Sunday, 6 December 2009

Georgetown - Penang Island

This town on the North West coast of peninsular Malaysia was established by the venerable British East India Company as it sought to establish a presence in the straits of Mallacca. This was largely to wind the Dutch up who had been busy running the port of Mallacca just down the coast since they pinched it from the Portugese a few hundred years previously....
It's a little bit like Hong Kong ( in that it's an oriential island port established by the Brits etc ), but lacks the trading clout of it's Chinese sibling. There are quite a few big business tower blocks, but there is also a liberal smattering of colonial edifices. It's not a bad place, but we're struggled a bit with the heat and humidity to be honest, so a couple of days was enough for us. Must admit that the ready availability of India food was a big help though.
Athena talked me into some sundown beers in the very posh bar of the Eastern and Oriental Hotel one evening. It was all very posh, with fellas in '50s shorts and pith helmets opening the doors, and waiters dressed in tuxes serving the booze. Nice, but I could dine for a week on the price of half a shandy here. Nice nuts though (bar snacks, not the waiters).
To escape the heat a bit, we took a funicular railway up to the top of the island's highest point, Penang Hill. The peak is eight hundred metres above sea level so it knocked a good five degress of the air temperature and the humidity didn't seem as fierce. The views were good, but a bit hazy. The best overview I can give is this bit of video taken as we approach the docks when arriving on the ferry.

Final thing to report is a funny conversation we had with a old fella who worked occasionally in the guesthouse we were staying in. It turns out that about fifteen years ago he retired from the police service where he'd risen to the rank of Assistant Chief Constable of Penang. He'd actually joined the police back in 1955 when Britain still ruled the Malaysian roost. He told us that the pay wasn't very good, but that he'd soon realised that there was a fortune to be made from back handers etc. He was posted down to the south of Malaysia to Johor, so he would send most of the dodgy money back home to his Granny for safe keeping and also to help with the upkeep of the house and to look after his two younger sisters ( both his parents had died ). He did this for quite a while, so was very surprised to see little evidence of the money when he eventually returned to Georgetown on leave. A nephew explained that Granny was spending a lot of time a few doors down the road at an illegal gambling den. A few quiet words established that Granny had blown the lot gambling on dice. He reckoned she'd lost around 100,000 Ringits at a time when 6000 Ringits would buy a small apartment ! He obviously had a few words with Granny and his gambling neighbours, but when the money was still being lost he eventually obtained an arrest warrant, and picked up everyone in the gambling den, including Granny, and dumped them in the cells for the night. Apparantly, even after this Granny still couldn't be trusted with the cash, so he simply didn't send any home anymore. Slightly ironic, that all the cash he was raising through underworld corruption in Johor, was being return, via Granny, to the underworld in Georgetown. Nice old fella. Bad teeth though. Or should I say tooth.