A pearl in the sea: Penang Island

I have traveled to Penang several times over the past couple of months. The first time we went by road. The highway north from Kuala Lumpur travels via Perak to Seberang Perai, on the east coast of Malaysia. Penang Island lies across a 10 km stretch of sea that separates it from the mainland. We drove over the bridge, which is one of the longest over sea and into Georgetown, the heart of Pualu Penang( or the island of Penang) We could have taken a ferry as well and in fact that was what we would have had to do before this bridge was built in the nineties.
The highways in Malaysia are engineering marvels, wide, smooth roads well lighted and easy to drive on. However they have been gouged out of virgin forest and when you are on them, the people and their homes do not exist. For Indians used to seeing a continuous variety of life along the highways, these tarmac ribbons seem a little soul less. However near Ipoh it is possible to see the hillsides gouged out for limestone, reminiscent of the Meghalayan hills being steadily mined for limestone and coal. There are some magnificent forests along this stretch of road. You can have a sense of the type of landscape that existed before modern development came to invade these areas.
Another time we traveled by air. It was an early morning flight from the LCCT
( the low cost terminal) and we flew over the Malacca straits, looking impossibly blue and then as we neared Penang, a cluster of islands, which appeared from overhead to be all forest, appeared. Boats sailed along these pristine waters, leaving a silvery wake as they journeyed from island to island, perhaps to the mainland as well.
Georgetown is a UNESCO world heritage site. And well it might be, as it contains some of the most exquisite collections of colonial buildings. These lie in their own grounds, some with Corinthian pillars which were ubiquitous in Calcutta. It amazes me that all such buildings, which were quite common when we were children, have been allowed to disappear from Calcutta, replaced by the ugliest buildings that men could device. Be that as it may, I did not of course do the usual tourist rounds, as I was there on business. However I did get to eat at a beach side hawkers corner, which is one culinary adventure that no visitor to Penang should ever miss and nobody does.
The food was great. If I did have some suspicions about what I was eating, I simply allowed myself to be guided by Naveen, my colleague who is a Penang boy knows all the ropes and then some. I had oysters for the first time in my life, squids and maybe some baby octopus, (I honestly don’t know). I can only vouch that it was one of the best meals I have ever had. Incidentally the hotel breakfast, otherwise indistinguishable from any other hotel breakfast in Paris or Peru, served bread pudding! I have not had this since I was a child when it was quite common during club dinners, but I have not had it for a long long time. It tasted great though I was conscious throughout that it was not really meant for a middle aged paunchy man! All in all it has a laid back air that appeal very much to Westerners and many have made Penang their home
Our business was in the hospitals and I was impressed by the hospitals there. Penang hospitals have a very good reputation and this attracts many patients from overseas, including Singapore, Australia and of course from Indonesia just across the straits of Malacca. The hospitals have features like nursing rooms, wi fi and so on that I have never seen in India. However the costs are at least twice that what a private hospital back home would charge. Also, it seemed to me that tertiary care is less developed here than back home.
When my wife and daughter come to Malaysia in May I hope to visit Penang as a tourist pure and simple. Then I will climb the Penang hill and do all that a tourist does. For the moment these glimpses have to suffice.


Ridhwi Mukerji said…

It is nice to read your posts and to say the least it is as interesting as always. But I am wondering when did you move to Malaysia. Please let me know your new phone number.I hope you still have my e-mail address (ridhwim@yahoo.co.in) also rmukerji@biomedks.com. If you ever get time check my blog- http://ridhwi-doctors.blogspot.com/

I haven't spoken to you for a long time- I'll love to talk to you sometime!

Unknown said…
Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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