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Penang: First Impressions

April 18, 2013

Penang is a weird and wonderful place. I’m not sure how to do an overall description so here are some musings on topics of everyday life.

Weather: It is hot hot hot. I’m closer to the equator than I have ever been. It is hot in the day and hot at night, but there is a great breeze off the water here most of the time so it is actually quite nice. Better than the stagnant humid heat of Hong Kong summers.

People: Penang really is a blend of cultures, mostly ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indian. The Chinese and Indian influences are so strong here that I’m still unsure what Malay culture is. Malaysia is the first predominantly Muslim place that I have ever visited. I heard a real call to prayer for the first time last night which was really neat. The only downside to being in a Muslim country is that there is no bacon at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. lol

Food: My favourite so far are the street vendor samosas, so delicious. And at 17 cents Canadian, its a hard price to beat. Other Indian food is really good here too.

Toilets: My first thought upon entering the washroom at the airport in Penang : “I’m not in Hong Kong anymore”. Most are a 50/50 split of toilets and squats. And all washrooms here have a hose to wash oneself instead of using TP, and a drain in the floor for the water to go. But sometimes this can make the bathrooms floors wet, so it is best to have thick soled sandals or shoes. Also, many washrooms are BYOTP. I learned that lesson pretty fast.

Haven't been brave enough to try this method yet

Shopping: The shop attendants aren’t pushy, but many will follow you around the store the whole time you are there, which can feel a little strange. I was in the hugest mall that I’ve ever been in. 7 floors! Sure beats Bayshore!


Crossing the street: Many places don’t have cross walks, so you just have to find a break in traffic, which is easier said than done on 4 lane roads. Today we figured out the trick, you cross one lane at a time, because there is never a break in all 4 lanes at the same time.  It is pretty scary at first to be standing in the middle of the road with traffic zooming by on both sides. Or when cars decide to take up to lanes, when you are standing right in their path.


Cross this without a cross walk!

Sidewalks: Come and go. Not very consistent at all, there can be a nice new sidewalk, that then transitions into uneven cement, that then turns into no sidewalk at all so you have to walk down the side of the street. Also they have open sewers here that sometimes are uncovered and run along the outside of the sidewalk. They are pretty deep too, you wouldn’t want to walk and text here for fear of tripping into one. On the other hand, many street crossings have tactile strips so that blind people can cross safely. So they can cross safely, they just have to be extra careful not to fall into the sewer when they get to the other side.

Random gap in the sidewalk

Random gap in the sidewalk

Where the sidewalk ends, an open sewer begins

Where the sidewalk ends, an open sewer begins

A good 1.5 feet deep open sewer right beside the sidewalk, and an in front of a kindergarten

A good 1.5 feet deep open sewer right beside the sidewalk, and an in front of a kindergarten



Safe crossing for the visually impaired

Safe crossing for the visually impaired

Courthouse at night.

Courthouse at night.


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