Posts Tagged With: Georgetown

Penang House of Music

 Last  November 21, Penang just opened its own museum of music called the Penang House of Music and it was awesome. Located at Level 4 via the escalator at the ICT on Level 3, it took a bit of directions as we entered via the Komtar.  

While the more traditional music cultures such as the boria were represented, the center of the museum is Penang’s vibrant pop music in the past decades.

More than just housing displays, there are information boards with good graphics that provided visitors interesting music history tidbits.  

Do you know that a Filipino band was playing in Penang’s clubs in the 60s?

There are facilities that help visitors engage with the exhibits such as a mini cinema, a listening booth,  a VR room, and even a radio booth.

Mini cinema showing black and white films

VR room where you can watch someone sing while seeing informative graphics.

Discover Penang’s radio history and even try becoming a radio announcer.

The museum is really spacious and laid out really well. More importantly, there is a resource center open to everyone who wants to do research.

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The Streets of Georgetown, Penang

An old house converted into a lodging place with a small museum on the ground floor


I was rummaging through my hard disk looking at my travel pics and saw these bunch of pics from my two trips to Georgetown in Penang.  This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of my favorite places to visit.  In spite of mass tourism, it has managed to retain its small town feel.  I never tired of wandering its streets where you can find some wonderful architectural gems just waiting to be discovered.



Decaying but still beautiful



Street posts with shrines where people burn joss sticks are quite numerous

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Chocolates and Ballroom Dancing at the Red Garden

Red Garden seemed like an immensely and cheap place to try out the varied Penang cuisine so we headed there for our last  dinner in Penang.  It was just a stroll away from Lebuh Chulia anyway.

We dropped by at The Chocolate Boutique first for chocolates with exotic flavors like chili, durian, and curry. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the latter one.  It was unknown to them even if the branch at Kota Kinabalu, where I first become acquainted with this marvelous chocolate place and its Beryl’s brand, had them.  Maybe certain branches had specific stocks.  Too bad because nothing could be more exotic than curry-flavored chocolate.  They did have the white chocolate with coconut, though.  It was less than an hour to closing so there were hardly anyone there.  The best thing about The Chocolate Boutique is the free sampling which we kinda took advantage of especially when no one was looking.  The place is divided into small rooms which had a certain theme such as “fruits” which had fruit-flavored chocolate on the shelves.  The “love” room had heart-shaped chocolates. I took home a box of durian chocolates, the coconut chocolate, and a package of durian white coffee.

Option paralysis set-in at next door Red Garden.  I couldn’t decide what to have.  Chinese, India, and Western were definitely out.  The girls had it easier as Yna went for Japanese and Julie and Jeannete went for biryani, satay, and lamb steak.  Me? I took the easy way out too—stop choosing and just order!  I had an assam laksa (very tasty tamarind-flavored soup), a Hokkien mee, belacang fried rice, and fried oyster.  A big bowl of cendol turned down the heat of the noodle soups.

Hokkien mee

Assam Laksa. The tamarind puts some oomp on the soup.

Surprise! Filipino food makes an appearance at Georgetown! We would have ordered out of patriotic duty. But longganisa or tocino paired with spaghetti? Anemic-looking pics of crispy pata? No wonder no lines at this stall. Sad.

Tuesday night is ballroom night at the Red Garden and a keyboard-singer duo came on at the small stage at the center of the food court.  The female singer wasn’t bad at all and she had none of the nasal singing that usually accompanies Chinese singers when they do English songs. The male keyboardist sounded like a karaoke whenever he sang.

Elderly couples took to the small dancing area.  It seemed like some take the dancing seriously as a couple of middle-aged ladies were a little dressed-up. It was entertaining to watch the characters that people the dance floor.  Catching everyone’s attention was  a fifty-ish man who stood at one corner of the dance floor and lip-synced all the songs while miming it.  It was hilarious especially when he would point at someone pretending to be referring to that person in the song.  At the front of the stage, a Caucasian lady of about the same age, probably a little older, danced stiffly and awkwardly alone looking  like a flag pole strutting on a windy day.  She never once left the dance floor.  A little later in the evening, she was dancing with a fat special child. Apparently, the waitress with a bad wig day at the Sri Nonya Cafe has a sister; at least in wig.  Dancing with an white-mustached guy in a fedora, striped long-sleeved shirt, and suspenders was a lady, a little younger than him, wearing almost the same type of blonde wig! Maybe wigs are really in these days in Georgetown!  Hers was a little better though as it looked more natural.  The couple seemed to dance in slow motion unmindful at times of the music’s up tempo.  They also had strange dance steps.

