Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!

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10 February 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: Penang food court adventures
chowing down at Gurney Drive


Inspired by Gary Arndt's recent Operation Street Food, this week's WanderFood Wednesday post is a flashback to our 2008 food court adventures in Penang, Malaysia. Penang is known as a foodie paradise, especially if you're an adventurous eater (and, really, what other kind is there?). The whole town is a treasure trove of street vendors. But Gurney Drive is the mack daddy of food courts, with an abundance of stalls dishing out all manner of Malaysian, Indian, and Chinese delicacies. You just wander through the chaos and point at whatever looks interesting. It's all cheap and delicious, so you might as well experiment!

chicken feet, anyone?
who wants some chicken feet?

treats on sticks
treats on sticks

Sonia slurps some asam laksa
Sonia slurps some asam laksa

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.

* all Penang pics
* all Malaysia pics

* Penang blog stories

* last week's WanderFood post: A few of my favorite things, part four:
small-town restaurants 

If you enjoyed this post, please help us spread the word!


Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 2 comments

20 November 2008
Friends in high places, part two
the Malaysian leprechaun strikes again

[if you missed part one, you can find it here]

A few days later, curiosity got the best of us and we decided to check out the views from Komtar Tower. Looming over Georgetown, the 65-story concrete monstrosity is part of a complex that includes government offices and retail space, as well as an observation deck at the very top. It appeared to be a moderate walk from our hotel, so we decided to maximize the tourist experience and hop into a trishaw.

trishaw driver pimps his rideAh, trishaws. Myriad versions of these ingenious vehicles can be found all over Southeast Asia; in Malaysia they’re typically powered by a small wiry man on a rear-mounted bicycle, with a padded seat attached in front. Trishaws are often elaborately tricked out with lights, flowers, and sometimes even a sound system. Riding in one is akin to being in a bizarre video game where you’re cruising along slowly and almost at ground level, helplessly flung into hair-raising traffic rushing past you at approximately Mach Two. I imagine this is what it might feel like to roller-skate around the DC Beltway at rush hour.

We managed to flag down a driver and squeezed our big American butts into the seat. “Oh, heavy!” the hapless driver exclaimed, and proceeded to huff and puff his way towards the tower. Fortunately, this part of Penang is pretty flat, and it turned out we only had to travel a few blocks to reach our destination. I was worried that the guy might have a heart attack along the way, but he was truly a pro, and managed to get us there without collision or medical incident. We gave him a big tip in a vain attempt to assuage our Western guilt.

Komtar Tower, photo courtesy of WikipediaUpon arriving at Komtar Tower, which has an enormous, Byzantine open-air mall at its base, we wandered around for a while, trying to find the way to the observation deck. No signs, no information desk, not even an elevator bank shed any light on what was apparently a very well-kept secret. Instead, a dizzying array of stalls selling the usual cheap clothing and electronics stretched for what seemed like blocks in all directions. Suddenly a man appeared in our path.

“I know you!” Mark said, and by this time we were both grinning. “We recognize you, even though you look different with clothes on!”

Incredibly, it was our old buddy William, fully clothed this time. He grinned back at us. “USA!” he exclaimed. “You came to tower! Good to see you again!” And then, with a bit of humility as he recollected our previous meeting, he added, “I show you my body!”

our second encounter with William at Komtar TowerYou did indeed, my odd little Malaysian friend. Now how ‘bout you show us how to get to the top of this joint? And so he did. It turns out we’d blazed right past the ground-floor info desk and elevators. William not only showed us the way, he rode up in the elevators with us and took us straight to the ticket desk at the top floor. Clearly proud to be bringing his own personal tour group up to the observation deck, he showed us some of the town’s salient features, pointed out a few sights, and insisted we have the ticket lady take a picture of the three of us.

