My first impression of Penang is as that i have stepped back in time into historic Singapore, back in the 1970s. Most of its buildings/ shophouses built back in the 1950s/ 1960s are still intact and it is refreshing to see the skyline of Penang not being dominated by skyscrapers and swanky new tall buildings like most of the other bustling cities. Even though the facade of Penang’s shophouses may seem like they have lost their past grandeur, (with their faded walls and all), one can still pretty much imagine how life was back in the 1970s. Take a walk around Georgetown, a designated UNESCO world heritage site, the shophouses coupled the street peddlers hawking their wares in a pushcarts would make you feel as if you have really travelled back in time. To make your experience even more nostalgic, I would recommend renting a retro bicycle (with the basket in front of course) to explore around with. Tip from me: Do pick Sunday to cycle as there is no traffic in Georgetown (they have closed off the roads specially for tourists). I did my cycling exploration on a Friday, which was a working day, so i basically had to jostle with motorbikes, trucks and cars along the streets. Being a Singaporean who is used to obeying traffic lights, I must admit that i was initially a little frazzled while trying to cross / cycle across Penang’s streets.
But i digress.
The main highlights of Penang, are the locals, aka Penangites.
The penangites, are truly an extraordinary lot. Perhaps it is because they still live in these old buildings, retaining their history and lifestyle, it feels to me as though they also retained the very friendly kampung spirit around their community. Sadly, this trait is something that has been lost to most Singaporeans, where we live in high rise HDBs and shut our doors tight once we get home.
Most, almost all of the local cab drivers that I met were extremely chatty, and extremely helpful. Do take note, most of the taxis do not run on the meter, but so far, based on my experience, none of cab drivers tried to overcharge me. Curious about why they do not follow the meter (something else that a Singaporean like me is unused to), I simply had to ask why. One of the cab uncle kindly explained that as Penang is too small, it is hard for them to earn anything if they had to follow the meter prices. So far, i do think that the prices are pretty reasonable, especially so if you have 4 persons to share the cab with. As a gauge, this is what i paid: 10 MYR to travel around Georgetown, 40-50 MYR to get from Georgetown to Batu Ferrionnghi (about 45 mins ride away) So i have digressed (again). This is about the cab drivers. Favourite topic for us: Food. My favourite question for cab drivers is to get them to recommend food places. They have all been pretty helpful, and one particular driver even patiently showed me all the food places while he drove me to my destination. They are all really diplomatic though, and draw the line at naming the best (aka no.1) food places. Their common tagline is that everyone has different tastes, and that what they consider to be the best may be different from what we prefer. So they would rather recommend a couple of options for me to try out myself.
All the local hawkers were also extremely friendly. (Caveat: You’ve got to catch them when they aren’t that busy though) There was this particular auntie who sells drinks at one of the food court along Victoria St. It was nearly 2pm and I was still roaming the streets, looking for a good place for lunch. (As it was a really short trip, I had to make sure that all my meals/ calories were well spent on good food) So i was recee-ing this food court place, undecided on what to eat. This auntie was already having her lunch outside her drinks stall, noticed me walking around, looking around aimlessly. (Side note: That food court was really local, being non-airconditioned and all, and the best part is that they actually do not display what they sell very visibly. Which explains why i spent quite a lot of time looking around, actually trying to figure out what each stall was selling.) So this auntie noticed me being indecisive, and gave a couple of suggestions on what was good. She suggested the curry mee, and explained that it was unique as it was a “white” curry. Being already starved, I decided to give it a shot and that curry mee turned out to be one of the best dish i had in Penang. (cheap as well!) So while i was eating / waiting for my food, the auntie struck up a really long conversation basically suggesting what we should do: cycle around to see the street art, visiting the jetties clans, etc. The most amusing part of the conversation is when she shared that Singapore’s Mediacorp actually used the food court where i was in to film our own local Singaporean tv show- Mata Mata 2. She also pointed out several spots nearby where several Chinese movies / tv shows were filmed. The irony of it is that even though I am a Singaporean, the truth is, i don’t watch much tv. (and even if i were to make time for tv, i would opt to watch korean drama serials instead) So you can imagine how embarrassing it was, when i couldn’t identify the local Singaporean shows that she mentioned. I was curious how she knew so much about the Singaporean shows, so I asked if she could even receive our local TV signal (how else would she be so well-versed in the serials?) And guess what, she said that she would buy the DVDs to watch some of the more famous local shows! I was truly amazed, and of course embarrassed. The shows are free to air on TV for us, yet we don’t appreciate it as much as our neighbours who would not mind paying to watch them!