Option-paralysis at Red Dragon. How about some frog?

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History, A Waitress with a Bad Wig Day, and Drunked Bastard Part 2

After the trouble with the tuk-tuk bastards yesterday, nothing could ever go wrong today not especially if breakfast was yummy machang from Cintra Food Court. I may not have found the small shop selling freshly-fried cheow tow and the “famous curry puffs” stall was still closed but the Hokkien dumpling and the Golden dumpling which were actually machang (a term the Chinese girl recognized) more than made up for it.

We walked to Penang Museum but not without dropping by the small adjacent shop selling curious where I bought a curious-looking 2-stringed lute with a scooped-up body and elephant carving at the back for RM60. The shop had a couple of other musical instruments but I could only afford to buy one.  The lute which the Chinese shopsman said came from Sarawak won out over the bowed Chinese lute.  When queried as to where he gets the stuff, he said that people come in and sell stuff from their houses which doesn’t seem to be far-fetched.

Three ladies and an old trolley

This was also my first time to set foot at the Penang Museum. It was small but the exhibit rooms were well-stocked and had very informative displays that were curated nicely.  Each of the ethnic groups living in Penang had their exhibit rooms and the Peranakans were of course the most lavish of them all.  The Indian room was also nice with its short glass walls with flickering lamps by the entrance.  The second floor exhibit was a little more serious as it was more on Penang’s history.  Pictures aren’t allowed in the museum but we managed to take some anyway as there was no one there and the staff were all at the lobby.

No, those aren't Kuya Germs' clothes on display. Those are costumes worn by "boria" musicians.

Walking along Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and on to Lebuh Light we headed to Fort Cornwallis passing by the glorious colonial buildings housing the Supreme Court, the Town Hall,  and the City Hall then along the Esplanade.

City Hall

The Fort seemed to be in a little bad shape.  The galleries narrating the history of the founding of Penang seemed forlorn and there was no air-conditioning anymore.  Gone too was the re-creation of an army camp on the grounds near the cannons.  There wasn’t much too see nor do except take pictures of the cannons.

Yna wanted to go to lunch at a Western restaurant that accepts credit cards as she was running low on cash. She also said she’d treat.  I suspect she just wanted to go to a more decent place than the non-air-conditioned local restaurants she expected me to take them. Credit card+Western restaurant= nice place!

Since she also wanted to go back to Straits Heritage row I suggested that we eat somewhere there.  Lonely Planet came-up with Eidelweiss Restaurant which seemed to suit the girls.  The Indian cab driver was very friendly and pleasant.  Thank God!  After yesterday’s mishaps with the tuk-tuk bastards, it was refreshing to be driven around by a really nice person.  We arrived at Eidelweiss only to find out it was closed on Mondays.  Since we had alighted from the cab already there was no way for us to look for another place.  Since Straits Heritage row was just a short skip away, the girls headed to Bon Ton while I headed to the cafe for another slice of Ginger treacle cake.  Jeannette came back and said that someone from the shop mentioned a small cafe with lots of plants that serves Western food. It sounded like Amelie which we passed by yesterday.  It looked more like a sandwhich and drinks place.  While Julie and Yna stayed at the shop, Jeannete and I walked through the length of Jalan Kapitan Keling looking for a place to eat but all we found were gold shops.

Back at Strait Heritage, Yna was done with her shopping and we all assembled at the apom stall at the leafy park just across it.  While waiting for the middle-aged guy to prepare the pancakes filled with bannanas and peanuts who should we see sleeping on a park bench behind the stall?  Drunken Bastard!!!!!  He looked so peacefully asleep that I wanted to get one of the pans heating on the portable stove by the apom stall and whack him with it.  Or perhaps, get a load of the stack of bricks at the corner and dump it on his face!

