More food…

Penang Island, Malaysia

In post colonial Georgetown I was ridiculously delighted to find toast, butter and marmalade available at breakfast in my hotel. And cereal. Alongside many more exotic foods that I had absolutely no interest in (apart from the fruit). It was so lovely to have something familiar for breakfast at this point:

The now famous (on my Facebook page!) two flavoured ice cream at the top of Penang Hill. Sweetcorn and butterscotch flavour, allegedly. It was very tasty (and half the price of the guy standing in a more obvious place further down the hill):

I don’t seem to have eaten very much while in Penang (or at least I didn’t think it worth photographing). But this vegan salad was exactly what I was after. I remember it was unusually late finding somewhere to eat after a long day of sightseeing around the island. I was grateful they stayed open for me! The drink is a fruit smoothie, and I had salted edamame beans with the salad, and vegan fruit jelly for afters 😋:

A pint of smoothie, a hot chocolate and a bottle of water. A good opportunity to escape the rain and read my book after a museum visit:South Indian dosa pancake with potato curry inside and various dipping sauces next to it:

Farewell Malaysia…

You couldn’t find a more smelly, noisy, dirty place in George Town than the bus station (why is it always like that everywhere??? though actually in the rest of Malaysia it didn’t seem to be), nor a more squalid looking office than the travel place I’d booked my bus with (via online 12go Asia who are a great company for booking train or bus travel in Southeast Asia – thanks to “The man in seat 61” for all the detailed info online (and to Shiv for telling me about him; actually he writes about train travel elsewhere too with detailed local knowledge): )

So when I got on this bus I wondered whether it was truly the correct one. It looked a bit too…smart, somehow!

Also, the guys in the office didn’t come out to tell us our bus was here nor did the driver come out. He just parked about 20 yards away from the office on the dual carriageway under the bridge and waited. Thank God I noticed the time and also the Chinese guys who walked past me to go and investigate whether this was their bus. Most of the other waiting travellers were catatonic backpackers, sitting in a row on the random assortment of ex office furniture in a makeshift queue, staring into the middle distance in that kind of morning stupor of having got up too early and entering the traveller in between places zombie zone.

I showed the driver my paper ticket and he sighed and asked where I was going to. I said a destination that made sense to him, so he told me to put my luggage underneath and get on. After such attentive gentlemanly behaviour in George Town this was a bit of a shock! Still, on I got, and inside, the bus was so luxurious I again thought I’d made a mistake until I saw my seat numbered 4A (which seemed quite distinctive) was indeed vacant. I couldn’t actually reach the footrest it was so far away, but that didn’t matter because the seat had an inbuilt leg / footrest anyway. And approximately five times as much room as any bus I’ve ever been on before! And very effective air con and free WiFi, with the password printed in big bold lettering right at the front of the coach where everyone can see it.

Well, it’s an 8 hour journey from Penang down to the border with Singapore, so, just as well!

I wrote the rest of this as it was happening so switching tenses back to present, though it’s now past…:

Ah, a guy has just checked my ticket (an hour into the journey!) and ticked me off his list. So I’m definitely in the right place. (I was congratulating myself yesterday that I managed to fit in coming to the bus depot on my wandering, and the lady printed my ticket which I carefully put in my purse, only to find it had gone this morning! I have no idea how that happened. I even emptied out the bin in my hotel room and pieced back together the receipts that I’d ripped up, but no bus ticket. Well, in all my travelling this is the first ticket I’ve lost. I still had the email confirmation, so I went early to the depot (thanks Raj for driving me again!) and they printed me another voucher although it looked different this time, which made me nervous.)

To give a further insight into the anxiety of travelling, I’d taken a screenshot of the email booking, because I only have access to email when I can get WiFi (ie not at the smelly bus station). And I’ve taken so many photos and videos that despite going through and deleting a load, iCloud is completely deleting photos I delete instantly (though with a warning each time). I was so paranoid that my phone might somehow delete the screenshot of the confirmation, I took another two screenshots of it.

I will not miss this type of stress when I’m done.

I noticed the settlements along the Eastern side of Penang are better developed than George Town, in terms of roads, pavements, infrastructure etc. Because they are not a UNESCO world heritage site I guess. It really looks very western.

