Penang, Malaysia

We were recently in Penang, Malaysia for a whirlwind trip, due to some family events.  Usually for Asia trips, we try to have at least a week of actual downtime, just so we have the time to get over the jetlag, but this time we could only manage three full days on the ground.  One less layover, but weirdly, I think I preferred the two-layover flight, since sitting for fifteen straight hours makes you end up with cramps in places you didn’t even know you had joints.  Taking advantage of the airline’s little sleeping cubicles (full bed! not a scrawny twin!) was surprisingly small mitigation.

Still, landing in warm, humid heat was a nice change of pace from the dry cold winter back home.  The humidity was also merely sticky as opposed to a slap in the face, which helped ease the constant wooziness from the jetlag.  We took it pretty easy as well, going light on the tourist activities and concentrating on food.

Well, okay, when we’re in Asia, we basically always concentrate on the food.  But it’s hard not to when you can walk into grungy hawker markets and find good stuff like this:

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Hawker markets have the best food because each stall specializes in just a couple dishes, and they’re dishes that these people have been making for potentially generations.  Fish head soup is surprisingly light and a popular breakfast dish, while the Hokkien mee (mee’s a general term for noodle dishes) came in a really robust broth that, although not as spicy as the red color makes it look, had layers upon layers of umami from various types of seafood (the pork intestine, which is one of my loves, was properly cleaned and cooked almost to melt-in-mouth tenderness, rather than the rubbery off-putting funk you can get with bad batches).  And to cool down, there’s iced coffee mixed with condensed milk, which both sweetens and gives it an appealing silky mouthfeel, and ice kecang, the infamous shaved-ice treat.

One of the non-food places we managed to roll ourselves to was Chew Jetty, one of the few remaining examples of historical Chinese settlements in the area.  Early Chinese immigrants congregated on the docks and built their homes “on stilts” there; at Chew Jetty, the houses are still maintained, and we were interested to see that comes with a dollop of DIY ingenuity, where plastic buckets with the bottoms knocked out are used as cheap forms for the cement support pillars.

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We also made the obligatory stop at the beach, where I nearly burned my feet walking barefoot on the sand:

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And drove around the backwoods a bit, although Penang’s become a popular expat retirement destination (especially for Australians), and the ensuing development boom has made those places a bit more difficult to find.  Still, it’s the tropics, so even roadside seafood restaurants who do a brisk tourist trade will still get you a glimpse of the wild–that lizard was over three feet long, including tail, and would seriously freak me out if it crawled under my house.

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