Brown sugar-filled "apom" flavored with fingers.

After the apom had been paid for and received, the girls were reluctant to eat much to my amusement as the guy was holding it with his bare fingers.

Maybe it was coincidence day but as we waited for a cab to take us to Jalan Nagore so Jeannette could get her durian cheesecake at Continental and we could have lunch at one of the restaurants there, who should we flag but the same Indian cabbie! Learning that we hadn’t had lunch yet, he suggested the food court at World Park where we could have our choice of cuisine.  Good idea!

Yna still insisted on a credit-card accepting place so we ignored the fast food and headed to the much nicer area where the shops and restos were.  First stop was an Indian curry house.  Nah.  Across it was a Thai resto.  Not too excited.  Stomachs fluttered and hearts pounded when on a chalk board the words “Buffet” were written and up above, the resto sign board read ” Batik Nonya Cafe“! It was the best of both worlds— buffet and Nonya!  No questions asked. The language of appetite spoke to us and we responded.  The buffet only cost RM9!

More of a proper restaurant than a cafe, it was spacious and was nicely furnished.  The buffet spread had clear soup, chicken like the one we had at Restoran Peranakan, otak-otak, fried rice, sigarilyas cooked in a medium-spicy shrimp,  paste, fried fish, baked beans  (which I suspect came from a can) with egg, and eggplant cooked in a spicy sauce.  For dessert there was red bean soup and a small ice-cream scooping station.  The food tasted good and judging from the size of the crowd lunching at a late hour (it was way past 1pm), it seemed to be popular.  Mixing vanilla ice-cream with the red bean soup was particularly good.  The star of the restaurant however was a waitress Yna dubbed as Tessa Prieto for her blond wig which really looked like a wig.  It was so stiff and it looked so flat on her forehead.  She was very nice though, constantly updating Jeannette about the fried fish which had run out on the buffet table.

The girls finally ate their apom but put a scoop of ice-cream.  I guess it kinda takes away the flavor of fingers when it resembles and tastes like a cheap French crepe.

As if we had not come from a buffet, we headed to Continental Bakeshop just across the street for durian cheescake.  “It’s lemon cheesecake today,” the cheerful waitress at the counter said.  Durian wasn’t in season anymore so they’re not sure when they’re gonna have one.  Yesterday was my durian cheesecake lucky day!

We all shared a cheesecake and a lemon custard tart instead.

Of kurtis and kurtas.

Walked to Jalan Penang to shed off some calories and do a little shopping which turned out not to be so little.  Yna bought a pewter salt-and-pepper shaker at Hong Giap Hang which had a wide range of pewter ware from the cheaper Rennaisance brand to the top-range Royal Selangor.  The large shop also had a lot of other stuff including some small Chinese drums and flutes from Sarawak.  I resisted the temptation promising myself that I’d get to Sarawak someday and buy there.  Next door was a less fancy shop selling mostly Chinese stuff where Yna and Julie bought those metal balls which you roll in your hand.  It was a steal at RM10 from RM15 per pair.  At the next shop, the girls bought some sarong pants.  Yna finally persuaded Julie to buy one.  It really did look good on her.  Julie was to surprise us at next door Sam’s Batik House where after a little persuasion she bought a couple of nicely-embroidered blouses. Actually, everyone went over the top at Sam’s like we were all turning Indian fashion conscious.

It started innocently enough with Julie and Jeannette persuading me to buy a striped beige long-sleeved cotton polo.  I was more interested in the hand-embroidered kurtas and even the long formal Indian men’s dress that were so richly embroidered but they were all running into RM100 and above.  I think they were intent on making me buy something to balance-out their shopping. The shirt only cost RM25 and the shop attendant was really pleasant and easy to bargain with so I bought it.  The girls finally left me alone to go at the back with Yna who was buying clothes for her kids.  When I joined them, the shopping spree had began.  The women’s clothes were really beautiful, especially the hand-embroidered ones, and the fabric cool to the skin.  I went back to the men’s section and discovered the buy-one-take-one rack of kurtas which were a steal at RM50 for two items.

