Sunday, February 28, 2016

Edelweiss Cafe, George Town Heritage zone

Anya pointed out this little German-speaking cafe and I dropped in to have a fruit juice -
dragon fruit, kiwi and beetroot. 

Courtyard in the light well, with a library of books on local history and architecture

When he saw me taking photos, the man behind the bar at the Edelweiss Cafe suggested I might to take a look around upstairs. It turns out there is a little museum up there. Deb, there were several little slippers for bound feet. My photography was not very successful but I think the story is obvious. I really do like my size 39 feet. Foot binding was outlawed 103 years ago but there may be still some women alive in China who did it in hope of a better life.

 The upper level around the light well.

Tiffin carriers 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Three things I wish we had in Australia

1. Instant hot water heaters in the shower - no wasting water waiting for the hot to come through miles of pipes

2. Non-drip hand-held hoses in toilets - enough said

3. More Indian fast food restaurants

Mosques and temples

The George Town World Heritage group run free walking tours led by volunteers and I went on the LaCaLa Discovery tour with this man
LaCaLa is Acheen Street, Cannon Street and Armenian Street. The group included a young Malay girl wearing a headscarf who had done a two-hour drive to get here from her home in Kedah. She lectures in mechanical engineering at a technical college. Also two Singaporeans here for the weekend, a couple from Germany and several locals.

We visited the Lam Yeong Tong Yap Temple and clan house, the part-fortified Hock Teik Cheng Sin temple which these days has a temple dedicated to the Hokkien god of prosperity but in early times functioned as a Secret Society rather than a religious organisation, and the small kampong centred on the Malay Mosque, a long-time centre for those preparing to take their Haji.

Ethnic collaborations have been complex, and the architecture in this densely-populated area is known as Straits Eclectic, richly ornamented and borrowing from traditional Indonesian and Malay styles as well as Chinese and colonial.

This craft shop is known locally as the death house because for Malaysians, frangipani trees are more commonly found in cemeteries 

European art deco style
Chinese mansion, under restoration 

Yap Temple


 In the clan house beside the Yap temple, a woman is folding gold leaf paper squares that she makes into crowns. She does about 100 of these each day. For a particular festival when the Gates of Hell open up, people buy the crowns and they are burned in the street to appease the ancestors and to stop them getting up to mischief.

Outsourcing filial duties - for a small payment you can have your ancestor tablets put into a shrine in the Clan House where it is guaranteed that joss sticks will be lit every day and offerings made regularly.

Pineapple candle

The pineapple is a symbol of wealth and gold, so explains why I have seen so many pineapples, both real and these candles, on the shrines outside shops and homes

Worship of a completely different sort - this afternoon I passed a young indian man sitting on the pavement with a small plastic bag. Huffing something. He was still lying there when I walk by an hour or so later. Totally wasted.

At the end of the walking tour I went for coffee with Anya, a German expat who has lived here for nearly a year. Her husband works for Bosch. They live in an apartment near where he works which is far from the district where most of the europeans who live here choose to live. She has just got a scooter and is learning to ride which sounds pretty brave to me given what the traffic is like around the Heritage Zone. She warned me to be careful of my bag. Although is is generally very safe here, handbag thieves on motorbikes are the biggest threat, and she'd had her bag snatched from the basket on the front of her bicycle by someone riding past. She draws and paints and also sews, and she contributes articles and art work for a magazine put out by the local German-Malay association.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Peranakan Museum

The Peranakan Mansion is a typical Chinese courtyard-style house now set up like a museum housing collections of crafts, china, jewelry, furniture and photographs. It's also a popular place for pre-wedding photography.

The collection of beadwork and embroidery is really impressive - Deborah, that's a bedspread hanging on the wall, embroidered totally in fine gold thread. These beading patterns could be contemporary.

The Nonya kitchen got me thinking about tiffin, so I took a lunch break at a nearby Indian vegetarian restaurant. Sizzling cauliflower 'manchurian', garlic naan with two different curry sauces, some pieces of vegetarian 'chicken' tikka and a mint lassi.

Have I said that this is food heaven? Every meal is spectacularly good. Janet, the Sichuan dumplings I had the day before!

Bookshop stories

Gerak Budaya is the best sort of bookshop, a place that supports writers and writing, story-telling and poetry readings, and community events.

I got into a long conversation with a man who came in with his bicycle, sweat dripping of his long curly hair (he could have shaken his head, and like a dog, showered the room, but he didn't), saying 'hot, hot, hot' and looking like maybe he'd just come from his yoga class. He parked the bike in a back room and came back out to compliment the woman working in the shop on her choice of music - Nina Simone singing Ne Me Quitte Pas. He said he had been to two of her concerts. Also several Keith Jarrett concerts; "There were people everywhere with their mobile phones held up. It quite destroys the atmosphere. I was at Hamlet, you know, with Bernard Cumberbatch, last year, in London. He had to ban phones - so many people were doing selfies - 'here I am at this moving performance turning around in my seat and instagramming and tweeting about being there', it's terrible."

He was born in Singapore to a Welsh father and maybe a Nonya mother, I forget, and he was an academic in Southeast Asian studies. His name is Gareth. I told them I had studied Southeast Asian history and politics at Auckland and he said, one of the most important academics of the region is a New Zealander, Anthony Reid. "He taught me Indonesian politics", I said, and he told me Tony had been standing just where I was only a few months ago. They didn't have his latest book, A History of Southeast Asia: Critical Crossroads in stock, or I'd have bought it.

