Tag Archive: Malaysia



Kuala Lumpur was like a stopover and pit stop on the way to and out of Penang. But we made good visiting some sites in KL and checking out a couple of recommended restos by a local. And Penang may be warmer 🥵 but certainly more interesting! We had a leisurely holiday but managed to cover as much ground as we could.

Stopover in Kuala Lumpur

First Day in Penang

Street Art in Georgetown

The Heritage Mansions of Penang

Going (Eating) Peranakan

City Hall of Penang

How we managed despite the high temps and humidity? A good, leisurely breakfast at the hotel, out by 10am to hit the Museums/Mansions/Temples 🕌🕍🏫, lunch, back to the hotel🏩 by 2-3pm to rest 💤, out again by 5pm to hunt for street art 🖼 and check out the jetties ⛵️, dinner then back to hotel 🏨 . For an even better appreciation and comfortable travel though, go during cooler months. December and January should be good months to visit. And soon! Many street art installations are in serious need of repair and restoration. Enjoy! 👣👣👣

Passed by Batu Caves As We Exited KL

Passed by Kek Lok Si Temple On Way Out of Penang

Going Peranakan


We’ve had our taste of Peranakan in Singapore, Malacca, Indonesia, and even some parts of Thailand. Peranakan is derived from the word “anak” meaning child or descendant. And they are — from Chinese immigrants who settled in these parts of Southeast Asia. Today, we see the Peranakan heritage in architectural styles and cuisine. Descendants of Chinese immigrants fully assimilated in Malay traditions and subsequently exposed to European influences when the British ruled the land. The 2-storey colonial-era buildings stand side by side with Chinese tea houses and shops, amidst a more modern skyline dotted with Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu temples, Anglican and Catholic Churches, some 19th century mansions, forts and high-rise condominiums. A perfect blend of Oriental and Western tastes.

We’ve visited houses here and found the Peranakan style and architecture very apt for the Malaysian high temps and very humid weather. The courtyards provide natural lighting, breeze and the space to “cool down” in this state just above the Equator. Louvered shutters, stained glass and stencilled window panes, gargoyles, heavy wooden doors make you pause to imagine how they were in the olden days. The spice and flower gardens, if any, provide the aroma as wind blows in. It’s both comforting and nerve-soothing despite the high temps. A second floor foyer provides ventilation on humid days and once more, I like the concept of looking down through the cast iron railings to the courtyard to see who’s coming for dinner. 😜 But what I’d really love to see is how the courtyard transforms into a pool as it collects rainwater on rainy days. Must be really cool to experience that while tea is brewing and some Nyonya cookies and biscuits are warming. 👍

And speaking of Peranakan’s Tambun biscuits, we’ve tried some and loved the variety available. some sweet, some savoury. So with their cuisine — a harmony of Chinese and Malay culinary traditions. Some sour, others salty, or spicy or really sweet. Baba Nyonya cuisine as it is fondly called draw direct references to Baba (an honorific title applied to males) and Nyonya (as applied to females). In those days, the Nyonyas spent a lot of time at home, mostly doing embroidery or in the kitchen where they obviously whipped up “magic” integrating Malay and Chinese cooking. These Nyonya dishes acquired an altogether different cuisine quite distinct from that of plain Chinese or simple Malaysian. From Laksa to Nasi Lemak to Itik Tim to Nyonya Fish Head Curry to Kari Kapitan to Babi Pongteh, prepare those taste buds for an explosion of flavors.

Fish Head Curry

Babi Pongteh cooked in Gula Melaka (Palm Sugar)

Soft -Shell Crab Fried in Salted Egg

Many directed us to the hawker markets near the jetties, or in Gurney Drive or the more central market near Sunway Hotel for our coveted seafood dishes. There were also suggestions to stay around Love Lane but when we checked, there were mostly bars and a vibrant nightlife rather than the serious eating we were planning on. 😜 In the hawker markets, we found many choices but were discouraged by the crowd, chaos and the heat! And so we went in search of more quiet roadside eateries and found one. Not exactly that quiet as it opens up to the hawker market but the young chef-proprietor by the name of Vincent welcomed us in and promised to cook anything we fancy. His wife was there to assist but Vincent ruled the kitchen. And how we enjoyed our dinner! Vincent even allowed me to buy my new fav Chendol and some flaky tambun biscuits to bring in to eat. The following night in Penang, we got even luckier. We decided to hunt for street art by sundown as it was cooler and chanced upon The Nyonya Legend House. We were the last customers allowed in and we had a wonderful, authentic Nyonya dinner. A dinner that we couldn’t even finish as the servings were very generous!

