MYSIN Trip 2 - Penang

Often it is a book that introduces us to locations we've never heard of. And not just introducing, the book often kindles the fire within to visit and see the places. It is one of the curses and cures of reading a book. What happens afterwards often tells whether the book is great or not.

I've read many such books and many of which have kept the fire burning to visit the places associated. No need to relive the characters or the incidents, but to be there to see for oneself what the book explains in so many pages. Often the distance of time is too long to even associate a place with the book but if you are alert, you can catch glimpses of the book written all around the place.

Pa. Singaram wrote one book (or rather, one and a half, an unfinished book) long time back called 'புயலிலே ஒரு தோணி' (Boat adrift a storm). It was deemed a classic and was forgotten. I came to know about it 10-15 years back but couldn't get hold of a copy. Then you read about it in reviews, other essays mentioning how great it was etc. So it was till a few years back, when the book was re-published, I read it for once, then again and again.

The book describes the story of Pandian, who travels from Chennai to Medan to work in the Chettiayar's pawn broker business there. He travels around Malaya (as it was called then) and Singapore. The Japanese invasion happens and it disrupts the entire region's life as it was lived before. Pandian roams around Penang and joins INA when it was formed.

The story with its descriptions of life of Tamils in the Malay peninsula as it was in the start of the 20th century and through the second world war is gripping and it put the seed into my mind to visit at least some of the parts described in the book.

So it was that we visited Penang.

Day(s) 2-3

A view of Penang as the plane approaches the airport
Air Asia has a check-in policy in that if you cannot check-in your baggage one hour before the flight, you cannot travel. Without getting into the virtues of such a policy, it is suffice to say that when we tried to check-in at KLIA on August 20, 2014, we missed the deadline by 30 minutes.

There were only two options, either move to another flight to Penang one hour later and pay the difference or let a few travel in the flight without the baggage and one of us can take the next one. So we decided that I will be staying back to take the next flight while J will take the scheduled one with the kids. Our trip to Penang was off to a really rocking start.

   So after a delay of 2 hours, we checked into the hotel in the Tanjung Bungah in the north-eastern tip of the Pulau Pinang, as it is called locally. After such an eventful day, we decided to stay back and enjoy the beach for the evening.
Tanjung Bungah beach

The next day went to the Monkey beach in the North-western tip of the island inside the Penang National park. The taxis of Malaysia can give a tough ride for the autos for Chennai in terms of fleecing the customer. 60% of the money I've spent in Malaysia is for the taxis and except KL, public transportation is pretty much non-existent elsewhere. In fact, I've roamed around the interiors of Tamil nadu in public transportation which can be relied on and is more frequent than anything I've seen in Malaysia.

Penang National Park
Monkey Beach
Monkey beach is isolated stretch of beach with a few BBQ stalls and few tourists around. Andaman Sea here is like a huge swimming pool with hardly any waves and no depth at all. And there was no monkeys anyway. The boatmen again try to fleece you for all its worth and it is actually tiring to keep arguing with every guy you meet on the money.

Returning from the Monkey beach, we took a cab again, this time a 65 year old Tamil, for the trip to Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si temple.

The driver's father settled down in Penang about 70-80 years  back and the driver, Arumugam, was born in Malaysia and was brought up here. He shared a lot of information on the conditions in Malaysia, the relationship of the Tamils with the Malays and the Chinese etc. He also showed us some remnants of the Japanese occupation in Penang, including the head quarters of the Japanese colonel, locally called 'Thalavetti' (one who beheads), a ghastly name for the Colonel Tadashi Suzuki. It was a disturbing history which again reminded of the atrocities described by Singaram in his master-piece.

Funicular Train
Penang Hill is a colonial town which was used by the Britishers to avoid the sultry climate of George town during the summer months. A Funicular train runs to the top and it is a pleasure to ride it. The hill has some beautiful views of Georgetown and the Penang bridge that connects with Butterworth.
View from the top
Kek Lok Si temple was closed and we returned to our corner of beach for the night to prepare of our flight to Singapore. The only place I could not get to was the Thanneermalai Murugan temple, though I could get only a glimpse of it from the bottom of the hill.

The hawker complex
The dinner in Penang on both the days was at the local hawker complex near where we stayed. We could sample a lot of Penang specialities like the Ayam Laksa, Mee Goreng and the usual favorite, Tom Yam. There is one stall which sells Appam run by a local Tamil, Mani. Selling 6 Appams for 3MYR, it was cheap and the Appams were real good.

So it was on the fourth day, we started for Singapore.

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