Puppet on a string…

Well, they were not on a string but on sticks like the traditional Malaysian wayang kulit. I was very excited the other night when we were out for dinner here in Sungai Petani with my Penang friend, Eng. I heard some kind of Hokkien opera going on nearby and he said that it was probably a puppet show performed to entertain the little deities…

SP Hokkien puppet show 1

Why the excitement, you ask? It was simply because all my life, I had never seen anything like it before. That was the husband and this was the wife…

SP Hokkien puppet show 2

and the character on the right in the photo below was the mother-in-law…

SP Hokkien puppet show 3

I was not paying attention to the dialogue but I could gather as much because I heard her addressing the younger-looking lady puppet as “Wa air sim poo ah” (my daughter-in-law).

I was baffled as to why they still had such shows knowing that all the hungry spirits had gone home and the gates of Hell would be locked until around this time next year…but Eng said it was to entertain the little dieties. Spirits kah? Deities kah? I was very wary about prancing around (in case I trampled on one of them!) and taking photographs…so I did not stay too long and hurried back to our table for dinner…..

P.S. : This is my final post in Sungai Petani as later, my daughter will be going back to her institute and I will be going over to Penang to stay the night there. My flight’s at 8 something in the morning tomorrow via that cheap airline, so I would have to be at the airport pretty early – the counter opens 2 hours before takeoff and passengers must check in no later than 45 minutes before the time of departure so if I were to go from here, I would have to leave very very early at dawn. In view of that, therefore, the next time you see a new post again, it will be from home sweet home in Sibu. Don’t worry! I will share with you all the juicy bits of what goes on in Penang, no holds barred! So make sure you come back and check things out, ok? ROTFLMAO!!!

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Unbelievable…

This was where Eng took my daughter, my missus and me out for dinner the first time we set foot in Sungai Petani last year when we brought our daughter here for registration at the institute…

SP Yeh Lai Siang 1

The name of the place is actually the title of an old Chinese song, if you are old enough to know it, that is!…

SP Yeh Lai Siang 2

I cannot recall what we had the last time and all I can remember is that the food was very delicious so we didn’t mind when he suggested going there again last night. Now, what did we have this time around? Well, there was a dish of Thai-style fried chicken which was nice and crunchily crusty on the outside….

SP diiner Thai style chicken

and a plate of sweet and sour spareribs…

SP sweet and sour spareribs

We also had this plate of belacan kangkong which I must say, is the best I have ever tasted anywhere in the whole of Malaysia. It was spicy and had the fragrance of very nice belacan

SP belacan kangkong

For one thing, the kangkong still looked so nice and green even after cooking unlike those that I’ve seen at many other places around. We also had this fatt choy soup with fish and meat balls, something that I had never tasted elsewhere…

SP fatt choy soup with fish and meat balls

It was delicious…and anyway, I’ve always been a fan of clear soup. Ah yes! We also had fish…steamed fish!

SP steamed fish

So what’s so unbelievable about all that, you may ask? That the three of us managed to finish all that? Well, maybe that too, but no, not really! Just take a look at the bill…

SP RM53 diinner

…inclusive of rice (4 bowls! Eng had the extra, not me! LOL!!!) and drinks. You can’t get anything cheaper than this anywhere, not even in Sibu…not with steamed fish that huge, you don’t! Truly unbelievable!!!

Please forgive me…

The other night, my daughter’s friend, Gin and his father took us to one of the Old Town outlets in Sungai Petani. I’ve seen them all over , even in Kuching, but I’ve never eaten there before. It appeared from the items available on the menu that the place would be more appropriate for morning or afternoon tea breaks or for someone who would want a light lunch and maybe, supper. I had this chicken curry and rice…

SP Old Town curry chicken and rice

It certainly was nicer than the curry I had at Master Choo that first night I arrived at Sungai Petani. My daughter had this big bowl of chicken hor fun

SP Old Town chicken hor fun

She said it was very nice and finished the whole bowl, so either that was testament to the fact that it was indeed very nice or she was very hungry! LOL!!! Other than that, fellow-blogger Dr Bernard Chan and his wife took us to eat the Sungai Petani char kway teow that is reputed to be better than that in Penang…

SP char kway teow 2

It certainly was nice but I could not really say whether it was better than Penang’s as in my opinion, they’re more or less the same – both nice, so that settles it! LOL!!! After that, they dropped us off at Lagenda (where Tesco is) Heights as I wanted to check out the hotel I had spotted the other day…

SP Casa Lagenda Hotel

It certainly looks very nice inside and a standard twin is only RM78.00, cheaper than SP Inn (and I hear the same room where I am staying is going to be repriced at RM120 once they have opened the new wing). For one thing, the location is many times better and the rooms look much nicer. In fact, you can check out their website…if you are planning to come to Sungai Petani.

