Saturday, August 16, 2014

Travelling the Streets of Georgetown - Part 2

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Only the lonely travels. Because there's no father or mother to love, one tends to replace that emptiness with travelling. Even if you are attached, travelling together would open up the real person of your romanticized self. When I go to a new place, my perspective changes because of new sights and scenes. Human beings are insignificant during travel - because they come and go in this journey. But streets don't. A street is permanently in place. Like in Georgetown, there are hundreds of streets with its own details and unique English names. A street can change, even though it is permanent. The shops along the street becomes its garments of change. Like a person with his or her own style in fashion. There's a certain definition, a kind of beauty that only in Georgetown possesses.


People who lives in Georgetown, Penang become jaded of its changing beauty. They often took for granted the sights and scenes unlike a "tourist" like me. Even though I am from Penang, I find it hard to visit the island regularly and when I have the opportunity, like recently, I took the jump instanteneously. I have a friend who recommended a hotel booking site, in which I got quite cheaply. From clicking the book button, I am sucked into this traveller's vortex, where one thing leads to another quite immediately. Of course I could just let the booking ticket go, but I am an adventurous person. Suddenly I have to think about which bag to bring, what clothes, toiletries, how much money etc. I've planned for a 2-day visit, unlike last year where it was only a day. I got the itch of sleeping a night in my birth city - to get the feel of coming back like a visiting ghost in the night. Yes, Georgetown is a haunted city, an island full of history, nostalgia and ghosts. But these are unseen mysteries, I'm more interested in the seen changes.

Like my friend who lives there all his life doesn't realize the changes that are occurring unlike me. Exactly a year ago I was here, and discovered so many changes.  You can read the Part 1 of the entry here. Literally, every street in Georgetown consisted of a hotel, guesthouse, cafe, pub, convenience store and more guesthouses!  It feels like old Japan, where okiyas of the old and I am the little boy walking on the roofs of these guesthouses - peering into the secret lives of these folks operating their businesses. Beautiful and ornate little houses are turned into shoplot-like business venture, and that sometimes saddens me. Penangites, a majority of them are poor or low wage earners, so having these business fronts do make some sacrifices on the change. But often times, I can feel Penangites' sadness and desperation too, in their quest to earn wages.


I booked a guesthoust at Love Lane. The guesthouse is next to a very traditional-looking mansion named Love Lane Hotel, which seems very befitting since the road itself is called the same. I was walking one early morning, and discovered an open bakery next to it called Steak Frites , so I was curious and walked in to take a look. One of the kitchen staff - an Indian girl - retorted quite rudely at me "Sir, you cannot go in", which startled me and makes me feel like I'm invading some private space. I told her I was looking for the reception in which she replied very oddly by telling me the price of the room - an impression I got that is to say it's very expensive and I could not afford it. What the heck, all I was asking was where is the reception. I turned back around and walked out, then I heard her calling "Abang" to another guy as if to keep an eye on me as I walked out. I saw all foreign Caucasians having their breakfast in their colonial style seats and tables - which saddened me even more because it seems like even locals does not know how to behave kindly to their own kind, whoring themselves in the name of money.


I lived in guesthouses before, and that was the time when I was at Khao San Road, Bangkok. Since then, I had lost touch the feeling of staying in such guesthouses, for I often like the air-conditioned rooms better. But staying at the guesthouse this time relives some interesting memories and dislike. I won't complain too much since I got a steal from it, but the room is extremely stuffy and hot. That condition forces me to be out most of the times, except when I first checked in at 2pm - I had to immediately washed myself and rest for a while since the whole morning I have been out on the streets of Penang markets - savouring its morning noodles, toasts and tea.

I was glad that the coffeehouse at Chowrasta Market is still opened with its rich-dark sauce wonton noodles being my ultimate favourite meal. The other one at Siam Road, which is the last remaining childhood coffeehouse still standing also offers wonton noodles, but have a more liquid and clear sauce, which I find increasing dissatisfying. This coffeeshop at Siam Road is operated by the family - where the husband passed away a few years back, whom cooked the koey teow teng in really rich soup. When the husband died, this delicacy passed on too. The greatest thing about this coffeeshop is its marbled tables and wooden chairs that feels so rustic and homey. The ceiling exterior is lined with a unique iron grills that brings the morning sunlight a kind of fresh bath of aura into the dining space. The best thing about this coffeeshop is its not located in the dense and busy part of the city but next to a row of Old-Rich chinese style stoned houses along Siam Road that gives it some feel of exclusivity and classic atmosphere.


It was raining sporadically when I came, and sitting in the cafe makes me feel warm. It doesn't have bright fluroscent lights but only natural light from the morning sun. Eating the wonton noodles was easy for the small portion is extremely quick to finish. After I've finished, I went to visit the Anson Road Market. The smell of fishes and vegetables quickly transported me to the times when I followed my mother in her marketing. During that times, I would soon be taken to my babysitter's house where I'm left in their care and she would be off to work. She had awful mood swimgs, and I often let myself escape in the sights and sounds of the marketplace whenever I was with her. I think that is why even now, my senses of the outside world is more acute and graphic than others for I escaped when I used my full senses in a particular place. And I never deny my senses its due pleasures.

