So Long Penang
“Goodbye is not forever, is not the end; it just means I’ll miss you until we meet again.”
This Place is Really Special
We all fell in love with Penang, and it's with a heavy heart we say goodbye. After two months, this place really started growing on us. I don't know if it's our new 117kg Life (combined luggage weight limit) that has us missing the routines of a more permanent situation, or maybe it's leaving the routines and friends we've made here (we made such good friends with our neighbors!), two months doesn't seem like a long time to make connections, but we seem to have a knack for it. Really, I think when you boil it all down, it's this place that we are going to miss. We're all ready scheming on a possible return after Europe.
Penang has a quiet, unassuming beauty and vibe that isn't manufactured to meet the expectations of tourists. With exception to George Town (which is still VERY awesome), the rest of Penang is just another place where people work, go to school, and live their lives. The friendliness is not contrived, and our ideas of what to expect played no part in how people interacted with us. The people we met here were genuinely kind, helpful people with no ulterior motive behind their kindness - they were just nice to be nice.
In a lot of superficial resects, this place is a lot like America, only with more Asians, and less morbid obesity. There is no language barrier because everyone here has varying degrees of English proficiency. In fact, almost everyone we met knew 2 to 3 languages. We had a Grab driver that was fluent in 5 languages! So, not like America in the "mastery of foreign languages" respect, but no language barrier for those of us who barely have a handle on our own native tongue. The roads were good, stores and services were fantastic, and the general standard of living here exceeds what most of us common folk are used to in the US.
We were able to track down most of the old comforts of home in Penang, with one glaring exception - beer. There is zero "beer culture" here. No breweries, no selection of beers in the supermarkets, and the one good Australian IPA I found was $7 and change a bottle. All alcohol is heavily taxed in Malaysia, and expensive. I'm looking forward to the budding beer culture in Vietnam, and working on getting my beer belly back.
So. Much. Nature.
The mountain jungle trails here on the north side of the island were spectacular, they were well kept, and there were miles and miles of them. April was in heaven, and me and Josie were in tow. Truthfully, we're going to be shopping for better hiking gear - we all really enjoy it, and Josie is an absolute trooper. For a 12 year old to hike 2 hours up muddy jungle trails, in the pouring rain - and not mutter a single complaint (just oohs and ahhs at what we discover) - is pretty freakin' astonishing. She's a determined, stubborn ass-kicker, like her mom.
We saw so many creatures! From giant monitor lizards to tiny insects - and everything in between. We even saw the Giant Black Squirrel (the world's largest breed), a venomous green pit viper, mud skippers (fish that walked on land and "skipped" across the water), and SO MANY MONKEYS - some nice, some not so nice. Overall, we really got an eye-full. I am going to work on my video and photography skills and preparedness because there were many missed photo opportunities. Here are some of the wildlife we managed to get pictures of, along with our endless pursuit of the next big trail...
The city of George Town is the reason most people travel to Penang, and for good reason. The historic town has such an exciting feeling to it. Like there was something big happening, and no one really cares or makes a big deal about it. We decided the only loose comparison we could make was to New Orleans. Great food, hip bars and cafes, epic interactive street art, all set around this historic colonial British neighborhood of row houses, converted warehouses, and turn-of-the-century buildings - all of which were in varying degrees of disrepair. It was dirty, but the right kind of dirty. And to continue with the overall Penang theme, everyone we met in George Town was super friendly, and pretty laid back.
Like many cities, the various neighborhoods in George Town were roughly divided among the many ethnic groups that live there. Little India, China Town, etc. These neighborhoods were aptly named - and the symbols, foods, and the languages of each culture could be experienced there. But like the rest of Malaysia, ethnic boundaries can really only be found in their prospective neighborhoods, and for the most part seem pretty irrelevant. This country is more of a blender than a melting pot.
Religion plays a big role in the lives of most Malaysians, from what we could gather. And with the exception to the various religious group's off cue publicly broadcast prayers, Malaysia seems to have this religious harmony thing down pretty good. In fact, in George Town there is a street named "Harmony Street" where in a couple block stretch you can find a Hindu temple, two Buddhist temples, and a Muslim mosque all just doing their own thing. This is our two month perspective, and there are definite tensions and issues (that we've seen in the news), but from our take, they have it figured out pretty damn good. In 2019, Malaysia moved up the Global Peace Index to capture the number 16th most peaceful country on the planet, and I'm sure religious tolerance plays an important role in that distinction.
We stayed in a neighborhood called Tanjung Tokong, which is north of George Town. We had to catch a Grab (Uber) into George Town from where we were, but since we were staying for a longer time, we figured it would be good to be outside of the more touristy area. It worked out well. In hindsight, we might have been better off being further north to be closer to the beaches and the hiking trails, but really it was just fine.
An Apocalyptic Eye-Opener
Two weeks of our stay in Penang was spent couped up in our flat. The Indonesian forest fires had made the air hazardous to breathe. The haze was so bad at some points that people walked around in masks, the airports and schools shut down, and people were discouraged from leaving their homes. With Josie's past bouts of asthma, we were pretty worried, but she did fine.
The fires, along with all the other environmental catastrophes happening around the world, got us reevaluating our priorities. Part of this journey for us has been to find an alternative to the (mighty fine, but all-consuming) life we left behind in America. More time, less things. We're not sure what that life will eventually look like, but moving forward, we would like to make being environmental do-gooders something that fills our days. I keep trying to talk April into us getting a grant for a massive land trust that we can reforest, live off grid, brew our own beer, etc. but she may need some more convincing. For the time being, we're just going to do what we can. Pick up trash, be smart about consumption, and maybe plant a tree or two. We'll see where it leads.
More to come!
We've landed in Nha Trang, Vietnam and it looks really cool! Once we get our bearings, we'll send you an update! Thanks for checking in on us, we hope you are doing awesome, and we miss you!