After that, we walked to Tesco to do a bit of shopping and pretty soon, it was time for tea, so the two of us proceeded to…..

SP Secret Recipe

another Malaysian franchise. They have that Setapak coffee place there too, but no thanks! While my daughter had a slice of their chocolate indulgence…

SP Secret Recipe chocolate indulgence

I chose their very rich durian cake instead…

SP Secret Recipe durian cake

I have had this craving since I saw a whole half-hour programme on the Asian Food Channel showing the best places baking durian cakes in Singapore. Ooooo…..it was very nice with its rich natural durian taste. Somehow or other, I burped a couple of times after that…and omigawd! The stench! Hahahahahahaha!!!! That was really gross, wasn’t it? Well, my daughter could not finish her slice, so guess who could not resist the temptation! After all, as they say, it’s a sin to waste…but if you think I was being over-indulgent, please…forgive me! ROTFLMAO!!!

People…

One thing that I like most about travelling is that I get to meet people. While flying from Sibu to Penang, I made friends with this young guy, Kennedy. He was an ex-SMK Sedaya student and completed Form 6 in SMK Jalan Oya in Sibu. Now a new police recruit, he was on his way to Penang for training and incidentally, he’s in the narcotics division! Hmmm…somebody had better watch out eh? LOL!!! Too bad he was shy and did not want me to take his photograph. Other than this new friend, while I was at LCCT, KL, I also met my former students, Allen and Doris…

Allen and Doris

Allen was going for his convocation at USM, architecture and is now working in Penang while Doris is in interior design. Now, aren’t they just compatible? Hahahahaha!!! And while on transit, it so happened that there were a group of Indonesian artistes who had just arrived…and as the entourage walked past me, I managed to snap a couple of photographs…

Indonesian band

I did not know who they were but I gathered that among them were Samsons and Peter Pan. I thought this guy looked like Ariel…

Ariel of Peter Pan

…but he did not look as thin and appeared very much older than in his “Mungkin Nanti” video clip. Well, I was in Sungai Petani to see my daughter,

Melissa in Sungai Petani

…always the same little girl in her papa’s eyes.

Then, when I went to mass on the Feast of Assumption, I bumped into Arthur – one of the very very nice students I had in Form 5 last year in my former school, prior to my retirement.

Arthur in Sg Petani

He is presently going for a degree in medicine in AIMST here – the Asian Institute for Medicine, Science and Technology. There are two others from Sarawak doing the same course as him, and he was telling me about how one of them (from another school in Sibu) could only smile when somebody spoke to him in English. I will not bother to comment on that but I think that speaks volumes to some parents out there (who probably will not be reading this anyway, even if they can!).

I also had the opportunity to meet once again a fellow-blogger, the very nice and pleasant Dr. Bernard Chan of bernardchan.net and his equally nice and pleasant wife when they came to take us out for lunch yesterday…

SP Dr Bernard Chan

I have met him before when I was in Penang around the Chinese New Year period this year and he dropped by the hotel to see me (I was down with shingles at the time!). He and his missus are so amiable that even though it may be your first time meeting them, it will seem like you’ve known them for years. They took us out for Sungai Petani char kway teow (Will be posting on this separately) and they are coming AGAIN to take us out to lunch today.

And have you ever met someone and somehow or other, the two of you just clicked? Eng’s from Penang and right now, he’s lecturing at a teacher-training institute in Bukit Mertajam. We first met many years ago in Port Dickson when we were roped in to work on the modules for the implementation of the Literature Component in English Language for secondary schools..and we met again once or twice in KL to finish off what we had started in PD. We got along really well even though we are as different as night and day…and over the years, we have always kept in touch. We got to meet again when we were marking examination papers and we would get to meet once a year in KL then…and there was also a Literature conference at Sheraton Subang where our paths crossed as well.

Penang friend Eng

Despite the sporadic occasions when we managed to get together, it’s like we’ve always been together all these years. Eng has been so helpful since my daughter got accepted into the institute in Sungai Petani. He met us at the airport on Penang island, drove us all here and even took us around, otherwise we would have been quite lost…and since then, we have met a couple more times already. This trip, he was away in Perlis on a lifesaver upgrading course and on the way home last night, he went through all the trouble to stop by Sungai Petani just to take my daughter and me out to dinner (This post coming up pretty soon!) even though he must be pretty tired from the gruelling course and the long drive. When I consider the fact that I have friends like that, I really feel that I am truly blessed…..

