Island in the sun…

I first went to Penang in December 1973 and I loved the place then. The trishaws ruled the road and everything was cheap and nice. I think it was a duty-free island at the time. I was staying with a friend in Pulau Tikus and I remember watching the dragon boat race at Gurney Drive, going up Penang Hill, trying my first Penang laksa (Yucks!)…and even going to Carmen’s Inn at Merlin Hotel (Now Bayview) to see the Alleycats.

The next time I went to the island again was in the late 80s when I attended a course at RECSAM. Everything had changed. The roads were infested by a multitude of motorcycles and cars as well and everytime I had to cross the road, I had to make a dash for it or else I would have to wait forever. I was there again with my family in the 90s. The traffic in the city was still as bad…and I think by then, KOMTAR was already standing tall – the tallest building in the country at the time…

Penang KOMTAR

Today, it is still part of the city’s skyline but the last time I was there, it was like a deserted, haunted house. All the shops had closed – gone bankrupt or moved elsewhere except for a few miserable ones with hardly any customers. On the other hand, the mall next door was bustling with life! 

But when I went last year, I found that the traffic had improved tremendously. There are now new roads everywhere but I would think that the shops need a new coat of paint to make the city centre look more presentable, especially now that the city has been made one of the heritage centres in the country. The other day, I walked around the vicinity of the hotel where I was staying and saw some old buildings that have been nicely restored and preserved…

Penang heritage 1

This one houses the Indian restaurant “A passage thru’ India”, next to a Japanese restaurant. I’ve heard of the place though I’ve never dined there. I certainly hope to check it out some day. And this one has been turned into a pub…

Penang heritage 2

…the Uptown Bistro. Another place that caught my attention was a cinema along Penang Road. From the posters, I guess that it only shows Indian (Tamil) movies and while a movie is on, you can actually hear it outside. That was reminiscent of the cinema in the late 70s in Kanowit;I was thinking then that those who were poor and could not afford to go and see the movie could at least, sit outside and listen to it. And they have this outside the cinema… 

Penang kacang putih stall

I remember in my younger days, we had these stalls outside the cinemas and we would buy our sweets, chewing gum and tidbits before going in to watch a movie. This particular stall it seems, sells the Indian delicacies like muruku, kacang putih and so on.

I think we should try and restore and preserve those old buildings that represent our rich historical past instead of demolishing them…or redoing them so much that they are simply no longer the same (like in Singapore! Today it is more like one giant Disneyland, I would think!) Sadly, most of the old buildings in Sibu are gone. Sungai Merah no longer has any hint of what it used to look like. As far as I know, only the shops along Old Street (now renamed) have stood the test of time.

Unfortunately, I only had one brief evening to explore the areas around the hotel where I was staying in Georgetown. But I did manage to meet a few Penang bloggers that night – two, to be exact. This is Faizal of faisaladmar.blogspot.com… 

Penang blogger faisaladmar

I think I ended up in his blog through a link in zewt’s or somebody’s, I can’t exactly remember. He has put up a post about our meeting-up that day, so you can all click the link and go over to have a look at our photos. Eyew!!! The two of them equal one of me!!! Gosh! Am I that huge? ROTFLMAO!!! Faisal brought along with him another blogger, Joseph – born in Kuching, grew up in Sandakan and working in Penang…

Penang blogger Joseph

Just fancy that! Three strangers from three different corners of the country getting together and ending up as friends, isn’t that nice? Joseph’s blog, all4one-greatness.blogspot.com, it seems, is more politically inclined and if I’m not mistaken, he has more than one.

I could not get to meet Jenn of simplicity-jenn.blogspot.com but God willing, our paths will cross one day. And don’t worry, Faisal and Joseph! It was just a brief encounter no doubt, but I was glad to have made the acquaintance with you guys and we’ll meet again some day, won’t we? Cheers!

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One night…

I arrived in Penang after 4.00 p.m. on Thursday and it was rather cloudy that day, with rain at certain places along the way from Sungai Petani. There wasn’t any jam on the bridge, thank goodness but there were a few police road blocks along the way, probably because of the Pematang Pauh by-election. I stayed at the Cititel Penang along Penang Road…  

Penang Road and Komtar

One thing that I noticed instantly was that the road was not as congested as during my previous trips. That could be due to the increase in oil prices, so unlike before, people are now no longer as reckless in zooming here and there at any time of day like there is no tomorrow. I also found  out that some of the shops have closed down, like one cake shop/bakery right across the road and also a shop selling clothes and souvenir Penang t-shirts.