We drove on the incredibly long E28 bridge across to the mainland. Is this the longest bridge I’ve been on on this trip? I think it must be. It’s 24km (15 miles) long including 16.9km (10.5 miles) over water. Wow!…

…Well, so far on the mainland, the motorway has been extremely good road. And the greenery on either side pretty lush too. Full of palm tree plantations that I noticed flying over Kuala Lumpur, and plenty of green covered hills with occasional rivers running through.

Kuala Lumpur, about half way to our destination, looks from the viewpoint of the motorway pretty much like a western city with high rise apartment blocks, although they appear more spread out than they probably would be in England. And it has enormous concrete flyovers – in fact it looks like they’re just building either another huge road or a high tramline in sections near the road.

It’s noticeable that there are not so many urban areas down the length of Malaysia. But it’s entirely covered in greenery. The soil is an orangey colour, lending a brown/orange colour to the bigger rivers that I remember seeing some of from the plane.

We stopped at a rest stop around lunch time that had an outdoor canteen selling hot food and snacks. I’d stocked up on snacks the day before, but decided to brave the veggie area of the hot food and had a small plate of what I think was spinach, okra, aubergine and green pepper and fried tofu, which had all been cooked in oodles of oil with chilli and a bit of sweetness about it too. The tofu was particularly tasty and a bit less oily. Not bad for 3RM (56p!)

I’ve been teeming and ladling my Malaysian cash, trying to work out how much I’d need, but having done that for so long with Vietnamese currency, which is so tricky to handle because it’s mainly in tens of thousands of Dong, I got tired and over estimated what I’d need. Though I still don’t know how much it’ll cost me to get from Larkin terminal to Johor Bahru Sentral (JB) Terminal. Or to get from JB through passport control back to Singapore. I gave up trying to book that online and I’m glad because so far we’re half an hour later than publicised and also 1.25 hours away still! Hopefully I’ll have enough cash for whatever and it won’t all be terribly complicated or take too long. We shall see.

Palm oil must be a major industry for Malaysia, judging by the vast swathes of palm forests I’ve seen travelling down the country. The controversy from Europe and USA about it has been regarding its sustainability because of links to deforestation and recent widespread forest fires (and the subsequent impact on animal life/the ecosystem of while swathes of forested area). But there is a question of whether the negative publicity is partly motivated by alternative vegetable oil producers losing out to palm oil. I don’t think other vegetable oils will ever be able to compete with palm oil because of how easy it is to produce and how versatile it is. But the industry in Indonesia and Asia is complaining about the amount of regulation because although the big producers can afford to and should improve processes and sustainability, millions of much poorer people produce palm oil in these areas, and can ill afford to make the same improvements.

In some ways this trip has been one long geography lesson!

At various points along the way I’ve seen MacDonalds and KFC but not half as frequently as you would in the UK and certainly not at every stopping point.

Well, we’re two and a quarter hours later than advertised and now stuck in rush hour at 7:15pm coming into Larkin Terminal, JB, with thunder and lightning going on outside….

…Through asking people proactively (and constantly double and triple checking with several different people), I have transferred successfully to another bus driven by a toothless older guy who speaks very little if any English, that apparently will take me to Woodlands checkpoint for the princely sum of 1.90RM (35p). Then I guess there might be some passport control? Or maybe en route somewhere?? Who knows? Then I just have to get myself on the MRT (Singapore tube system) and I can find my way back ok.

The man in seat 61 did outline how this happens, but I found it difficult to nail down exactly which bus or train I should get at any point and why my bus was stopping at Larkin and not the JB Sentral place.

It’s dark now but I’m hoping to see the causeway and understand exactly how this works. Nothing quite like experiencing it! (Googling or Maps Me-ing public transport routes across this border was just confusing and both state their information is not up to date.)

So long Malaysia…

…Ah ok hello again Malaysia! Nobody has explained this properly. And there’s nobody official looking to ask either. So you get the shuttle bus from Larkin to JB Sentral. You get off still in Malaysia. You go through passport control. You walk down to bus platform A and find bus no 170 or 160 at area 4 or 3 down the escalator (how do people know all this??). You pay 1.50RM (the bus driver only takes small change and 5RM was not small enough for him. Thank God for Monzo. And contactless. Again.) Then he drives over the causeway to Woodlands. Then who knows what happens.