Walk this way…

The other evening, I told my daughter that I would like to go to Er Chea (2nd elder sister) in Sungai Petani. She has often told me about her eating there because her friends love to go there. It was too near to call a cab and too far to walk…and since my daughter suggested walking all the way, we did just that. We went past the St Theresa’s schools…

SP St Theresa schools

The secondary school is to the right and the primary to the left. Then, we came to a junction where SP Plaza stands tall…

SP Plaza, Sungai Petani

It may look impressive but there is nothing much there other than The Store and a few miserable small shops but I think many of the government offices are here…so I guess it is something like Saberkas in Kuching or Wisma Sanyan in Sibu, but at least we have Parkson and many other nicer shops in the latter. Then, finally we reached Er Chea

SP Er Chea 1

Omigawd!!! My heart sank at the mere sight of the place! My poor anak eating at a place like this! Now I feel so guilty for having dined in style in Sibu and also when I was flying here and there recently. I had expected some kind of food court in a nice air-conditioned place, not something like this! It was very crowded though and the people there seemed quite oblivious to their not-so-conducive dining environment…

SP Er Chea 2

I have nothing against open-air dining…like the one opposite Cititel in Penang (Red Garden) which is, in fact, quite a nice place to go for hawker food (but I won’t say the same about Gurney Drive! Yucks!). In fact, back home, I do frequent the stalls at Taman Selera Muhibbah which is quite near my house. The place is cleaner and neater, better organised and a lot more presentable than this one…plus the food is nice and cheap! Kongkay has just had a post on this place in Sibu, so if you’re interested, you can just click the link and hop over to have a look…and make your own comparisons.

Anyway, we ordered this chicken claypot rice for two (RM7.00)…

SP Chicken claypot rice

I was down with a bit of flu so my review of the food may be somewhat adversely affected, but when I had the same thing a long time ago in KL (or was it in Singapore?), there were some salted fish and lap cheong (Chinese sausage) that added to the fragrance and flavour of the dish. We also had this plate of fried kway teow

SP Fried kway teow

Actually, we did not order that but this poor boy could not trace the people who had ordered it, so being the good samaritan that I am, I asked him to just give it to me and I paid for it. After all, it was only RM2.50, no big deal. An older lady at the stall said that the kid was new on the job and was not that good at recognising people. For one thing, he was so young and should be in school…if he was not there part-time to put the school holidays to good use, that is! As for the kway teow, I would very much prefer the one I had at a coffee shop along Penang Road or the charcoal-fried ones at a stall under some big trees somewhere on the island.

We also had this plate of fried homemade tofu…

SP Fried homemade tofu

which came together with the or-chian (oyster omelette) that we ordered…

SP oyster omelette

The two items cost RM10.00 but sadly, I felt they were nothing to shout about either…and considering that the total came up to RM19.50 for the food alone, I would think that it was really not worth the torture of sweating it out at the stalls, sitting at the wobbly tables and on those uncomfortable metal stools.

After having had our fill, we walked back and by the time we reached the hotel, my legs were about to give way and I was staggering step by step to our room. All in all, I don’t think I would want to go back there, and definitely not if I have to walk all the way again!

The other side of me…

I was thinking that Sungai Petani was a miserable small town that could not even compare to Sibu in Sarawak…until I went to another part of the town that changed my perspective of the place right away. I do not know what they call that area but that is where Tesco is located…

SP Tesco

The Tesco premises look like one of those marts in Auckland (The Warehouse, for instance ) and other than the hypermart and the food court, there are a number of other shops housed in that same building including a small MPH outlet…

SP mph@Tesco

No, the Nissan Sylphy isn’t mine, not even in my dreams; it was on display there that day. LOL!! I bought a copy of Anita Desai’s “Fasting, Feasting” (Nothing personal! It is one of the prescribed texts in the present SPM English Literature cycle) and also Quachee’s 50+1 Malaysia book, just to give a fellow-blogger a little bit of support (It’s much smaller than I expected, just pocket size only, more or less!).

SP Books from MPH

There is also an outlet of Penang’s Nasi Kandar Kayu there…but we just had nasi kandar the other day, so we decided to go to the Village Mall on the other side, right across Tesco’s parking area…

SP Village Mall

There is a laksa shop there, the branch of the one I’ve seen at 1 Utama but I just can’t remember the name…and there’s Pizza Hut, Secret Recipe and between Uncle John’s kopitiam and this one, we decided to go here for lunch…

SP Chicken Rice Shop 1

This is another Malaysian franchise and I think they have an outlet in Kuching. I’ve tried the set lunch for two at Berjaya Times Square sometime ago and I quite liked it, and since my daughter’s friend was joining us, we opted for the set lunch for 3-4 persons. We were served 4 plates of chicken rice + soup…

