The Pearl of the Orient

“Penang is the kind of place that ruined me for an ordinary life.” ~ Anthony Bourdain

I was born in Penang. I think that alone makes up for everything else in life.

I may not have liked my Chinese name handpicked by my grandparents, but I was born in Penang. I may have flunked Mandarin in school and my driving test five times. But you know what, I was born in Penang. I cannot for the life of me bake a decent banana bread. (sad but true). But hey, I was born in Penang.

Some of my happiest memories growing up was of Penang, the island where both my parents are from. I spent my childhood visiting and staying over at my grandparents’ place in Penang every weekend till I left for university.

I’m telling you folks, if there is absolutely just one place in the world you must visit in your lifetime – it must be Penang. As you can see, this is going to be a completely biased review by Penang’s number one fan.

Georgetown, the historic capital of Penang is formally inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site which officially gave it the recognition as having “a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.”

Penang is the third biggest Chinese settlement outside China and Taiwan. This accounts for the presence of many prominent Chinese temples and ancient clan houses crammed along the narrow streets. And yet this island is a rich cultural blend of not only Chinese, but Malays and Indians. It is colourful. It is heady. It is unique.

To walk down the wren of narrow lanes and alleys of Georgetown is to be infused in the smoky waft of incense burning from giant joss sticks. It is to hear the flutter and feel the gust of a hundred pigeons taking flight outside a Hindu temple. It is to enter into the hushed cool silence ensconced within the marble archways of a mosque.

A former British settlement and part of the Crown Colony, Georgetown, the capital of the state of Penang reflects her past with street names like MacAlister Road, Bishop Street, Hargreaves Circus, Cantonment Court, Hutton Lane, Jesselton Crescent, Love Lane.

And by the way, did you know that Jimmy Choo was born in Penang? So was Nicol David – world’s number one squash player. How about Tan Twan Eng – author of The Gift of Rain and The Garden of Evening Mists which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012? I am sure you must have heard of Lilian Too – world renown feng-shui consultant. Kimberley Legget – Miss Universe Malaysia 2012? No?

No matter. Well, at least now you can say you know someone born in the Pearl of the Orient. Me! (the horrendously shameless name-dropper, I know!)

But if there is one thing you need to know about Penang is that it is the food haven of Asia. Ask Anthony Bourdain. But that’s another post.