Why take one bus when three will do eh? There’s standing room only and I must admit my patience is wearing thin.

So now we go through Singapore passport control…where they also scan your luggage and do the metal detector thing.

We’re back to thumb prints not index finger prints here. It looks like I might have a half hour walk to get to the nearest MRT station once I’ve got through all this. It’s 20:18. I’ve been on the road for 12 hours.

I am unclear what the hold up is here. The passport control lady has just stopped sending people to the baggage people. Not enough baggage check machines I guess? Nor enough queuing room in that area.

Oh hang on no I think this is an MRT station as well. Thank God for that. So I should be able to get straight on and be there pretty quickly. I may just collapse into bed on arrival. After a nice cup of tea.

After 30 mins of waiting both the lady in front and I were turned away to go fill out another disembarkation card. Singapore are so slick at everything but are really bad at making it clear you need to do this and signposting you to where the blank cards are. And the pens don’t work either. Can’t believe I got caught twice by that. (Once at Changi airport too.) I needed the loo about half an hour ago but I daren’t go and lose my place in this infernal queue again! The trouble with travelling solo.

Carrying this backpack for an hour will probably have undone all the good work that masseuse did😱

Oh my goodness a shouty man is telling me there’s only one bus to the MRT (tube system) now. It’s 21:33. It took me a lot of walking following signs for taxis to find the bus stop. After about 10 minutes following random corridors suddenly there was a sign for “bus transfer to MRT”. No one I asked could tell me how to get to the MRT back where we all came out of passport control.

The shouty official is now saying I should get the 911 that just arrived to Woodlands MRT. It’s 21:45. Through a process of deduction and using screenshots of the MRT map I took earlier when I had WiFi, I have located Woodlands MRT stop on Maps Me. I’m watching the bus’s progress towards it like a hawk so I know when to get off. It’s confusingly a long way from the Woodlands checkpoint where I went through passport control.

Once I was in the MRT I was fine (having experienced it when I first arrived in Singapore before my Vietnamese and Malaysian Trip). I finally reached Shiv’s at 22:45. Oh my goodness. They’ve got my room all prepared for me, inc cooled jug of water. I collapse gratefully into bed.

This is why people book package holidays and tours isn’t it? It was great being immersed in with ordinary local people, as well as other travellers, though. And people tried to be helpful though they mostly didn’t have the information to be able to answer my questions.

Here endeth the blow by blow account of my return to Singapore!

For the traveller (continued)

Another bit of John O’Donohue’s poem…

“…When you travel,

A new silence

Goes with you,

And if you listen,

You will hear

What your heart would

Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing…”

I think I assumed that by spending most time in the two homestays in Vietnam, I’d be spending quite a lot of time with people I’d never met before. I did spend some time with people, particularly at Mai’s wonderful Homestay in Ninh Binh, but in Hoi An actually apart from the tours I did, I didn’t meet anyone else at the Homestay (to be fair, I spent very little time there though, and most of that asleep, in the shower or talking with Dzung!).

I mention this because I sometimes find it difficult to carry silence with me when I am surrounded by people, much though I love to meet them. So perhaps to my surprise I did find myself carrying “a new silence” with me. And it was new, because of something O’Donohue says earlier in the poem:

“…When you travel, you find yourself

Alone in a different way,

More attentive now

To the self you bring along,

Your subtle eye watching

You abroad; and how what meets you

Touches that part of the heart

That lies low at home…”

It feels a bit like when someone is coming to visit your home and suddenly you look at it with the eyes of a stranger, and perhaps it makes you tidy up or have a quick hoover.

When you travel, you begin to wonder how these different people see you? And how do you see them? What is essential? And with all the challenges of language and unknown differing cultural expectations, you may ask how you want them to experience you. So when, as usually happens, people receive you with joy and interest, often ready to help you, and perhaps they say something that shows they also have struggled like you, or found joy like you, it is an almost overwhelmingly beautiful thing. Shared humanity.

I have found so much of this in my encounters with ordinary people everywhere. And I am so grateful for each one.