By the time we were finished, the girls were loaded with blouses, I had three kurtas, and we even bought Rhoda some clothes.  I think we spent about two hours in the store.

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Two Mansions and Two Crazy Tuk-tuks

Back in Georgetown, Penang.  Ever since I first step foot in this historically-rich city, I knew I would be back.  I’ve never gone beyond Georgetown to explore the rest of Pulau Penang and I doubt it if I would be able to do so in the next 2 days that we were here.  Even a short trip to Penang Hill doesn’t seem to be possible.

The domes of Maskid Kapitan Keling

After the girls had checked-in at Chulia Heritage Hotel, which I think is the only hotel in the world that doesn’t have anything to sit on but the floor at its lobby, and me at Star Lodge (I’m such a cheapskate), we headed to Masjid Kapitan Keling which didn’t seem to thrill anyone but me (though it was my second time to see it) or maybe because they were all hungry (the girls have a bigger appetite than me).

My room at Star Lodge. The two elderly gentlemen at the Reception were nice though registering was sooo slow as the guy writing the details down seemed to need a magnifying glass. Clean rooms nevertheless.

We had lunch at Restoran Ros Mutiara at Lebuh King for some honest-to-goodness-it-can’t-get-anymore-Indian-than-this meal.  We stuffed ourselves with Murtabak, Naan with Coconut, Roti Tisu, plain Roti, Naan with Cheese, and Chicken Tikka Masala, all downed with refreshing Mango Lassi.  Really good and heavy meal though Jeannette warned Yna about not looking at the kitchen and watching the cook when she goes to the restroom just beside it.


Have a taste of Roti Tisu

Blazingly hot as it was, we headed south-east to the Khoo Kongsi Clan House passing by the small Cheah Kongsi. They must be a really big and rich clan as the clan hall was richly ornamented, particularly the roof beams.  It was Chinese craftsmanship at its best.  It was my first time to see it and it was breathtaking.  I could just stare at the panels above the doors depicting different scenes that were pictorial lessons on the virtues.

Behind the hall was a more modern museum which chartered the history of the clan from its forefather crossing the ocean from China and heading to Penang. The displays were really nice and well thought off.  Lots of nice backgrounds for great photo-ops especially the lighted screens.


You’ve gotta give it to the Chinese and their tenacity.  Sometimes you gotta think, what would the world have been if the Chinese simply stayed put in China and didn’t bring their roots elsewhere?

Just across at Lebuh Aceh is a small Malay mosque with a little tower and some gorgeous houses beside it.  The mosque was founded by an Acheenese prince in the early 19th century.  That’s part of the wonders of Georgetown–the multi-colored tapestry of people and cultures.  The Chinese, Malay, Indian, and the Peranakan, have created a rich culture that today sits harmoniously side by side with each other. Coming from a Chinese clan house and you need just cross the street to set foot in a mosque who owes its existence to Javanese presence in Penang.

There was hardly anyone there except the sun putting a bright sheen on the yellow-white mosque. The quietness was atmospheric. It was like being in a little kampung.

Strolling along the quiet streets (jalan-jalan as the Malays would call it), we found ourselves in the Straits Heritage area with a lovely row of shophouses.  The girls checked out the stuff at Bon Ton while I cooled my heels at a coffee shop and had ginger treacle cake with a yummy and thick icing not unlike that on carrot cakes and a scoop of expensive (RM5) gula-melaka ice-cream.

Yummy ginger treacle cake and gula melaka ice cream

All should have been well and quiet with the girls joining me for more ice-cream and just sitting quietly while we contemplated the beauty of Georgetown.  But we had two mansions and a museum to go to.  That’s how we met the two crazy tuk-tuk drivers.

Drunken Bastard and Aging Bastard.