Vincent’s Dinner

Tambun or “Dragonball” biscuits

The Nyonya Legend House In Lebuh Chulia

All told, we have fond memories of Penang. We like what we found, enjoyed what we saw, and savoured what we ate. The heat is a damper but over time, one gets used to it. In my case, Chendol and Ais Kacang were my friends. I had them every time I sensed a full migraine coming. It doesn’t choose a time of day, and I swear I can eat these flavoured ice shavings with fruits and other stuff anytime and anywhere. My only regret is I failed to try as many Nyonyan desserts as my stomach could hold! As for my travel companions, they were over the moon with their durian finds!


Who goes to Penang and fails to visit the Blue Mansion owned by Cheong Fatt Tze and the Green Peranakan Mansion? We enjoyed our guided tours of these two mansions in Georgetown and appreciated how the Penang elite used to live in those days. The official name is Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, after the man who rose from rags to riches in this corner of the world. Tagged by NY Times as the “Rockefeller of the East”, Cheong was born to a poor family from Guangdong, China but his industry and business savvy earned him prominence, wealth and errrrr….8 wives. The house’s architecture is an impressive fusion of Oriental and European architecture, an impressive display of British and Chinese artisanship. Truly, a masterpiece deserving of the “Most Excellent Project” awarded by the UNESCO Heritage Conservation Awards in 2000. The owners of this late 19th century house certainly did not scrimp building it. Peranakan tiles alone are some of the best and loveliest, and it was crazy walking over these original tiles in the Mansion. No wonder the hit movie “Crazy Rich Asians” used this Mansion in that poignant mahjong scene. And crazy rich may well describe how this heritage house was built. And subsequently restored.

Regarded as one of 10 greatest mansions of the world, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion has 38 rooms, 7 staircases, 5 courtyards and 220 beautiful windows. The lucky number 8 pervaded around this eclectic masterpiece — in the number of pillars, number of steps in a staircase, etc. As one very prominent migrant known for his philanthropy and business acumen, his charms and fortune extended to his many wives and children. The Mansion claimed “Feng Shui” perfection but such good aura and chi must have worked only while the old man was around. His trading empire expanded around Southeast Asia but he made Penang his base, and this house essentially his favorite 7th wife’s. Tan Tay Poh was 20 when a 70 year old Cheong took her as his 7th. Imagine that gap – 50 years! She bore him one son but she died early at age 42, leaving the house to a son who allegedly squandered away his inheritance. The Mansion suffered disrepair and was in fact heavily dilapidated, with as many as 34 illegal squatter families living in it. Then a group of conservators bought the Blue Mansion to make sure this heritage house is lovingly restored and preserved. Hallelujah!

Mercifully, the restoration followed best-practice standards for the benefit of both locals and tourists who can now be reminded of the flamboyant lifestyles of Penang’s old rich. The indigo blue facade and walls invite attention and it is truly very fortunate that the conservators who purchased this Mansion from the descendants of Cheong Fatt Tze in 1989 turned it into the heritage home and boutique hotel it is now. Its fine dining resto called “Indigo” holds promise judging by its opulent decor and elegant style. We noticed too that its serving staff seem to know every diner like they’re regulars. Looks very exclusive, if you ask me. I’d love to dine there, but not keen about booking a room in the 18-room boutique hotel even for a single night. I bet it’s haunted.

📸 Weng S

On the other hand, the Peranakan Mansion is another Penang gem. Likewise owned by another Chinese tycoon by the name of Chung Keng Quee, this green Mansion showcases Penang’s Peranakan heritage. Penarakan is a culture unique to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Chinese migrants who settled in Southeast Asia and married locals gave birth to this new culture and heritage fondly called Baba Nyonya. Expressed in its architecture, cuisine and traditions, these Baba Nyonyas assumed an altogether unique culture. And you bet this green-hued residence and museum was also quite a popular and favorite movie set for international movies and TV shows like “The Little Nyonya” and “The Amazing Race”.

On display are paraphernalia and memorabilia of the Straits Chinese. Apparently, the Chinese penchant for anything gold, beady and ornate is adequately expressed in the costumes, ornamental decor, even Nyonya slippers to be found here. The hand-crafted jewelries and hand-embroidered wardrobe and footwear must have given rise to local businesses which flourished then. I am particularly impressed with one item where feathers from a kingfisher bird were actually used to adorn an outfit.

Not turquoise beads, but kingfisher feathers!