And this is a thought in process, but I think I can say something similar (though different) about how I’ve encountered animals, plants, trees, hills, sea and other non human beings on my travels. How do these respond and react to me? I find I want to show them respect. I’ve used very simple body prayers in a few places to silently do that. For me, this is not about worshipping the environment. It’s about honouring it, and the One who made us all.

This journey has indeed been a sacred thing. And it’s not over yet!

I have a whole week in Singapore! Imagine that…a whole week in once place (oh the relief)! Then next week I will fly to Switzerland for the last leg of my three month odyssey. Here’s to the sacred journey 🙏 🌍

Wealth & Poverty

On the first post about Penang Island below, some thoughts and questions began to emerge about “wealth creation”. (When people work do they not create wealth rather than take it from someone else? Can wealth be created, or is it limited to the “wealth” the planet supplies us with always (since no amount of work will ever create anything new that hasn’t been made of stuff that was already here)? And is it true that in order to “create wealth” in the usual capitalist sense, planetary resources are ultimately taken from one group of people and given to another? Even if inadvertently etc)

Anyway, a friend has just shared this graphic on Facebook, which, if correct, is pretty telling for Britain. Have a look, if you dare, Britons:

Following my sharing this on Facebook another friend has offered the following that redresses the balance a bit, and points out weaknesses in the way the above was put together: Well worth a look… the first suggested fairer graph it offers is here, for those without time to read the whole article:

I’m still thinking about this, wondering if it misses the comparison with the poorest in each area though? It’s the gap between richest and poorest that was part of the shock of the original chart, for me.

Another friend has shared this website too, with some other interesting charts and data:

…And, further to all the above is this shocking and clear Wikipedia article that provides a lot of food for thought. Including facts like; “The three richest people in the world possess more financial assets than the lowest 48 nations combined.” And “An October 2014 study by Credit Suisse also claims that the top 1% now own nearly half of the world’s wealth and that the accelerating disparity could trigger a recession.” And “According to a June 2015 report by the International Monetary Fund: “Widening income inequality is the defining challenge of our time. In advanced economies, the gap between the rich and poor is at its highest level in decades.”

Knowing your limits

I only had two complete days in George Town, and wished I’d booked a third, although to be honest, by the end of yesterday I was getting pretty tired of very hot and humid countries with little or no pavement for pedestrians.

I had not realised how much I took our pavements in England for granted. Having to constantly hop off into the road and then brave the traffic (not half as bad here as in Vietnam, but you’re still walking in a road battling traffic) becomes tiring, especially when you’re constantly having to figure out where you’re going.

The colonial architecture provides great inbuilt awnings ideal for sheltering from the rain and traffic while walking, but now people mainly park their motorbikes in them so you can’t walk the length of the street along them as I imagine perhaps you used to be able to:

All of this was not helped by the fact that, in the humidity (? it seemed to not be a problem after dark), my Maps Me app kept telling me I was facing the opposite way to the way I was actually facing. You have to keep walking in order for it to right itself, but of course then you often end up walking quite a way in the opposite direction.

Also, while I’m on the topic, someone who I’d like to give a stern talking to has put the hotel I was staying at on the map in the app in the wrong place entirely. It’s in the correct place, but there’s a second hotel apparently called exactly the same thing in a place about fifteen minutes’ walk away. (And I haven’t managed to work out how to change it or tell them about it.) At the end of a long day, when I’d already walked 6.5 miles sightseeing, and I realised I was in the wrong place (and walking along a motorway with no pavement in rush hour), I actually cried. It was the correct road, but the wrong side of it (as I had suspected; should’ve trusted my instincts), and quite a way away. There was nothing positive about this experience except that I realised I had reached the end of myself, and I could push myself no longer. Sometimes it’s good to know where your limits are, I guess.

If you see people aimlessly wandering around looking at their phones, have compassion on them, because it’s possible they’re not texting or social media addicts, but actually are just trying to work out where the heck they are.

On my wandering, I did get to see one of the jetties:

I made it back to the hotel finally, collapsed in the bar with a cold drink and then went and had a back neck and shoulder massage. Which was a Very Good Thing. I had been stiff all day.

