Saturday, November 12, 2011
Brief weekend in Penang.
Nothing's more invigorating than visiting a place which has not been visited a long while. For Penang, a long while could mean just a year or two. My last visit was when the airport was being renovated and we have to wait outside the building amidst road repairs and construction work to get in or get out of the airport. The crowd was chaotic.
While expansion work still continues, much of the renovation is now complete. With the lower and upper level division of the traffic flow into and out of the airport, congestion has been reduced considerably. And there are now several alternative routes that could be taken to and from the airport. So said Mr Babjan who picked my wife and me from the airport and also sent us home today. A most charming private transport owner and operator.
We stayed at a posh new hotel in Queensbay, close to the Queensbay Mall. From the hotel we could see the new bridge being built striding the channel past Pulau Jerejak. I don't know how close it is to that island but since it used to be the grand residential place for ISA visitors, I sure wish to pass by it one day when the bridge is completed. Or maybe even visit the legendary island which has lost its scary reputation after the ISA is abolished.
I had also observed the island from the top of Bukit Bendera. That was our rendezvous the next day - I mean Bukit Bendera not Pulau Jerejak about which I have read quite a lot from ex-ISA detainees who became famous writers. No, they didn't write about the island but their experience as a political detainee on it. The top of Bukit Bendera is more accessible now with the introduction of the buggy ride costing RM30 for a ride with four or six passengers, ( No reduction there but you get a bigger buggy!) . I had a chance to see many of the palatial bungalows hidden in the rich forest foliage atop the hill, owned by rich and famous Malaysians.
A dilapidated canopy-walk facility down to the seashore remained unrepaired after the main trees connecting the rope-bridge was struck by lightening some years ago. It looks like a very precious visitors' item but neglected by the authorities concerned,since the bungalows were not opened to the public.
The funicular railway taking people up Bukit Bendera has of course been modernized and can take up to a hundred passengers on one trip up or down. available every 10 minutes. No queuing is enforced and during peak hours the holding area can be pretty jammed up. I do think that queuing could bring more order and comfort while limiting the number of passengers can allow for a better viewing of the hill vegetation, the scattered farm houses and of course the top or the bottom of the hill. I did not, however, see any major changes in the scenery due to the development of new items of attraction, although some years had passed since my last visit. Nor had the refreshment center or the toilet facilities improved much,
We were in Penang to see the Penang Beat Prelude, a international show of drums sand percussion music performed by artists from Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. It was a most captivating show although starting it off with a price giving-away ceremony by the Head of State for various art competitions, stole away some of the excitement. The performances themselves were awesome and we did not leave the show, half of the time standing up at the back, until 11.30 pm. Although terribly exhausted that night after the show, Miss JY, the young and vibrant State Director of Tourism, found time to have a late nightcap with us at the hotel lounge,together with her most spirited magazine-editor friend, Miss TSA.
We flew back to KL this afternoon with a memory of Penang that is clean, a haven for exotic food, and vigorously growing with new industrial and commercial centers taking shape everywhere over land reclaimed from the sea. What did we bring back beside a delectable memory? Piclked fruits, of course, including jeruk buah pala.. We. of course. did not miss Nasi Kandar Kayu and Cendul, before leaving the island.