I have been staying at the Cititel Penang all this while…

Cititel Penang

…and I am quite used to the place already. This is the hotel lobby…

Cititel Penang lobby

…and as you can see, it is a lot nicer than the one at Mid Valley in KL. For RM140.00, I would get a much bigger room like this…

Cititel Penang Room 1Cititel Penang Room 2Cititel Penang Room 3

…with a view of the sea.

Cititel Penang seaview

I had a better picture in one of my earlier posts, taken on a nice sunny day with blue skies and everything nice. One peculiar feature of Cititel hotels is that there is a ceiling fan in the room and the security is very good. You would need to use your room card to go up in the lifts to your floor. But what I like best about this hotel is the hawker stalls across the road at this place called Red Garden… 

Penang Red Garden

There are so many stalls there that one would be really spoilt for choice. I had this plate of char hor fun (RM4.00) which is something like kway teow except that it is not cut into thin long strips…

Penang Red Garden char hor fun

…and this plate of ikan bakar (grilled fish)…

Penang Red Garden ikan bakar

The last time, with my family, we had ikan bawal hitam (black pomfret) and it was really delicious…but that evening, they only had very big ones, so I opted for this piece of stingray instead. It was very nice too and cost RM12.00. It appeared to me that they just marinated the fish with curry powder and grilled it on a banana leaf on a hot plate…but what made it absolutely tasty was the sambal that came with it! I loved it!!!

No sooner had I had my fill than I saw the lok lok satay stall just opening for business. Gee! I haven’t had that for ages but I was already too full from the feast I had. Guess that will have to wait till my next visit as this time around, I was just staying for only…one night!

Mamma mia (Not the movie or musical)…

Dr Bernard Chan was supposed to take us out for lunch again that day in Sungai Petani but he was tied up with an operation, so I just told him we could manage on our own. I guess when you’re a doctor, your time is not your own. Anyway, my daughter had been wanting to go to Pizza Hut over the past few days but we never managed to get down to doing that. So off we went…to the outlet at Central Square.

SP Pizza Hut

I have not been to Pizza Hut for years…not since my daughter left home. When she was in school,I would pick her up at the end of the day and go for lunch and occasionally, we would go there for something different from the usual local fare. But the outlet here was a disappointment though…

SP Pizza Hut mushroom soup

The mushroom soup was watery and quite tasteless;I prefer soups to be rich and thick and creamy. And what on earth do you think these were?…..

SP Pizza Hut breadstix

They certainly did not look like the breadstix we have back home at our Pizza Hut in Sibu. These did not even taste good – tough and rubbery like uncooked dough! My daughter said that there was very little quality control at that outlet and the taste of the food was not consistent. I thought for an international franchise, it should be more or less the same no matter where the outlet would be. The side order of tempura king prawns were nice though…

SP Pizza Hut tempura king prawns

and the stuffed crust pepperoni delight came out fine…

SP Pizza Hut stuffed crust pepperoni delight

That set meal (inclusive of drinks) and the side order came up to around RM43.00 and if you asked me for my honest opinion, it was definitely not worth it…but then I never actually like the food at fast food restaurants anyway, and since it was what my daughter wanted, so be it! As long as she’s happy……I’d go, “Mamma mia, here we go again!!…” anytime! LOL!!!

And since we are on the subject of lunch, yesterday, our Penang taxidriver friend, John, came to Sungai Petani to pick us up and we went for lunch somewhere near the shop that Dr Bernard Chan took us the other day…and we had, yet once again, char kway teow…but this one was fried with duck eggs…

SP char kway teow stall

It was just as nice as the other place, or perhaps even nicer but in comparison, the clams were extremely small

SP char kway teow 3

The big plate cost RM3.50 and a small one, RM2.80 and needless to say, I had the big one. One thing I noticed was that the girl fried each plate separately one by one…and she melted pig fat in the wok to get the lard for frying and you get to eat the “phok” (what’s left of the fat) in the char kway teow. We also had some dim sums…

SP coffee shop dim sums

They were cheap and nice…but nothing like those authentic ones from the dim sum restaurants, but anytime better than those 88 ones or whatever that you get at coffee shops in Kuching.

After having had our fill, we sent my daughter back to the institute and John drove me to Penang…and the rest will have to wait till another post.

P.S.: In case anyone’s wondering, I’m home safely in one piece, praise the Lord! Other than the one-hour delay in the KL-Sibu flight, everything else was fine…more or less.

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!!!

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…..