Penang Island

Well, this has been quite an experience. I’ll draft more posts on the way back to Singapore tomorrow (I’m taking a day long bus ride down in the hope of seeing a bit more of Malaysia, if only in passing). I’ve been super grateful for a really good hotel. And everyone here addresses me “Madam”. I might have to introduce that back home!! 😂 Also, people are very genuinely kind and thoughtful. Today, as I walked through “Little India” in George Town, a man stopped, beamed at me, and said, “Have a nice day…God bless you!” And when I took shelter in a café from the rain, the waiter took my brolly and stashed it near the door, and, having established I only really wanted a drink and to read my book, moved me to a more comfortable squishy seat that was further back. Sometimes it’s really lovely to be treated like a lady by some gentlemen.

Anyway, here are just some of the extraordinary sights I’ve seen in the short time I’ve been here:

More Singer sewing machines than you can shake a stick at! 👆🏼

The Thai Buddhist temple:

The reclining Buddha. Just look at the size of him!! Known locally as “the sleeping Buddha”, my Indian driver (yes I had a driver for a day…Penang has a lot of history with the British, not all of it good, as you may imagine. We brought Indian people to Penang to be servants and do the dirty work. But Raj tells me he does not bear any grudges because now a generation or two later, his family have a really good life, which they probably wouldn’t have if they’d stayed in India.) said to me, “You go in there Madam and tell him he’s been sleeping too long, he needs to wake up!” When I saw that his eyes were already open, I thought probably if he could speak he would say to me, “But I’m already awake”. Then I realised there was more to that, given that Buddhism is all about enlightenment, and one of its most important gifts to the world, I think, is the concept of awakening.

The Standing Buddha is in the Burmese Buddhist temple just opposite:

I’ve been impressed by the number of images of holy women here. This part of the Burmese temple was devoted to a female disciple? I guess?

In both temples there were many pictures showing scenes from the Buddha’s life and the lives of other heroes of the faith:

And these weren’t to be the only Buddhist temples I’d visit here. The opulence of them is extraordinary. The size of them immense. And I think all have monks living in the buildings around them, helping maintain the buildings along with other people and also meditating, studying and no doubt listening to people too. I saw monks wearing orange or brown or grey robes, all with shorn heads. Occasionally I saw a couple of monks having some down time visiting the tourist sights, too! You can just see one, texting/googling away in a quiet corner here!:

One thing that shocked me about the temples was the emphasis on the idea that if you pray to this or that Buddha / disciple you will receive riches (a lot of the time) or (sometimes) wisdom or fame or good health. I was a bit disappointed with that. Given that wealth is usually amassed at someone else’s expense, why would Buddha, his disciples or God want us to pray for it for ourselves? Or is this just a money making venture by the temples (we’ve done similar things in the Church for a pastime as well, I must admit)? Also, I have never seen so much religious tat in all my life! Shops full of things to help you pray. Flashing things, figurines, waving things, you name it. Some of these things I use to pray sometimes (incense sticks, beads). But, really…?

I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of the religious tat, but at one temple I found a feline friend near the shop. I can confirm that cats the world over all enjoy having their chins tickled. It’s the universal language of pusskins 😁

2 thoughts on “Penang Island

    1. I’m not sure that wealth is ever really created in actual fact? The resources of the planet are redeployed in various ways by people who have the good fortune to be able to work creatively with them to produce things that some others find valuable and buy/invest in. But at the end of the day, the resources of the planet are still the same, and I think they are the only wealth we really have. And usually, somewhere along the line in the redeployment of the earth’s resources in that creative way, they are taken from one group of people and given to another. Well this is me thinking out loud about it anyway. I’m thinking it’s like some of our most ancient cultures (eg aborigines in Australia) tell us; the concept that we as human beings can own some area of the earth is alien. How could we ever be so arrogant? But we’ve developed a capitalist system whereby we can say we “own” land and property. But in the end, I wonder whether we own anything at all really? And what about wealth is meaningful? To my mind, wealth may become at least a bit meaningful if it’s redistributed back to those who have nothing/very little. In Christian theology, in the economy of God, there is enough on the planet for everyone. So if I have two coats and another human being has none, I have stolen their coat. Not a lot of Christians know that. And still less of those that know it actually live it out (myself included – I’m working on it). But it is in fact the teaching of the early Church. I feel ashamed at how the Church has neglected to share this wisdom with a world that I think could benefit from it! (Instead of which we bang on about things that are really not important. Or not half as strongly emphasised in the Bible or among the great theologians of our past or present.)


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