Morning Bell posted on Facebook the other day this pic and quote:

I think it might be good to spend more time pondering the word “enough”. So much of our western culture seems to always be about “more”. (Bigger, faster, stronger…) But perhaps enough might be good? Or good enough, at least?

I’ve often noticed that contentment, which is certainly what I long for, creeps up unexpectedly, in moments when it seems clearer that there is enough for me, for those around me, at least. (Has contentment got something to do with “home”, too? Maybe there’s more to be thought about regarding the relationship between home and contentment?)

After all this I couldn’t face walking to the night market for dinner, so I settled for a South Indian place 5 minutes’ walk away and had a delicious dosa and mango lassi:

George Town

You can’t come to George Town and not visit George Town! So I spent this day (which was quite rainy – I did this the right way round!) admiring colonial architecture, visiting the Pinang Peranakan Museum (the ex home of a wealthy Chinese mafia gangster, now owned by another guy who took four years and millions of RM to restore it all… who knows where he got his pennies…), then taking myself on a mini tour of some of the famous George Town Street art on the way to the Penang House of Music, rated #1 of things to do in George Town (amazing really, considering it’s a mainly musical view of the history of George Town, and although it’s extremely well documented and researched and also very interactive and brilliant for all ages, it’s housed in a shopping mall all about IT, with broken escalators… the least likely place for it! The lady who runs it told me it costs a fortune for them to rent that place as well and they might have to close or move). Then I went more directly back to the hotel (well it was supposed to be direct, but see next post)…

Peranakan Museum

More colonial era opulence, this mansion was owned by a Chinese mafia/triad boss. It was in his interests to impress the English with all his fine trumpet vases, flooring, pillars, gold leaf wooden doors and screens. The pictures of the grandparents on the wall of the dining room show them dressed in British clothes. Which just looks…wrong to me.

The Chinese mafia boss kept his own pharmacy and doctor, fearing someone might try to poison him – live by the sword and all that. In that time people also used silver to test whether there was any poison in food. (Usually it would turn the silver black.) Apparently this was the more than decorative function of some of the ladies’ hair pins.

The street art pretty much speaks for itself. It’s a shame I didn’t have time to see more of it. Here’s some, along with some colonial buildings and another Hindu temple:

Penang House of Music:

This was a great musical way of telling the story of the history of Penang, including lots of information about the different types of music from the many different cultures in Penang during different periods. (With genuine instruments for me to have a go at and a lot of snazzy technology to try out as well.)

A lot of the music that became popular was influenced by British music, and especially jazz. During the Japanese occupation all radios were doctored so no one could listen to western music, and the musicians in Penang were forbidden from playing British music. So they put Malay words to their favourite British jazz standards and said they were Malay music, which seems to have fooled the Japanese in the main.

Although one jazz musician was imprisoned for 3 years by the Japanese for listening to western music, and made to dispose of the bodies of the other local people the Japanese slaughtered during this time. He survived, but was haunted by it all, of course.

Here are some pics from the Penang House of Music. Well worth finding my way to:

Before the British came to Penang, the traditional Malay and Chinese music usually involved a whole troupe. The lead singer would wear distinctive clothing and carry the red baton to conduct with.

Out of this developed a kind of opera called Bangsawan, which the troupe would take on tour around to the rural places as well as in the towns. When the film industry began to develop in the early 20th Century, apparently the Bangsawan were sought out to perform, as they were skilled at acting singing and dancing. Unfortunately, so many of them went into the film industry (much preferable to travelling round all those log distances all the time) that the traditional Bangsawan gradually died a death:

Love songs of the Nyonya

I think Jimmy Boyle on the left below was the one who was imprisoned by the Japanese for three years for listening to western music. But he survived!

Chinese drum

Hawaiian slide guitar

Homemade skiffle bass

Penang (iv): Kek Lok Si Temple & Penang Hill

So, we took in reclining and standing Buddhas, Colonial Museum, Botanical Gardens, Monkey Beach, then drove on around some of the more rural parts of the island, inhabited mainly by Malay people.

Then we continued onto Kek Lok Si Temple, another Buddhist temple set into a steep hillside with a huge statue at the top of it (I think a female image this time? Certainly there were other female as well as male statues on the way up too) and more pagodas, gardens and so on on the way up, which was by a short funicular railway ride.

