Malaysia fascinated me from the first day, for its people, culture, landscapes, food. And Georgetown, in Penang, is a city I like a lot for its temples, street art, colonial houses and interesting meetings with people.
I’m sitting in a bandstand in a Chinese temple built over the water. There’s music, quiet and cheerful music. I close my eyes and feel the wind on my face. It’s a soft wind and it smells like the sea. I open my eyes. A part from myself, there are only three other tourists in the temple.
While I admire the temple from the shadow of the bandstand I think about this last week. The arrival to Malaysia. The two days in Kuala Lumpur with jet lag. The humid tropical heat. The long journey from Kuala Lumpur to Georgetown, the cold I felt in the bus due to the air con, the delay due to the heavy traffic, the intense rain. The days in Georgetown, in Penang.
This is my second time in Malaysia and the third one in Penang. I had no idea, two years ago, that this would be my first destination of my new life as a wanna be digital nomad.
I smile. I’m happy to be here. This country fascinates me for its people, culture, temples, landscapes, food. I’ve come to Penang to see friends I met through couchsurfing last time, and I’ve taken the opportunity to rediscover Georgetown, the biggest city in Penang. I didn’t remember much and I’ve loved it.
Georgetown ’s historical center and street art
Penang is an island on the west coast of Malaysia, near the border with Thailand. Georgetown is the biggest city and it’s well known for the street art, the food and the historial center, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I’ve liked to explore the city. To go out from the hostel before it’s too hot and there’s too many people in the streets. Walking the streets between colorful houses of colonial style. To see the rickshaws, these vehicles with pedals and an umbrella. To drink fruit shakes.
I feel fascinated to find a Chinese temple in a corner, an Indian temple in another corner and a mosque a bit further. These mix of cultures is unique.
It was funny to search the street art murals, like it were a game. It should be over here. Or maybe in the next corner? Oh look, there’s a lot of people there queueing with a camera, it might be there.
The street art started with a project called “Mirrors Georgetown” in 2012, and ever since there have been new murals in the city. Most of them are in the historical center but there are some in other parts of the city. Some of them look very real, others are funny, some are very big and others small. It’s like an open air museum.
Meeting locals and coconuts with sunglasses
Yesterday I saw coconuts wearing sunglasses.
That’s funny! I thought. They were on a table. Behind them, a fridge contained more coconuts (without the glasses) and some drinks. There was nobody. I smiled and went on. Two seconds later a man called me, and suddenly I was sitting on a chair, drinking a coconut, surrounded by t-shirts and hats on sale and bicycles to rent.
That shop had a bit of everything.
The owner was very nice and even though he didn’t speak English very well he told me that we were on the Ong clan jetty. He told me about the colonial houses and the street art, and showed me on a map where the nearest murals were.
And suddenly I was in a photographic session. Me with the coconut. The man with a friend (they asked me to take a photo with my camera). The man and me. Me on a bicycle.
I left the shop smiling. Funny things that happen when you travel alone!
Hello, hello! Where you from?
The man of the shop wasn’t the only one to come talk to me. After one year in Europe I didn’t remember how it is to travel in Asia. Here it’s obvious that I’m a foreigner, and being alone, I generate even more curiosity.
“Hello hello! Where you from?”.
The first one was at the airport, the second in Kuala Lumpur. One told me that Malaysian girls don’t travel alone abroad (I didn’t tell him that I have a Malaysian friend who travels alone abroad). Another mentioned Messi when I told him where I’m from. A woman wanted to have a picture with me.
In front of a temple in Georgetown a guy started talking to me. “Hello hello, where you from?”.
He told me I was the first person he met from Spain and asked me if I was traveling with my family.
He was very surprised that I’m traveling alone.
“You’re brave!” he said. I asked if Malaysia is dangerous. “No, it’s not dangerous, but don’t you have a husband? Why don’t you travel with friends?”. He was also surprised to hear my age (“I thought you were 25”) and my job (“you look like an office girl”). He was in shock!
Clan jetties and the floating temple
The clan jetties are houses built over the water. They were constructed by the members of the Chinese clans that arrived to the city in the past. Each jetty has the family name of the clan, and even nowadays the descendants live there.
The biggest and most visited jetty is the Chew clan jetty. The main “street” has food and souvenir shops, but I also took the secondary streets, which were empty. There I saw wooden houses, motorbikes parked in front of the doors, clothes drying under the sun. It was quiet and in between one house and another, I could see the slow movement of the sea.
From there I saw a Chinese temple, far, at the end of the jetties. It looked very big and it seemed to be over the water.
Today I’ve decided to search the temple I saw from the jetties. It’s been a bit difficult since the streets to come here do not appear in the maps, but I found it. It’s fantastic. I like the red and yellow colors, the decorated roof, the dragons, the red balloons and the yellow flags with text I don’t understand.
I like the quietness of this temple over the water. The sea breeze. The views of the city and the contrast between the wooden houses of the jetties and the modern high buildings in the background. I like the temple, the city, Penang. I’m happy to be here.
Attention: SCAM in Georgetown
Malaysia is not known for having scams (as far as I know) but in Georgetown there is a woman who has been scamming people for years. She looks European (she told me she was a Swiss living in US) and has a 7-8 years old son. She says her credit card has been blocked and needs 150 ringgits (about 30 euros) until she can gets money. My local friend told me that she actually lives in Georgetown and has been scamming people since her son was a baby.
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