A trip to Penang should include visits to these 2 mansions. It’s very educational and both these Mansions tell an awesome story! The guide in the Blue Mansion did an impressive job. So did the guide (Ricky) in the Peranakan Museum except that he had a very heavy accent and we had to strain to listen to him. Just the same, we left learning so much more about the Baba Nyonya culture. Chinese migrants, Peranakan Chinese, Straits-Born Chinese. They’re called all these. Peranakan is a Malay word that translates to “local born” . It is not a separate race, but rather a sub-culture within the Chinese community. Peranakan cuisine blends Chinese cooking with Malay traditions. Think LAKSA. 😊


We seriously went in search of more street art. But the heat and humidity compelled us to do the hunt at night when the temps were more bearable. Changed into a loose-fitting housedress too for comfort and switched to more comfy, airier sandals for the hunt. After all, we needed to scour the streets of Lebuh Acheh, Armenian, Cannon, Ah Quee etc to find all these Zacharevich art and other murals by local artists. The first set of our finds is in my earlier post but these new street art finds demanded a separate blog. Much too fascinating to be dismissed.

Reaching Up. Cannon Street.

That Zacharevich painting of a boy in yellow shirt on a chair reaching up came with an actual wooden chair. Just like that of the “Old Motorcycle” and the “Kids on Bicycle”. Same with the “Brother and Sister On A Swing”. As in there was really another swing. I’m not sure what this contemporary art style is called, but I bet the Millenial Kids would love this art installations where the urban landscape and recycled objects are fused into an art form. Well, the senior adults enjoyed it too. Kind of frustrating though that the map to search for this urban street art isn’t exactly accurate, but we managed and just missed very few. We also found more — to include those not listed in the city map we had. Seems like many local artists were inspired to showcase their talents as well. Zacharevich or Zach as he is fondly called, may have led the way but he has obviously inspired many local artists. Very artsy! Zach may have been born in Lithuania but the Malays consider him as one of them, and even call him the “Malay Banksy”, whatever that means.

Boy On A Bike. Ah Quee Street.

There were a couple we failed to see while walking the streets but easily found while cruising the same streets on a cab. Where we failed was to look upwards for murals adorning walls that will likely fade over time. Many need a serious retouch. Of course we can only sigh in despair as we cruised past them, unable to take a decent shot. And the ones along some unlighted alleys required some persistence not to give up the search. Luckily, we were a group of 8 friends and enjoyed the search like we were on a treasure hunt. Not too many tourists we met that night, as most of them were already having cold beers inside bars.

Some of those not included in the list were quite outstanding. The city should revise that list to include them. There was no attribution so we don’t know who the local artists were. A pity. I like the concept behind that wall with cigarette stubs and a man with oxygen mask. We also liked the grandma vendor handing a bowl to a boy. Susu Soya? And of course, I couldn’t resist another shot with the “Kids on Bicycle”. Yes, this time in my house dress!

Little Children on a Bicycle, Armenian Street.

The mural “Children Playing Basketball” was in a dimly-lit alley that we nearly missed. It’s in terribly bad condition. I like the energy of this mural but the local government should do something to preserve many such murals that are nearly faded on walls that seem pockmarked.

Our map guide listed a few which locals claim have long been gone. Not sure why, but I suspect the wall on which it was painted may have been torn down or the paint may have completely faded. After all, it’s exposed to the elements and near the sea.

Some paintings obviously were done to promote a nearby shop or restaurant– but that doesn’t take away the thrill of finding them. You just have to give it to these local artists who found an expression of their art that now entertain and amuse visitors like us.

Little Boy With Pet Dinosaur. (Too faded) Ah Quee Street

Be it a wall, a gate, a door. All art. Street graffiti if you like. All for our amusement. By the time we were done, it was past 9pm. No wonder most other tourists were already inside the shops and bars. Way past our dinner time and only this Peranakan Restaurant reminded us we should nourish ourselves.

Before heading back to our hotel, we were convinced many more artists will find ways to express themselves around town. While Georgetown prides itself as a UNESCO Heritage Site, this contemporary art expression seems to complement the more traditional architecture and environ of this historical district.

Of them all, our favourite is this. A child in blue pajamas that we missed but won’t give up on. Found it the next morning, after instructing our cab driver to bring us there. Now, we can say we’re all done! 😊

Little Girl in Blue. Muntri Street.


Loving it here in Penang. Unofficially the country’s food capital, it has also acquired quite a reputation for its street art. It hasn’t been long since Penang’s streetscape was given a boost with the creation in 2012 of a street art project. A Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, started with murals in this heritage site that depicted playfulness, energy and some elements of local culture. Walking around the old town searching for these murals was an exciting activity. It wasn’t so easy though as some have faded and in such deteriorated condition. Many were clustered around the Armenian Street, to include those done by artists other than Zacharevic.