As always with any tuk-tuk, they found us before they found them.  The younger one, let’s call him Drunken Bastard offered to take us around the sights.  I asked to be taken to Pinang Peranakan Mansion, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, and Penang Museum.  He called another much older guy, let’s call him Aging Bastard, and charged us RM20 per tuk-tuk.  Sounds like a fair deal.  I should have sensed that Drunken Bastard was psychotic as I kept telling him that I wanted to confirm first if the Penang Museum was open as someone from Bon Ton mentioned that being Sunday, it was closed.  He kept insisting that we leave immediately to catch the last tour at 3:30 at Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.  I understood his urgency as the gate closes after 3:30 (which was why I missed the mansion on my first trip here) but he just kept rembling and rambling on like a call-center agent reading from a script.  Even if I spoke Malay he just wouldn’t listen as he gazed at the distance while rambling.

Grudgingly I climbed on Aging Bastard’s tuk-tuk together with Julie while Yna and Jeannette took Drunken Bastard’s.

La Professora and the Blue Mansion.

We arrived at the blue-colored Cheong Fatt Tze just as the middle-aged professor-looking-and-sounding tour guide was giving the pre-amble on Cheong Fatt Tze, the man himself, who owned this masterpiece of Chinese living.  La Professora grandly exclaimed that it had 38 rooms, 5 courtyards, 7 staircases, and 220 windows and that everything about the mansion was based on fungh-shui.  Indeed, we were given a short-course on the art and philosophy of feng-shui. La Professora explained how the mansion was built on a “dragon’s back” and how the courtyard where we all were balanced the mansion’s yin and yang. It was really interesting and she was such an engaging speaker.

We then followed her to the main part of the house and we went from room-to-room as she explained the significance of each room and how it reflected the colorful and historical personality of Cheong Fatt Tze, who as La Professor explained, rose from being a penniless immigrant from Guandong province in China to become one of the wealthiest and economically powerful Chinese on both sides of the globe. Yup, the guy was shaking hands with Rockefellers in New York in the 19th c.  But to everyone that day, the most interesting  of his checkered life is the fact that of all his mansions, he spent the most time in this place in Penang because it is where his 17-year old wife, the most that he loved among all his wives, lived.  So when we got to the room containing his memorabilia, we all looked in awe at the faded black and white photographs of his slender and elegant wife dressed in tight-fit modern cheong-sams.

Beautiful Chinese and European furniture and objects d’art filled the room.  La Professora proudly pointed out that intricately carved wedding bed which he said was in such perfect condition that it probably was never used and displayed only.  But what I liked most were the cut-and-paste porcelain work that created beautiful pictures at the balcony overlooking the yard which La Professora in loud and proud voice said were original. The ones outside were restorations which involved ordering 10,000 pieces of ceramic cups and smashing them to be used to create the pictures.  And, in a loud and almost defiant voice, were made by “people from China as local craftsmen do not know what to do… the Chinese craftsmen, they automatically know.”  By this time, I had come to the conclusion that La Professora was a real professor.  She knew everything including the juicy tidbits and funny remarks and seemed justly proud of what she was talking about.  When someone commented about Baba Nonya, in an enormous voice with a tinge of horror, she exclaimed, “This is not Baba Nonya!  This is Chinese!  There is nothing Baba Nonya here. Baba Nonya is somewhere else.”  Aha!  Maybe there is a cultural jealousy between the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.  Hehehehehe.

The tour ended at the shop where books, souvenirs, and shirts were being sold.  She opened the door for us and we exited to the blue-tinged sunshine on the front yard.  Photographs were not allowed inside so we contented ourselves with photo-ops on the marvelous facade.

Boarding the tuk-tuk, Jeannette had changed places with Yna as she noticed that the flask of wine that Drunken Bastard had was half-empty and he looked drunk.  Yna had earlier complained about Drunken Bastard’s refusal to bring down the tuk-tuk cover to shield them from the sun the way we did with our tuk-tuk.

Beautiful Mansion and Crazy Bastards.

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion was even more beautiful and had more opulent objects d’ art (maybe this was the reason for La Professora’s snappy remark).  At the entrance, when some guys manning the counter discovered we were Filipinos, he went out and returned with a Filipino staff! “Him… Filipino also!” he gleefully explained.  The guy (I’ve forgotten his name) has been in Penang for about six months and found it to be lonely.  He didn’t seem to be too lonely that day as later on I would see him with three other guys and telling someone on the phone whose screen they were all looking at, “He wants to see you nude”  with a leer in his voice and eyes.

