Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A week in Penang & a day tour

The week has passed quickly.  Time does seem to go by fast when there are things to do.  More provisioning has been purchased, stored away and added to my written inventory.  Our friends on S/V B'Sheret who visited Penang a couple of months earlier steered us to all the right shops for food and various boat items.

Rather than walk in the heat to find the various shops for boat items, Bill asked the marina dock master if someone could take him on a motorcycle.  That worked extremely well as it provided Bill both with transportation and a translator.  If one shop didn't have what he needed, the motorcycle driver got directions to a shop that did stock the desired item.  The salt water pump started making a terrible noise.  Bill took it apart and discovered that it needed new bearings.  The dock master asked the gardener to take Bill to a shop.  Within minutes Bill had the right bearings.  Next stop was a cycle shop with a hydraulic press, where the old bearings were removed and the new bearings pressed in.  Including the 10 ringitt Bill gave the gardener for taking him on the motorcycle, the entire job cost less than $10 USD.  Bill was delighted!  But then he discovered that the pump also needed a new seal.  This time the assistant dock master drove Bill to another shop.  Another day Bill wanted some spare bolts and such.  This time the dock master himself drove Bill around town.  We think each guy wanted his share of the 10 ringitt Bill gave each time one of the marina workers took him for a ride on a motorcycle.  This was so much nicer than walking around town in the heat trying to find whatever we wanted for this repair job.  BTW, 10 ringitt is only $3.20 USD.  But that is enough to at least buy lunch so the marina workers were glad to pick up this little bit of extra cash.

One evening we went to a movie at the Komtar Center with Bill and Amy on S/V Estrellita.  I got a chuckle later when I looked at the movie ticket and saw that we had seen "The Expandables" rather than "The Expendables."   This was a movie will many old actors and most of them had indeed expanded, although I think the misspelling was just a Malaysian language error and not intentional..

One evening 6 of us from the marina enjoyed an Indian dinner at Kopitan Restoran.  I enjoyed mushroom masala and naan and Bill tried the chicken Tikka and chicken fried rice.  All were delicious.  I would like to have returned to this restaurant again during our stay in Penang, but that didn't work out.  Seems like all we have done since arriving in Penang is eat at different restaurants.

On Monday we joined Bill and Amy for a day tour of Penang.  We visited a museum, a Baba house, a chocolate shop, a Buddhist temple, a female Buddhist statue on a hill and topped off the day with a quick visit to a supermarket before Bill and Amy picked up their visas at the Thai consulate.  The museum was okay; nothing special.  The Baba house was more interesting.  A Chinese merchant or businessman from China who moved to Malaysia during the 1800's was called a Baba.  If he married a Malay girl (not Muslim) then she was called a Nyonya.  Their home was called a Baba house or a Nyonya house.  This did not apply if the girl was Muslim as there is and always has been a requirement that if someone marries a person who is Muslim then the new spouse must convert to Islam.  Nyonyas were Buddhists.

Center family dining room
Bill, Amy & Bill in the Nyonya house
A Nyonya house would be considered a mansion.  The house is built around a central open courtyard with no ceiling.   This home had 3 formal dining rooms -- the center one for the family meals; one on the left for western style meals with guests, and one on the right for Chinese style meals with guests.  Only the daughters lived in the home with the parents.  The sons lived near the father's business site on the mainland.   There were several rooms containing opium beds.  Opium was legal in Malaysia until 1949, but only the wealthy could afford to partake.

Evil spirit screen partition
Adjacent to the home, and customarily the first structure built, would be the ancestors room.  This was a large room (really a separate building) for which the sole purpose was to honor the Chinese ancestors.  Many aspects of the ancestors room/building were the same as we had seen in the Hutong in Beijing -- the screened wall directly inside the front entry to deflect evil spirits, the ultra-high threshold at the front entry to hold in the good luck and prevent it from flowing out the doorway like water (also to cause the visitor to raise his leg and bending his knee to a 90-degree angle representing kneeling to the ancestors) , the carvings depicting achievements of specific ancestors and the praying section to honor the ancestors.  The residence had elaborate Chinese style carvings and gilt throughout.  It was the best part of our day tour.

Bill in front of a big gold Buddha
The Buddhist temple we visited had a very large standing Buddha statue.  According to our taxi driver, this statue was covered in 24-karat gold; but I have serious doubts about that.  It just did not look like real gold to me.  But the statue was tall.