SP Chicken Rice Shop 2

…and roasted chicken to go with it…

SP Chicken Rice Shop 3

and honey barbecue chicken…

SP Chicken Rice Shop 4

and we had a plate of kuih pai tee (top hats)…

SP Chicken Rice Shop 5

and kerabu mango, a Thai-style salad dish…

SP Chicken Rice Shop 6

and a bowl of fish ball soup…

SP Chicken Rice Shop 7

and a plate of tofu…and a plate of fried bean sprouts (taugeh)…

SP Chicken Rice Shop 8

All that plus one jug of drink (Pepsi, 7Up or orange) cost around RM50 only…but that was too much for the 3 of us, so we could not finish it all even though every dish was satisfactorily delicious. In addition to that, my daughter wanted some spring rolls (She did not expect SO much from the set lunch package!), so we also had a side order of what they call “fortune rolls”…

SP Chicken Rice Shop 9

They’re very nice too…and maybe I shouldn’t have taken the photograph from this angle as they certainly conjure some unwarranted images in the head (e.g. Clare taking a big bite at her giant popiah)!!! Don’t let your imagination run wild now, ya! LOL!!!

All in all, it was value for money but considering how little young people today eat, I think that should be enough for at least 6 people if they share the 4 plates of rice among them. I certainly wouldn’t mind going back there again to try the other dishes that I saw in the menu and besides, we have yet to scout around the numerous other shops in the vicinity. I even spotted a hotel there – The Casa Lagenda! I must make it a point to go there before I leave to get the rates and the contact number…for if I am coming to Sungai Petani again, you know where I’ll be staying – right where all the food is! Hahahahahaha!!!!

The room at the top of the stairs…

My daughter and I are putting up at the Sungai Petani Inn, or what the locals call “SP Inn”…

SP Inn

It is not too bad and for RM88 per room per night, we get to stay in something like this on the 1st floor of the double-storey building, so it is literally one of the rooms at the top of the stairs…

SP Inn room

For one thing, it is a lot nicer than the one I had in Sandakan for more or less the same price without breakfast. Here, we get it served to our room but it is nothing grand or fanciful, maybe just kampung fried rice perhaps, with tea…but if the occupancy rate is high, buffet breakfast will be served in the cafe and again, it is not going to be anything worth posting about – just a choice of bread and jam, fried rice or fried kway teow or mihun and free flow of tea.

SP Inn breakfast

There is even a swimming pool at the hotel and quite a big one at that, unlike some of the bean-shaped pools in some hotels that are about the size of a bathtub but made to look big in their promo photographs…but I did not bring along my swimming trunks.

SP Inn swimming pool

These few days, the hotel is full because of the Pematang Pauh by-election. All the hotels in Penang are full…so this one is enjoying the spillover from there. Right now, the renovation works are still going on; you can see a section of the new blocks to the right in the first photograph and they expect to open that wing for business sometime next month. One thing I like about this hotel is that the Catholic church is right across the road – The Church of Christ the King…

SP Church of Christ the king

It was very convenient for us to attend mass on August 15th for the Feast of the Assumption, a holiday of obligation…and on Saturday for the sunset mass. The church looks very nice on the outside but appears somewhat plain and empty inside. However, what it lacks in terms of interior decor, it makes up for it with the sophisticated sound system and a singer with a voice that is so deep and mellow that it will put many professional singers in the pub circuit to shame. He does not sound exactly like Elvis Presley but it would be safe to classify him along that line or among the best known country singers. Just listening to him singing the hymns backed by a good choir makes going to mass such a pleasure!

Other than its close proximity to the church, I think this hotel is the nearest (about 400-500 metres) to the town centre. It seems somewhat strange that there is no hotel in the town proper except for one that does not seem very safe or decent. So staying at the SP Inn, it is quite convenient just to stroll down the road to go shopping or for lunch or for dinner. The other day, we went to this nasi kandar shop and I had this…

SP Nasi Kandar 1

There were sotong (cuttlefish), quail eggs. ladies’ fingers and a chunky slice of omelette with onions, while my daughter had deep fried calamari (sotong/cuttlefish), fish curry and the omelette as well, all for RM14.00 which was kind of steep…but it was all right as everything was very tasty…

SP Nasi Kandar 2

One thing that I found interesting was how they would take a bit of the gravy of each dish and add all that to the rice…instead of asking you which one you would like and drowning everything on your plate with the sauce. I was also a bit impressed by the fact that they even had their own bottled drinking water…

SP Nasi Kandar drinking water

Oops! I started off by talking about the hotel where we are staying…so how on earth did I end up talking about food? Anyway, I guess all of you are expecting that anyway and do not mind it one bit, right? ROTFLMAO!!!