Room after room displayed beautiful pieces of furniture and clothing that were works of art for.  A glass cabinet contained striking examples of Nonya artistry with beaded sandals.  No less striking were the richly-beaded Nonya blouses worn over batik sarongs.  Most elaborate of all were the wedding clothes with the head dresses.

No Ferragamos or Blaniks here only Nonya.

The mansion was owned by a Chinese magnate who was not a Baba himself.  Aha!  There you are La Professora!  Nothing to get jealous about.  The mansion is just a re-creation of a home of an affluent Baba. The guy who really lived there was a Chinese as Chinese can be!  Nevertheless, the mansion typified the opulence of a high-living Peranakan.

After all that beauty I was to face all that ugliness.  I made my way out and headed to the tuk-tuk.  It was then that Drunken Bastard told me that if we wanted to go somewhere else, we had to pay for extra as we took such a long time.  I told him that we had only been at Peranakan Mansion for 45 minutes and around an hour at Cheong Fatt Tze. Besides, did he expect us to just breeze through those places?  Aging Bastard backed him up saying that they’re waiting time was costing them to lose additional income.  What the hell?!!!!  At this point, I wanted to scream.  I mustered all the Bahasa-Melayu I knew and argued with them.  Drunken Bastard was even saying that they received a call from a customer needing their services!  Whaaaaaatttt????!!!!! Who do they think they are????!!!!!!! “You’re drunk!” I told him as I pointed to the flask.  Jeannette had come out by now and was telling me to just pay them and let go. I looked around me as I thought of going to any of the staff and asking them to deal with the bastards.  But no one was there.   “Tidak bercakap saya,” was all I could say as I handed Drunken Bastard the RM40.  I wanted to throw the money at his face.  I knew it would be stupid, dangerous even, to argue and then expect them to hold their end of the bargain or to even pay additional.

We headed back to the shop with Jeannette telling me to wait a while to make sure they were gone. The cool comforts of the shop helped bring my temper down.  Fortunately, I wasn’t that angry to go emotional shopping as I would have probably bought half of the nice stuff they had there.

Nonya Baba Cuisine.

Since it was late in the afternoon anyway, we decided to just head to the Penang Museum the next day and have dinner at Nonya Baba Cuisine.  We took a cab to the restaurant and arrived there around 6 with the place padlocked.  Our cab driver called them on the number printed at the tarpaulin hanging in front and told us that the people running the place were on their way.  We waited at the small yard in front with a Chinese mom and son who asked me about the restaurant as they have always been eating at the nearby hot-pot. They had been looking at us while we stood outside the restaurant looking perplexed while the cab driver called.

Lor bak, Poo Piah, Curry Kapitan, Hor Bak, Nonya Chap Chai

As the girls waited, I headed to the Continental Bakery just across and bought the remaining slice of durian cheesecake.  So yummy.

The place had opened by the time I returned and there were other people as well. The food was very good and just as I remembered it.  The husband and wife who were taking taking the orders, cooking, and serving were very accommodating and took the time to explain how Penang Peranakan cuisine differed from that of Melakka’s.  It was closer to Thai flavors and something about the use or was it the non-use of black nuts.  Whatever it is, I’ve always loved Peranakan food and this was the best place to try the authentic taste and flavor in Penang.

Jeannette wanted to go to Continental to buy durian cheesecake but it was closed by the time we left Nonya Baba. And oh, our travials over bad drivers didn’t end with Drunken Bastard and Aging Bastard.  While waiting for our order, the lady asked us how we knew about Nonya Baba Cuisine.  I told her I had eaten here before. She verified that it was not the cab driver who recommended the restaurant.  I said no. I told him where we wanted to go and it just happens that he knew the place.  She then went out and talked to him.  She explained to us that the cab driver was asking for a commission as he supposedly recommended the place to us.  She did give him a little something.

Oh well.  Crazy day. I love Georgetown.

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