Bill Betts under carved ceiling
And the ceiling of the main temple room was intricately carved wood.  We are sort of "templed out" after all our travels throughout SE Asia and were not particularly interested in seeing yet another temple.  In fact, there was another temple directly across the street that had a large reclining Buddha statue but none of us cared to bother to walk across the street to see it.

Next stop was the chocolate shop.  Unlike other chocolate shops that we have visiting is several countries during tours, this one did not appear to be an actual chocolate factory.  There was no smell of cooking chocolate, just shelves of all kinds of chocolate candies.  As we walked through the shop we sampled more than our fair share of assorted chocolates, but did not purchase anything.  This was the only shopping stop during our day tour.  Since we did not purchase anything, the taxi driver did not receive any commission; so she realized that the 4 of us were not interested in buying the normal tourist stuff.

The Goddess
Building adjacent to Goddess
The next stop was to visit another Buddhist temple on a hillside outside the city.  Higher up on the hillside from the temple was a very tall statue of what our taxi driver called the Goddess of Mercy or the Goddess of Generosity.  I don't remember the name. This statue did not appear to be very old.  Scaffolding was in place around several of the columns encircling the large statue.  It appeared that this site is not yet complete.

NOT Hitler's swastika
Again we noticed the swastika symbol adopted by Adolf Hitler. This symbol had religious meaning to many religions for centuries before Hitler was around.  Still seems weird every time we encounter it.

Flower Tea -- Fairy Bouquet
The guide at the Baba house had invited the 4 of us to attend a Chinese opera on Monday night celebrating Ghost Month.  The opera was performed before empty seats -- the seats supposedly filled with ghosts of ancestors.   Bill and Amy decided to go, but I positively detest Chinese opera and decided to skip this event.  This day was our 41st wedding anniversary.  We had planned to go out to dinner but I did not feel like it.  We enjoyed a quiet evening on the boat instead.  On Tuesday we took the bus out to Gurney Plaza again, this time accompanied by Bill and Amy.  They also wanted to provision a bit before heading off towards Langkawi the next day.  The 4 of us then went to the very nice Chinese restaurant at the QE II.  I ordered a flower tea called Fairy Bouquet.  We had tried a flower tea at the tea ceremony in Shanghai and I wanted to try another one.  A flower tea is served in a large wine glass or goblet.  What looks like a large seed pod is dropped into the boiled water in the glass.  As the pod absorbs the hot water, it sinks and begins to open.  Flowers appear to grow up from the inside of the pod.  It looks really cool.  Both of the flower teas I have tried had a very delicate tea flavor.

Today we obtained our 60-day visas for Thailand.  The visas must be used within 90 days of issuance.  We must arrive in Thailand on or before December 7 in order to use these visas.  We should arrive back in Langkawi late on December 1 after our trip home to Houston.  It is only 140 miles from Langkawi to Phuket, so it shouldn't be a problem to clear into Phuket by December 7.  Hate to be so rushed; but it should not be a problem. 

Driving in.  Will be driving out tomorrow.
We officially cleared out of Penang this afternoon after collecting our Thai visas.  The current flow should be lightest tomorrow around 10:00, so that is our intended departure time.   It is important to time arrival and departure at this marina with the current flow.  It is also important to note that the current flow is NOT exact with the timing of slack low tide or slack high tide.  Trying to get into or out of a marina slip is these strong currents can be dangerous.  We are getting out of here when the current is .3 knots rather than when it is 1.3 knots.  One boat was slammed against a dock pier yesterday when they attempted to change slips during strong current.  The only damage was superficial, but why take the chance.  Best to wait for the slowest current.  We use a program called Total Tide and it is excellent.  Highly recommend this program for sailors.

Penang bridge
Yikes!! Are we going to clear it?
And my final comments about Penang.  We arrived from the south which involves going under a bridge.  The bridge is 32 meters clearance height from average high tide water level.

Our main mast is only 20 meters from water surface.  That means there should be a minimum clearance above our mast of 12 meters or about 39 feet.

Yeah, sure!  Looks like 39-ft clearance above the mast!
It certainly did not look like it when we went beneath this bridge!  I know it is an optical illusion, but it always looks sort of scary when a sailboat goes under a bridge.


  1. Love the pictures of the house and statues. How beautiful! Love the buddhist teachings and architecture. Looking forward to our trip to Thailand through you!

  2. My wife also makes flower tea for me whenever I'm sick. She puts the hot beverage in our recycled glass goblet, which is a bit smaller than what you featured right there. It makes the drink more special, and somehow that alleviates my lethargy. By the way, we're also thinking of doing a boat trip to Penang for our anniversary this year. Thanks for the preview!


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