Friday, November 12, 2010

A taste of Malaysia, a dash of Penang.

There’s nothing quite like the colonial buildings on the streets – some personal residences, others used as collages, the Hokkien hawkers with their lightning fast hands, stirring & mixing like there’s no tomorrow, procuring delicacies for foreigners and locals alike, the cobblestone streets – a reminder of who once ruled, and the smell of the sea & the taste of the salt as walks by Gurney Drive bring in the sea breeze.

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Then there’s the narrow roads and olden temples, the smell of food in the air, the tinkling of the trishaws’ bells on the streets, and of course, the cheap clothes & misspelled knockoffs.

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Yes. There’s nothing quite like the island of Penang.

As I stated in my last post, and no, I didn’t really end up in the hospital, I was off to Penang for two days for a little local holiday to soak in the humidity of Malaysia which I missed so dearly in China. While there, we were planning to get ourselves registered under the Khoo Kongsi (more on that later) and to indulge in gluttony for two precious days.

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Lunch #1: Nasi Kandar from Pelita.

Upon arrival, we immediately headed for my father’s childhood hawker centre, where the same person who my father knew as a little boy, is now an old man, frying the same tuo pan kuey teow he did almost 30 years ago. It isn’t any surprise that we ordered a dish.

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Lunch #2: Tuo Pan Kuey Teow, which basically resembles wan tan hor.

After our second lunch, we still weren’t satisfied! We went all the way to Penang and we weren’t eating the delicacies? And so, we ended up with..

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Lunch #3: Asam Laksa, Penang style. If you think you’ve had good asam laksa, you may want to think again for nothing beats the taste of authentic Penang asam laksa, with its perfect balance between sour and spicy. =D

Of course, we couldn’t neglect Penang’s other famous dish now, could we? After a little hunting around, we got ourselves..

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Lunch #4: Char Kuey Teow. Normally, I can’t stand char kuey teow because the excess of oil gives me a headache, but in Penang, it’s an entirely different story. Always accompanied with at least two gigantic prawns, the fried kuey teow of Penang is a culinary delight. wink

At night, we walked to Gurney Drive for our dinner, where we proceeded to order almost every single Penang dish available. =)

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Penang’s tourist trap. -.-' 

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Fried oyster – I normally love fried oyster but the one sold at Gurney drive was really really bad. Instead of the usual yummy gooey stuff, this one was full of flour & hardly any oysters. =S 2 It seems that the quality of food there has degraded over the years. =(

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Rojak! I only eat the crunchy bits. =p

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Chee Cheong Fun.

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Wan Tan Mee.

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Kuey Teow Soup – It was pretty good, with delicious soup and loads of fishballs, but nothing can beat Ipoh’s kuey teow soup. wink

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Apom! Penang’s famous crunchy delicacy.

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Fried Chicken Skin. Crazy sinful, but really good. Everything sold at the shop was deep fried. Before this visit, I hadn’t heard of it but it’s supposedly very popular. O.O

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We had Tau Fu Fa as well. One with normal sugar while the other had..

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Black sugar!

The next day, we searched for what we couldn’t find the day before.

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Thankfully, we managed to find acceptable fried oyster in its full gooey oystery goodness! =D 2

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To my utmost delight, we had a plate of lobak too!

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A trip to Penang wouldn’t be complete without some peanut-covered muochi either!

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And to beat the heat, a bowl of cendol each. Not as good as the one in Taiping, but oh so very welcome in my ever expanding stomach.

With that, let’s put the topic of food behind us and move on to the other aspects of Penang. Daddy drove us around, giving us a brief tour on Penang, while injecting stories of his past as a kid there.

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The now-defunct cinema my father used to frequent.

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The Snake Temple close to my father’s old kampung.

We decided to visit the Snake Temple for a complete tourist experience and got out of the car to be greeted by hundreds of snakes. O.O 

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Inside, it wasn’t much different. There were snakes everywhere! There were..

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Small snakes with poisonous fangs and..

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Big snakes with swollen bodies!

Tourists could wrap the snakes around themselves for a photograph & we saw this Arabian man doing exactly that.

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It could be just me, but is that terror on his face? =D 2

Outside the temple, there was a souvenir shop with really cheap items.

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Chloe & I got both these hats for only RM20. =)

Even with our large hats, we didn’t feel tourist-y enough. And so, it was time for the ultimate Penang tourist experience.

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You guessed it! All six of us divided onto three trishaws and had a ride around Penang.

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Clockwise from left: Kakak Ella, Tiffany, Dominic =D

I shared a trishaw with my darling sister and it was so much fun!

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The trishaws were like the kings of the street, with cars and motorcycles avoiding us, leaving the roads clear for the trishaws.

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Our trishaw driver a.k.a. the man with our lives in his hands for a few precious minutes.

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The Khoo’s other two trishaws!

Being on a trishaw was such a thrill, as we went over road bumps and made sharp turns, taking in the beautiful fluffy clouds in the sky while squeezing through narrow alleys.

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Soon, (too soon perhaps) the ride was over. =(

And now, it’s time to talk history. It’s time to talk about the Khoo Kongsi. The Khoo Kongsi is basically the Khoo clan, a place where Khoos can gather to track their history & find their relatives.