It looked like the whole enterprise was a victim of its own success:

Or maybe less a victim, more a beneficiary, as there was a huge area of extra building work going on:

The tortoise/turtle is symbolic of longevity, so several were hiding around the place, including this guy:

There was a great view of the area from the top too:

Having seen this view, I wondered whether it would be worth paying the extra for the (very fast) funicular train ride up Penang Hill. I’m glad I did though. Turns out it’s much much higher. And as we know, I do like to find a high place to survey the new territory from.

Here’s Kek Lok Si from Penang Hill (you can just make it out just over halfway between my left ear and the edge of the photo):

I noticed the Hindus and Muslims had seen the Buddhists and raised them, siting a Hindu Temple and a Mosque at the top of Penang Hill:

I found a guy selling ice cream here… guess what flavour this was…? (It’s actually a mix of two flavours…):

Monkeys played on the roof of the waiting area while we waited for the train to arrive to take us back down:

Raj was nursing the notion that it’d be great if I was able to see the sunset from the summit of Penang Hill. For that to work, he earned himself an extra hour and a half’s work, but I must say I was glad to pay him for it, although I was exhausted by the time we returned to the hotel at about 8pm. Yes, all the posts entitled “Penang” i-iv were all one day. I really did need a driver for that to work. I’m very thankful I had the means to bring it off. Just about.

By the time it came to eating I just wanted something light and fibrous and very definitely veggie and nearby. So I found Leaf (thank goodness for Trip Advisor), still open, where I obtained this delicious vegan meal for a pittance:

Then collapsed into bed, wondering why I was so very stiff having been driven around in a lovely air conditioned car all day and gone swimming. Too much for one day really. If I’d had longer than two days, I would have spent the following day just recovering. But…

Penang (iii): Botanical Gardens & Monkey Beach

After the reclining and standing Buddhas, and the Colonial Penang Museum, Raj drive me to the beach, via the Botanical Gardens. Not much to write about the Botanical Gardens – it was too hot and humid for me to walk far, and though I followed the signs, I couldn’t find the things they pointed me to (although it’s possible the Japanese Garden was there but still under construction/reconstruction). I did however see the cannon ball trees (the only ones in Penang according to this guy) and a monkey:

Raj recommended we went to the national park in Penang, and I took a short boat trip across to “Monkey Beach” to have a swim, as he said that beach is cleaner than the others nearer the hotels.

On the way to the beach this song by John Legend came on the car radio:

“…Cause all of me

Loves all of you

Love your curves and all your edges

All your perfect imperfections

Give your all to me

I’ll give my all to you…”

Throughout my Southeast Asian experience, I have been lamenting the state of my overweight body. (Asian women as so uniformly petite and beautiful. I felt like an elephant most of the time!) It’s a cheesy song, with not a lot of musical merit, but it seemed to me in this instance that God was singing it to me. The voice of God is like this wherever I go, even across the other side of the world, God sings an intimate love song over me. Relentlessly gentle and kind. The boat trip cost quite a bit. But I know when I’m being invited to something beautiful. I had a 12 seater boat all to myself. And the sandy beach had very few people on it.

I guess there were monkeys at Monkey Beach. But I preferred to swim and then lie in the shade watching a huge hawk glide over the sea then plummet for fish. And to admire the unshifting clouds.

Those who live in England or other cold countries – you know how, when you brave the beach in the height of summer, you sometimes swim into a warm patch of sea and it’s lovely? Well, here in the Andaman Sea (part of the Indian Ocean), the whole sea is like that warm patch, and when you swim into a cool patch it’s glorious.

Later in the day, and in fact for the rest of my time in Penang, I ate very little. Probably partly to do with the heat and humidity, but also I think to do with the fact that I had been reminded that I am greatly loved.

Holiday injury report

A brief pause in the history lesson to report on my holiday injury status. So far I’ve come off remarkably well. Only minor bruising though there has been quite a bit of that, mysteriously. I also developed a rash on the area above my chest but that seems to have cleared now. And I have several mosquito bites still, but they’re on their way now.

No idea how I sustained this bruise. No idea at all. But it’s taking ages to heal.