It was fun, and before we knew it, we have worked up quite an appetite for dinner. We missed many though as the sun has set and there were many cars parked along the streets where the murals were. Some even blocked the street art. Worse, some are barely recognisable and in dire need of a “retouch”. I am not sure how long these artworks will be around. Just the same, it’s a huge draw for Penang tourists especially the 3D and interactive street art. The historic district of Georgetown is teeming with this art scene.

The tourists in this heritage site don’t seem to mind the heat and humidity. Some have rented bikes while others like us simply sweated it out searching on foot. Either way, the murals invite the viewers to come nearer and take photos. We took the Lebuh Armenian route, passing Cannon and Acheh Streets from our hotel. We should have gone farther down past Chew Jetty to view more like the “Children Playing Basketball” and “Brother and Sister On A Swing”. But it’s almost dinner time and the Jetty Food Court beckoned. And so, part 2 of this street art search will have to wait.

Lastly, I wondered about those many kitten/cat paintings. They are cute too. Why cats? There is a political undertone here . The Penang state government reportedly runs its affairs on a CAT approach. CAT stands for competence, accountability and transparency. A good approach, I must say. But I won’t amplify on its political meanings and interpretations on this post. We’d just keep walking and check out more street art. 😊

There is a map one can download from the Net but it is easy to miss these artworks. We did. So we’re going back to check those we missed. Watch for updates on this blog.

Update here:

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2019/03/07/in-search-of-more-graffiti-georgetown-penang/


Sweating it out here in KL after an early 7:30am flight from Manila. It’s been a long Monday, a quick city tour in the afternoon and a good Malaysian welcome dinner. We saw what we planned to visit, mostly around the Independence Square. And thank God we hired a van to drive us around the square. The Mosque, the Museum, the government offices are all around the Merdeka Square but walking in this hot, humid weather does not make walking around a pleasant activity. Besides, we’re only spending a day and a night here in KL. Tomorrow, we’re moving to Penang after a quick visit to Batu Caves.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building

It’s been years since I was here but I still remember how humid it was getting around. I skipped the Chinatown tour while my friends had their durian fix. But they bought jackfruit slices for me. Yum. After mandatory visits to the attractions around Merdeka Square and the Menara KL Tower, all I could think of is a long shower and a good dinner.

Jamek Mosque

And Madam Kwan’s didn’t disappoint. Nasi Lemak, Nasi Bojari, Nasi Goreng, Mixed Satay, chao kuey teow (noodle dish)and a fish head curry dish. It was also convenient that it’s housed in a Mall just right beside Petronas Towers. We initially planned on a nightcap at the Banyan Tree for a sip and a good view of the Towers at night, but it’s been a long day and that dinner at Madam Kwan’s made us all lazy and feeling lethargic.

And so, Monday ended with that dinner to prep for the next morning’s visit to Batu Caves and finally to spend more time in Penang. Funny, but by the time we reached Penang we all felt like we’ve been here a week. Perhaps it’s the long hours together doing all the touristy stuff as well as the endless chatter that made us feel like we’ve been together far longer. Not that we’re complaining. We shared many jokes and laughed and ate heartily. Well, we’re on holiday! Watch for updates in the coming days.

Melaka Stopover


 

Malacca.   It is old Malaysia.   Not the ultra-modern Kuala Lumpur, the capital.   But Malacca or Melaka,  with vestiges of its Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese and British influences.  The place is so ethnically diverse — the stuff that makes it legendary.

 

 

And speaking of legends,  Hang Tuah is one legendary warrior/hero who lived during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah of the Sultanate of Malacca in the 15th century. Touted as the greatest of all the warriors or “laksamana” , Hang Tuah was known to be a ferocious fighter. Judging by the many shops, streets, restaurants and buildings named after him, Hang Tuah is obviously held in the highest regard  in present-day Malaysian Malay culture.  Since I found him to be  the most well-known and illustrious warrior figure in Malaysian history and literature, I thought I should start my history lessons for my own little cruising warriors on Melaka’s famous hero.  But I am getting ahead of my story.

 

Off the Cruise Ship, On to Melaka


We took a tender from the big boat to reach the Melaka Jetty Port.  Credits go to the crew of Royal Carribean’s Legend of the Seas for a seamless disembarkation and distribution of tender tickets.   Our family chose not to join any of the offshore excursions and to simply do the sightseeing on our own.  After all , we had plenty of time.  The ship docked at 7am, by which time we were nicely seated at the Windjammer’s Cafe for our buffet breakfast.  The ship departs by 6pm , so there’s plenty of time. By 8:30 am, we were riding the tender to shore.   All of 10 minutes or so, and we reached the no-frills jetty port.  By that, I seriously mean “no frills”.  One simply gets off the tender, helped along by strong muscled Malaysian jetty hands, onto a wooden boardwalk, and out in the streets.