There was a young blond American girl buying several books by local poets, and Gareth drew her into the conversation. She's from Virginia and had just come from Thailand to renew her visa, travelling by air to southern Thailand, then by ferry to Langkawi and across to Penang. She's living in a village outside of Chiang Mai, tutoring in English on the side while she trains in Muay Thai, thai boxing. She wants to fight professionally. She told us her father was a Navy Seal in the Special Armed Forces and had taught her a bit when she was a child. Gareth asked her if she wrote poetry and she blushed as said yes, and he tried to encourage her to come to a jam session and read.

Gareth is organising an event for Shakespeare's 400th anniversary which I didn't even know is this year. He's getting 150 people to each read a sonnet and some of the volunteers have asked to be do a translation of a favorite sonnet in their own language.

Street scenes today.

Mee wonton soup

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Chulia Street

Here is the neighbourhood - my room looks over the courtyard with the temple on the balcony, and the rooftop bar gives the view down the street.

And this is the reason I got a taxi from the ferry - pavements that are not made for wheelie bags and far too much baggage.

Well actually that's not my luggage, but I do feel feel I am over-burdened. These are part of a display at the Penang State Museum.

I had dinner with Peter and Shona and their relatives last night and met Jo and her partner who are probably about the same age as me, both English. Jo's wearing thongs, a t-shirt and an indian cotton wrap-around shirt that looks like just the one I wore when I was in Indonesia in the late seventies. For the past five years they have been doing a cycle between Nepal, India and Malaysia; living from their backpacks and moving on when they need to refresh their visas. In Georgetown they are staying in a budget hotel - no air conditioning, no screens, a shared toilet; all of which costs them about eight pound a night. There is a whole community like them, international grey nomads that they bump into again and again, and they intend to keep doing the same thing as long they can.

Here's a darkened gambling den next to a temple with painted wooden doors. How do I know it's a gambling den? I could hear the rattling of the tiles. Not that I was going to look in. The newspaper this morning reported that in KL the body of an elderly man had been found knifed to death on the 2nd floor of a temple. His son said it was a robbery, his father had been living at the temple since his wife died last year, and he had won a large sum gambling just a few days before the body was found.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Georgetown, Unesco World Heritage site

I just lost today's photos. Lost in import - the moral is, never choose 'Delete from card when copied' until you have seen that they have actually copied.

I'm staying at the Chulia Mansion which is not the most atmospheric accommodation in the Heritage Zone, but is very comfortable with nice touches like free drinks at happy hour at the rooftop bar and free laundry every day. There's a mosque on one side and a Chinese temple on the other so probably a safer spot than some, given that there is now a travel warning out for Malaysia.

There were a bunch of older English people on the train from KL and we ended up sharing the tiny shuttle bus service at the ferry from Butterworth. They turned out also to be staying here, and I got talking to Peter and Shona at the bar. They live in Hexham, up near the Scottish border, and have a house in Bordeaux that they go to every summer. Peter is a music therapist. In the seventies he did a long trip through Malaysia and Thailand, and across to India, finishing with visiting China and Russia. He travelled in those days with a violin in a case he carried over his shoulder. He rented a little hut in the north of Thailand for a time, right on the border with Burma, which was inaccessible in those times. One evening he was sitting outside playing his violin when a gentleman emerged from the river, bowing in greeting. He had heard the music and swum across from Burma, with a chess board on his head to talk to the foreigner and enjoy a game. Another time a young, good-looking, thin European man on a motorbike stopped, who turned out to be a circuit court judge and an expert in the sueng, a kind of lute, a traditional instrument, and who promptly said, come to a party, and off they went on the motorbike.

They introduced me to Shona's mother. She is the reason for this current extended family holiday in Malaysia. She lived in Singapore in the early fifties. Her husband was an army officer as had been her father. In 1955 she moved to Ipoh with her two-week old first-born baby, and he was directed to go off somewhere up country for the first few weeks they were there ('a horrendous experience, just terrifying, you have no idea. Of course we just accepted that that was what it was like when you were married into the army. So different from today.') A year later the Emergency was declared and she was shipped back to England, along with all the other wives and children who were rounded up, journey that took eight weeks because of the Suez crisis. This is her first trip back to Malaysia and she seemed both bemused by the changes and delighted by being able to feel some familiarity.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday in Kuala Lumpur

Sunny Sunday. The temperature went up to 38 degrees, but I walked most of the day and it wasn't too uncomfortable. I vaguely followed the Little India walk set out in the Lonely Planet. Colonial architecture, and chi chi silk shops blasting tinny asia-pop.

Past several consulates. Australia has a High Commission, NZ has...

I walked to those towers - and back!
Most Malay women have taken to wearing a headscarf, many are also covering part of their face.

I went to the Islamic Arts Museum which is a lovely space and has the best gift shop. Not headscarves, but lots of handcrafts as well as Islamic art. I bought a pashmina for the train trip tomorrow. I loved the calligraphy and book arts. 

Still walking, I finally found the craft market which is near my hotel. It is located in the old Pasar Seni building.