I am rejoicing in the fact that I haven’t been swept away in any more tides or drowned or broken any limbs or ended up needing medical treatment of any sort so far, bar a bit of antihistamine and tea tree oil (and my usual tablets of course) (I wonder if they make me more susceptible to bruising?).

Penang Island (ii) a history lesson

At one time, cloves were more valuable even than gold here, as the place was on trading routes for spices. The ship below was made entirely of cloves threaded together. As with much of this colonial era stuff, designed to impress people with the wealth of the owner.

Welcome to the Colonial Penang experience. The British “founded” Penang (never mind the Malay people and others who were here long before) on shaky ground to start with. Captain Francis Light got the Sultan of Kedah to give the British East India Company the Island in return for British military assistance (which never eventuated, because Light had acted without consent of his superiors) and a fairly paltry sum of money (6000 Spanish dollars / year). Covering ourselves in glory as always (not). George Town was established in 1786 and named in honour of King George III, and became the first British settlement in Southeast Asia, and a springboard for further expansion of the empire in the region.

When the Sultan realised Light had done the dirty on him, he tried to attack. Light tried to persuade him to stand down, but failed. Light had access to too much military might, and managed to defeat the Sultan.

In 1800, Sir George Leith, the first Lieutenant Governor of the island, managed to gain a further strip of land from the Sultan. In return, the annual payment to the Sultan became 10000 Spanish dollars. Apparently, every year, the Malaysian Federal Government still pays Kedah 10000RM as a symbolic gesture. And the British government pays nada. Hmmm.

But, business flourished and there was a lot that was good about the British influence here, bringing beautiful building design techniques and materials, and music and so on, which remain today. Local people are prodigiously proud of their island and of George Town, I think. Penang is one of the most well developed areas in Malaysia, apparently, although George Town itself is a UNESCO world heritage site, so can’t be as modernised.

During World War II, the British withdrew from Penang, leaving it vulnerable to attack. (When the going gets tough…) In December 1941 the Japanese bombed the island heavily, killing and wounding numerous civilians. The British had secretly evacuated all the European citizens in Penang beforehand as well. From December 1941 until September 1945, Penang was under Japanese occupation, which was a brutal regime, particularly for the Chinese, thousands of whom were massacred. On 2nd September 1945 at the end of the war, the island was recaptured by the British, finally.

A positive view of the British was never reestablished after all that betrayal, and Penang finally gained independence from the British Empire in 1957. The local people here seem very philosophical about it all now though, and they still all call me “Madam”. But I bet they wouldn’t trust a British businessman further than they could throw him!

The opulence displayed in a lot of the museums in Penang was not actually British owned. Rather it was owned by Chinese tradesmen (Baba) who married Malay wives of high social standing (Nyonya), and built on their existing fortunes (the phrase “Baba Nyonya” is used a lot here to describe these beautiful and socially important couples). It was in their interest to keep in with the British, so they adopted a lot of things like British clothes and also at great cost imported British (and European) made building materials, stained glass windows, trumpet vases, furniture, you name it, for their mansions.

Captain’s desk made for the captain of a ship, including lots of hidden compartments for confidential documents as well as beautifully intricate carving:

Scrolls carved onto the arms of this chair for ladies, so the gentleman can pull it back for them as my guide demonstrated here. Ah, there are some things I’m sad we’ve lost…!

Here are some Philip’s light bulbs. They have been working since 1920!! Only one of them out of six has stopped working. So how come it took so long for us to get low energy light bulbs? That would last?

This bookcase is made with rare yellow flowering pear tree wood. Apparently, this wood now costs $3000USD/ounce! Everyone can touch it because that only makes it shinier.

This painting is from the early 1900s I think. One of the first to use really bright colours. It would have been pretty shocking at the time I guess, but also very fashionable.

An ornate set for drinking liqueur. The shot glasses are so small because the liqueur would have been over 60% alcohol!

Do you reckon I could fit in here…? Hmmm…?

The owner of this mansion had a photo taken of his sleeping daughter, but then realised the photo wouldn’t last forever. So he sent it to Italy to have a marble sculpture made of her by a master sculptor and shipped back over to Penang. As you do.