Busy man that he was, William bid us adieu, and presumably went back to his activities at the tower’s ground level. We stood by the windows bemused at what a small world it was. Granted, Penang is a pretty small island, but what were the chances of meeting the same random guy a few days later? Just then, he appeared again! This time he was brandishing a small scrap of paper with his name and address, and asked if we would please send him a copy of the photo. He didn’t have email, so we’d need to snail-mail him an actual print. Yes, certainly, no problem, we promised to send a copy when we returned to DC, with a mental note to include the one of him proudly posing shirtless from our first meeting, for full before and after effect.

We continued our Penang sightseeing and moved on to visit other parts of Malaysia, half expecting to see William pop up around any random corner like an Asian leprechaun guiding us to hidden pots of touristy gold. It became a running joke… would William appear on the street in Kuala Lumpur, to take us up the Petronas Towers? Might we see him 50 feet underwater while scuba diving at Sipadan? Perhaps he’d pop out of a longhouse in Sarawak, to show off his prowess with a blowpipe? Shirtless or otherwise, the guy definitely made our Penang excursion a memorable one, thanks to the unexpected, unscripted kindness of strangers.

Related information:
* More pictures from around Penang
* Friends in high places, part one


Posted by sonia at 5:00 PM | Link | 0 comments

Second week recap
food, friends, more food, and some cul-cha

We've managed to pack a lot into our second week! Here's a quick recap of what we've been up to during week two: the major themes include friends, food, and massage in Thailand, and Chinese temples and lots more food in Penang. We are gonna be like 400lbs each by the time this trip is over!

checking out the sites with Bruce & Anne:
Anne gets to pet the kitty at Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens   mindboggling ladyboy show at Alcazar  Anne, Mark, Bruce, and Sonia after the ladyboy show in Pattaya  seedy underbelly on Soi Cowboy
Nong Nooch, ladyboy show, in Pattaya, on Soi Cowboy

everything's for sale at Chatuchak market  temple replica at Ancient Siam  floating market
Chatuchak market, Ancient Siam, floating market

a seriously endless parade of food:
exotic fruit plate  buffet lunch at Ma Tuk's  Ma Tuk, Ben, Zoe, and Mark enjoy a Vietnamese lunch
exotic fruit plate, buffet lunch at Ma Tuk's, Vietnamese lunch

these two fabulous ladies gave us several two-hour massages, right in our bedroom (life does *not* suck!)

and on to Penang:
Chinese influence is obvious at Khoo Kongsi
  the biggest incense sticks we've ever seen!  Kek Lok Si
Khoo Kongsi, biggest incense sticks ever, Kek Lok Si Temple
(for the record we did climb all 7 levels of stairs to the top of that pagoda!)

statues, temples, and gardens at the top of Kek Lok Si  street food at Gurney Drive  Sonia slurps up some asam laksa at Gurney Drive
at the top of Kek Lok Si; street food at Gurney Drive; Sonia slurps up some asam laksa


Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

18 November 2008
Friends in high places, part one
Unexpected encounters in Penang

Travel is all about being open to new experiences and finding adventures in unexpected places. But this is easier said than done, especially when you arrive in a new place all hot and dusty and tired, with your plans slightly off-kilter and your attitude completely askew.

Khoo KongsiMasjid Kapitan KelingAnd this was exactly the state we were in as we found ourselves wandering the streets of Georgetown, Penang. We’d just arrived in Malaysia that morning, after spending a pampered week in Bangkok, only to discover that our CouchSurfing host had ditched us. No matter, we quickly found other accommodations, despite the relentless tropical humidity that threatened to melt our brains. After seeing some of the more obvious nearby attractions in Georgetown – Chinese clan houses, mosques, Hindu temples – we took a purposeful “wrong” turn off the main road and strolled into the heart of Penang’s Chinatown district. We passed rows of cramped, no-frills shops, piled high with boxes and stacks of merch on tables, bastions of capitalism that practically screamed out “We got stuff! You want stuff?” No glossy marketing tactics in this neighborhood. This was definitely a no-nonsense part of town.

our first encounter with Shirtless WilliamHalfway through a nondescript block, on a street of no particular distinction, a shirtless man wandered out of his narrow row house, alternately rubbing his eyes and his bare chest as though he’d just awoken from a nap. And in this ponderous heat, who could blame him for copping a mid-afternoon snooze? He looked about as surprised to see us as we were to see him, especially in such a revealing outfit. His eyes flew open, and he rushed into the street to greet us. Not knowing what might happen next, we cautiously stood our ground for his approach.

