also provides rooms to stay. Each room has its own theme, designed by famous local designers. Above all, this mansion is known to have great Feng Shui.

JUST PASSING BY…..

Situated not far from Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, this former private residence and office of Ku Din Ku Meh is now a bungalow with typical peranakan style both exterior and interior.

Seems like a nice place to hang out

I took this picture from the bus window on the way to Khoo Kongsi clanhouse. The gates were closed, but the windows were open and looks unpromising. I’m wondering if this hotel still operates. After Bratislava, Rome and Vegas, I think this place is suitable for the next Hostel sequel if any 🙂

LANGUAGE: SOMETHING IN COMMON

As we are also peranakan, Chinese-Indonesian descendants, the first thing we have in common with local people is the language. In general, Chinese Malaysian in Penang speaks Malay fluently and the main Chinese dialect they speak is Hokkien. We speak Indonesian, which is similar to Malay, but unfortunately we don’t speak Chinese. If we could speak one, Hokkien would be our dialect, too.

Having a Chinese look without the ability of speaking the language can sometimes bring discomfort to the beholder. The question “Why don’t you Chinese?” turned to be an endless discussion when I was in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore around a decade ago. Really, it happened more than twice. It seemed that they couldn’t accept a Chinese who can’t speak Chinese.

I was so glad nobody asked me that kind of question in Penang. Is it because they don’t care or they are used to with Indonesian people, never mind. Whatever the reason is, it made me comfortable. I noticed that the locals, especially drivers and vendors, preferred to respond our question in Malay every time we asked in English. Therefore I made use of my time in Penang to practice Malay (conversational Malay, not Indonesian), hoping that my Malay accent was still as good as that of 13 years ago when I studied abroad in Malaysia. In the beginning, I felt awkward since I mixed up a lot with Indonesian terms that are either never used or have different meanings in Malay. But well, I finally made it although it wasn’t that perfect. Hooray!

We used to have rickshaws in Jakarta before being banned. But no worries, street dogs are still not banned there until now

This is not the end of my sharing session with you yet. The heritage still have more hues to show in my next post…..