 

It was refreshing that there were unbelievably no touts around the jetty port to harass us.  Sure, there were rickshaw or tricycle and taxi drivers offering to take us to the city center or to give us a tour of the city, but they were not pushy at all.   Without a single ringgit in our pockets, we negotiated with two taxi drivers to take us with our Singapore dollars.  We knew the rates they quoted were padded,  but we caved in.  Very easily, I must say.   There was a 9am Sunday mass at the St. Francis Xavier Church that we didn’t want to miss, even if the service was in Tamil.   And there was only 10 minutes to spare.  But it was a very short ride to the Church and we made it with a minute to go.

Stadthuys, ChristChurch, Bukit St. Paul, Porta de Santiago


After the service,  we walked along Jalan Kota , alongside the river, towards the red-bricked Stadthuys (in Dutch, this means Town Hall) and ChristChurch. It was tempting to linger and shop among the many stalls.   But no ringgit, remember?   So we walked towards Bukit St. Paul and climbed up the steps towards St. Paul ruins.   My buffet-fed family took the stairways  painstakingly slow,  and I didn’t know whether to worry or to laugh.

 

A little bit of history here.  The ruins of St. Paul’s Church was built by a Portuguese sea captain in 1521. This is meaningful to many of us Filipinos. I mean the year 1521.   It was in 1521 that the Portuguese Magellan, working for the Spanish monarchy,  discovered the Philippines.  This means that at the time our islands were discovered,  this Church was already standing on top of this hill overlooking the Straits of Malacca! The ruins included tombstones and some nice brickwork.   It is not huge,  but it was good to be reminded too that this was the last church St. Francis Xavier ministered before his death.

 

Atop this hill,  we had a view not only of the Malacca Strait but also of our cruise ship!  At the foot of the hill is Porta de Santiago, or what’s left of it,  which served as the gateway.  One can only imagine this fortress with a clear view atop the hill of any invading enemy ships. The Portuguese colonized Melaka by dividing and conquering Melaka’s sultan rulers.   And so the saying “Divide and Rule” truly rings true, ei?  A Mosque once stood here, was torn down, and replaced with a fort called “A Famosa”. The sole surviving relic of this fort is the Porta de Santiago. A silent reminder of what it was once.

 

 

The Sultanate Palace and the Story of Hang Tuah

Right on the left of the Porta de Santiago is the Sultanate Palace.  This houses a massive wooden replica of a sultan’s palace.   As it was high noon,  it was refreshing to get into this Palace Museum .  The airconditioning re-energized our sweaty bodies.

 

And this is where I bring you back to the legend of Hang Tuah. Hang Tuah is famous for quoting the words “Takkan Melayu Hilang di Dunia” which literally means “Malays will never vanish from the face of the earth” or “Never shall the Malay race vanish from the face of the earth”. The quote is a famous rallying cry for Malay nationalism.

 

 

Hang Tuah, you may say, is the Sultan’s favorite.  He acted as general, advisor, ambassador. As such, he stirred jealousy within the ranks.  One story tells of how a rumor was spread of Hang Tuah’s illicit love affair with one of the sultan’s stewardesses. The Sultan thus sentenced Hang Tuah to death without trial.  Another romantic tale tells of how this injustice prompted Hang Tuah’s childhood friend Hang Jebat to avenge his best friend’s unjust punishment and death. How? By wreaking havoc on the royal court and inciting rebellion.

 

There are many versions of this legend.  One version tells that Hang Tuah lived to a ripe old age because his executioner did not carry out his sentence. This version goes further to say that Hang Tuah was “recalled” to stop and kill his friend Hang Jebat when the latter rebelled against the Sultanate to avenge his friend’s “death”.   To this day, it is said that the many versions of the legend is a constant subject of discussion among scholars and students.  Loyalty and Justice.   You bet there are varying opinions on this legend.

 

As for Martin’s version? Hang Tuah is that soldier who was killed because of a gossip.   So what do you think, guys?  That was an epic fail in story-telling, huh?  Or maybe adults embellish stories so much so that many versions come off the same story.  Ten-year olds like Martin have no patience for long-winding stories.  The poor guy was gossiped about, and was killed. End of discussion.

More photos can be viewed in my TravelBlog site. Just click  here.