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I’m not sure if other families have a clan like this, but I felt pretty privileged to be a part of such a thing. It’s pretty Khool being a Khoo. wink

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The Khoo Kongsi is one of the most elaborate temples I’ve ever seen, even compared to the ones in China!

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According to Mr. Khoo (the one in charge of the temple), maintaining the place takes up quite a bit of money.

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Inside the temple.

In Penang, being a Khoo is a pretty big deal. There are even streets named after famous Khoos!

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My grandfather almost had a street named after him, but as he moved to Kuala Lumpur, that privilege had to be revoked. Gosh, if that didn't happen, I’d be running rampant in Penang.

“Your grandfather’s road, ah??” people would ask me.

“Yeah, it sure is!” I would say.

But alas, that can never happen. =(

Anyway, allow me to tell you this hilarious story about a man we asked directions from.

Dad: Do you know the way to Khoo Kongsi? *in Hokkien*

Man: Do you speak English? Good! Where did you park your car?

Dad: Uhh, behind there. Near the police station.

Man: Okay, you see. In Penang, you have to pay 40 cents to park your car for an hour.

Dad: Well-

Man: After an hour, you’ll have to pay another 40 cents. Which would make it 80 cents! So, then you see, when you park two hours, that will be 80 cents.

By then, us three siblings had broken out into fits of giggles over the funny funny man.

Man: YOU! *pointing at my brother* This isn’t a joke! Listen closely. Are you listening? Closely? Good! What I’m saying is very important. Not a joke!

Dom: Okay, okay! Not a joke!

The man then turns back to my father.

Man: Okay! So after you pay 80 cents, they should give you a red piece of paper. That means paid. If not paid, you will get a yellow piece of paper. Are you listening?!?!

Dad: Yes, yes. I’m listening.

Man: Okay! Good. What I’m saying is very important. Then, when you pay, you will get a red piece of paper. Is that clear?

Dad: Aha, yeah. I’m actually from Penang. Actually, we were planning to walk there from here.

At the word ‘walk’, the man sprang out of his seat and started getting more excited.

Man: AH! WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SO!? Okay, you see, from here, you walk straight, and then you’ll see this store. That store sells very good fried oyster, you must go try! Then, you’ll walk by another store that sells good noodles. It has a red sign. Keep walking straight. STRAIGHT ON, I SAY!

Dad: Yes, straight on. *trying to stifle his laughter*

Man: OKAY!? YES. STRAIGHT ON!

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Man: After that, you have to turn left! Left until you see this building where there’s this man that sells oranges!

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Man: *blablablabla* ARE YOU LISTENING!?

Dad: Yes, I’m listening. Very closely.

Man: Okay, good! So, then you turn right! And it’s there.

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By the time he was done, all of us, including my mom, were red in the face from the supreme effort of trying to control our laughter. The man was so funny! He was so enthusiastic and comical, so much like a make-believe character from a TV show. As we were walking away, he continued to speak.

Man: If you can’t find your way, come back and find me! I hold myself personally responsible for you. I’m responsible ah! Remember! I’ve been living here for sixty years! You won’t get lost.

Dad: *thumbs up*

Man: Remember! I’m responsible for you! I will make sure you reach there! Follow my instructions carefully!!!!

Dad: *thumbs up* Okay! Thank you! Byebye!

Man: Bye bye! Remember! I’m responsible for you!!

Ahh, what a funny enthusiastic man. My dad reckons he’s really really lonely. To his credit, his directions were so detailed that we did manage to find our way in the end. Till now, my mom jokes that if we had let him continue believing that we were taking our car there, he would have explained how to turn on the engine. =p

When we got to Khoo Kongsi, we were given Visitor passes for free (it costs RM10 per visitor) as we are Khoos. =)

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Khoo Kongsi is also known as Cannon Square.

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Pay attention to the Historical Names. =)

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In China, I was so excited to see World Heritage sites but there are sites here in Malaysia too!

When we entered the office, there was paperwork all around as well as maps stuck on the walls. All these papers and maps were being used to track our ancestors and relatives in China.

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“Good morning, Mr. Khoo. Which Khoo is this?” the secretary greeted my father.

In the office, we managed to look at digital records from years ago. My great-great-grandfather was named Khoo Teng Khoe and is the earliest record available of the Khoo lineage in my family.

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According to the records, I’m the 21st generation Khoo in my family.

Besides finding more about my lineage, the temple also houses a mini-Khoo museum.

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Inside, there were records from ancient times, family trees and many more.

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A chart of middle Chinese names supposed to be undertaken by the Khoo males. My great-grandfather didn’t follow the chart and now all the boys in my family have messed up names. Ah well! =)

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One of the information signs of an old ancestor.

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Grandma & Grandpa Khoo having dinner. =p

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A structure outside the temple, which has my brother convinced that the Khoos invented rock music and hand gestures. -.-

All in all, the trip to Penang didn’t only fill us with laughter and food, but with knowledge as well. Two days well spent, I’d say.

Two days well spent, indeed.

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