Often times it got the best of me - leaving me lost in the moment or trapped in a particular time and space. This is the magic of visiting Georgetown again after leaving it for a year. My friends who stayed here all their lives do take the city for granted but it's understandable because they're used to its almost realistic nature, and to the dream-like state I'm often in whenever I dropped by. If I were like them, I too, would take the city for granted, for there's really nothing much happening if you look at it realistically. Penangites are still the same, they're no different from other people. Foreigners who came here to visit failed to see that we're just like them, except we're not so vocal about our thoughts as they do. Of course, having more money than we do makes us behaved better than usual. Behind the ornate facade and traditional designs of wooden flowers and ancient vignettes, Penangites who stayed there for too long would often drown in their pride of their rich history.


I could see poor people too who have spent their youths in Penang only to discover that it's too late now to leave. I ralised this early on in my teens, when I saw foreigners from all over the world jamming through the jetty. I would often hope one of them would adopt me and take me with them to their adventures - out from this dreaded city. Now that I come back as a visitor, I realised how much the roles are reversed, and thankful that I took the leap out from there. It's a good place to visit once in a while,, but not to stay for good because jobs are often limited or skewed towards a few industries.

Thinking all these, I suddenly found myself sitting on the stone bench enjoying the morning sea breeze. Behind me was Dewan Sri Pinang, which used to be a library I would escape to in the pretense of studying. Now it's only a giant auditorim for art show performances and galleries. Fort Cornwallis is quite nearby, where in the afternoon I would be meeting an ex-schoolmate for lunch at the food court sandwiched between the field and the fort. I was in a cathartic state of mind, watching the beautiful morning scene, where the sun was shining brightly - revealing the ocean and its golden gleaming waves, and at the horizon was the mirage of the ports and ships doing their trade.

I continued my walk to the field and spotted a few bicycles wheeling by. Memories began to flood in again, I could confirm that I was walking in a dream. I used to steal my uncle's bicycle for rides when he doesn't know - and it was all worth it. Cycling in the city was a joy that time for me, for I could go anywhere. My teenage enthusiasm could not keep me still, and stealing was an option to escape the dullness of staying in. I wasn't allowed to own a motorbike, or drive, except to use public transport. So being in control of my mobility in the form of a bicycle was a thrill. But now as I've grown, I find walking as a better alternative because the slower motion allows me to take in the details.

Coming back to Georgetown again, I took a walk without having any direction. It was late in the night, and I could not sleep just yet in my small room. I just let my feet took control. Night walks in Georgetown is full of orange lights, but there are some parts that were dark and quiet. Each step, you can see people taking photographs or in one setting - a shoot for a TV drama was taking place. I got a bit scared at times, because the streets behind the banking district was quite long and quiet. But I reached the end and turned to a corner where China House was situated. I walked in quite non-chalantly and let my feet do the walking. The halls was the longest I've ever been. I was pleasantly surprised to see a pond of water in the open hallway. It feels so romantic, and surprising too, for I thought the whole of the hallway was catered only for dining and drinking. The feeling was magical and it feels like I was trnasported into the moonlight. I'm a Moon Child, being Cancerian, so the moon is extremely attractive to me.


There's still more space along the hallway, and I walked on until I reached the end. I see it was a place dedicated to serving alcoholic drinks, and you'll be surprised what sort of people drinks there. It feels almost like a cult is ready to happen, and someone is about to be sacrificed in this corner of the room. I turned and walked back where I came from, fearing I would be the sacrificial lamb. Everyone was a masked crusader inside and I was the naked sheep - seduced, startled and surprised by what I just saw. I promised this would not be my last trip here, and would definitely come back to taste the cakes and coffee.

The night dragged on extremely long in Georgetown, and my stomach was growling again to taste the wonton noodles hawkers stall along Chulia Street - the intersection right next to Love Lane. I noticed the old man drying the noodles looked up at me quite intently as if he'd known me before. Sorry, old father, I'm not your lost son. But it got me interested to try his noodles. It ws at that point I realised and was able to articulate how my favourite wonton noodles should taste like. I was extremely upset by the wonton noodles, for the sauce does not hold onto the noodles and was very liquid. That causes the noodles to taste like rubber bands - tasteless and hard to chew. I just ate the fried and steamed wontons, and tried my hardest to palate the rest of the noodles.


After I've finished, I walked around that corner and discovered a live band was playing in one of the clubhouses. I walked in without anyone stopping me, and see all the yuppies drinking and chatting in the loud music. The bouncer noticed me, but still gave way. I walked back outside and decided to just lean on the car parked in front of a convenience store. I could see so many tourists walking around. I was relaxed and feel much better just observing the people around me in their night lives. There's no tension or whatsoever, just pushing my butt out while standing with my elbows resting on the car's back. Several men were looking at me curiously.

Before I called it a day, I always go to this char koey teow hawker stall at Chulia Street.The hawker stall used to be called Ah Leng, but due to the sexual connotation from its Hokkien translation which means "breasts", the cook changed it to "Long Chye Char Koey Teow". I loved this char koey teown hawker shop because of how locked-in the taste of the fried kuey teow with its flavored oil taste so eclectic. I took a moment to observe how he cooked his koey teow, and discovered he doesn't commit the act of frying in a big and loud manner like other cooks. Instead, he's very focused in his frying style meaning he centered the kuey teow at the center of the frying pan and fry within a certain perimeter of the pan. Haa, the secret of frying a great plate of koey teow is out!