“Hello!” shouted the little man excitedly. “Where you from?”

“USA.” I replied, allowing the standard beat to pass to see what his response might be. I was prepared to follow up with a thumbs-up, big smile, and “Obama, yay!” (As a side note, it will be so nice to no longer have to do the raspberry/thumbs-down/Bush-yuck routine upon meeting new people in other countries.)

“Oh! USA! Very good! Why you here?” our new friend inquired, scratching his head. Apparently he didn’t encounter too many Americans in these blocks off the tourist circuit.

We proceeded to tell him about our travel plans in Southeast Asia, and he in turn shared a dirty joke about Thailand. It was sufficiently eye-roll-inducing that I’ll not repeat it here, although we did chuckle politely. Now on an enthusiastic roll with how he’d entertained us, he pointed towards what we later learned was Menara Komtar, Penang’s tallest building. He chirped a vaguely suspicious sales pitch about the 360° view of the island, and encouraged us to get there first thing in the morning for a breakfast snack. As a peculiar counterpoint to the entire conversation, the man, who said his name was William, continued rubbing his pancakey pectorals. He seemed to have an endless wellspring of information to impart to us, so it was a bit of a relief when it began to rain and we were afforded a graceful way to bow out of the conversation.

With his permission, we snapped a picture of him posing proudly like a Greek statue gone wrong, said our goodbyes, and promised to consider a trip to the top of Komtar.

We figured that was the end of our encounters with William.

[to be continued...]

Related information:
* Bangkok posts
* More pictures from around Penang
* Friends in high places, part two

Posted by sonia at 4:00 PM | Link | 0 comments
Back in Malaysia
We're definitely not in Bangkok anymore!

We managed to grab a ridiculously early-morning flight out of BKK -- the upside was that there was absolutely no sign of the hideous soul-numbing Bangkok traffic! -- and we're now in Penang, Malaysia. Since internet access is pretty cheap and abundant around here, we may have a bit more time to post and catch up on previous posts. Pics, too, as there are SOOOOOOO many good ones from our time in Thailand.

In the meantime, we already miss our comfy Bangkok oasis at Ma Tuk's. Upon arriving in Penang, we stopped at the guesthouse that had been arranged for us by a local couchsurfer. (We'd originally planned to surf with him, but I guess he doesn't have space this week.) The place, shall we say, was a little rough around the edges. Particularly after our week in the lap of luxury! So we picked another place around the corner. The Hotel Hong Ping is still sorta in the budget range at roughly $20 a night, but feels much safer and comfier. We're in the main hub of Georgetown, the primary city on Pulau Pinang (Penang Island) and there are tons of restaurants, pubs, and of course internet cafes! We'll probably do a bit of siteseeing this afternoon and will try to book a scuba daytrip to nearby Pulau Payar in the next day or two.

Bangkok, in a nutshell, was awesome. The legendary Thai hospitality was in full swing, as Zoe's family showed us an amazing time. We saw temples, gardens, wildlife... to say nothing of all the food. Traditional Thai meals, Japanese Sukiyaki, Vietnamese, fresh seafood, amazing fruits and satay and other snacks... Mark and I suspect they were trying to fatten us up like two Christmas geese! We joked that we won't need to eat anything the entire rest of the trip. And our "suite" by the pool was absolutely divine. Totally spoiled. We also got to meet up with Bruce & Anne, and check out some of the sites with them. It was wonderful to catch up with what they've been up to in Perth, and give them the lowdown on all the usual suspects at home.

Onward and upward! We'll be in Penang for a few days, then it's on to Kuala Lumpur for some more couchsurfing and a gourmet dinner. What was I saying about not eating anything the rest of this trip...?

Posted by sonia at 1:05 PM | Link | 0 comments