Saturday, June 23, 2012

How We Occupied Our Time in Georgetown Besides Eating

Even though we spent a fair bit of time in Georgetown on our backpacking in southeast Asia trip, there were a few sights and activities we missed.  Someone once told us never to do everything in a place you visit, because then you have no reason to return.  This time around, we saw and did some of the things we skipped last time.  

Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy
Kek Lok Si Temple was one of them. It is supposed to be the largest Chinese temple in Malaysia, with a huge bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. The statue is set in an intricately carved stone pavilion and is beautiful. We wandered around the temple grounds, admiring the temple buildings themselves, with their vivid paint jobs, but it all seemed more commercial than either of us expected. At every turn was another gift shop selling typical Buddhist amulets next to Chinese zodiac charms and “Anger Birds” flipflops (no copyright infringement here). On the way to the temple, we rode past it and up the winding road to the dam at Air Hitam (a beautiful reservoir). We got off the bikes and started across the parking lot to have a look at the water and were met by a local woman who told us about the area and that it is possible to ride around the reservoir and all the way across the island. Which we did another day.  

Malaysian blue coral snake
The ride around the reservoir and to the other side of Penang started with a left turn at a locked gate across the main road.  We started up the hill, following a sign in Chinese with a red arrow pointing toward something that way (unable to read Chinese, we had no idea if it indicated an event, a temple, a firing range, a home for wayward kittens, or perhaps, a frog sanctuary), indicating that it went somewhere.  We followed the road, up and up, and farther up a steep, narrow road covered in wet leaves, until we reached a fork.  With no more signs in Chinese or any other language, we shrugged at each other and chose the path to the right.  It led through jungle-y vegetation and what looked like a plantation of waxy, pink proteas (think Little Shop of Horrors) and then to...a dead end guarded by a pack of Bumpus hounds. 

Green tree viper
So we returned from whence we came, stopping to inspect a dead snake - it was another red-headed krait (or more specifically, a Malaysian blue coral snake, which is a subspecies) which appeared untouched but unmoving.  Continuing on, we stopped again, at the entrance to the road around the reservoir, to see what other people were staring intently at.  Apparently, it was a snaky kind of day, because the object of their attention (and now ours) was a small green tree viper (another venomous variety).  

Another day, we decided to go for a walk up Penang Hill.  Many people do it for fun, exercise, or the challenge of it.  Penang Hill is the island's "hill station," being the highest point and several degrees cooler than the surrounding area.  In the British heyday, it was where people went to escape the heat, being carried in sedan chairs the 2300 feet to the top.  Nowadays, there is a funicular train to carry visitors up and down the hill (less colonial, but easier on the locals' backs).  We took the bus to the Botanical Gardens, where we located the trail at the Moon Gate leading up the hill.  The first part of the trail was all stairs.  The second part, which was much easier to manage, was a trail that wound through the jungle and eventually exited onto a road that continued the rest of the way to the top.  

Unsure where the jungle trail went (it just seemed to end at the road, although we'd heard it was supposed to go all the way to the top), we took the paved road.  Almost immediately, we realized we should have looked harder for the trail.  The road snaked back and forth up the hill, with each straight section no longer than about 100 feet.  That doesn't sound bad at all, right?  Well, if not for the 30% to 40% incline (literally.  that's really what the road signs said.  it wasn't just our imagination) it would have been just lovely.  Instead, we'd trudge from one curve to the next, stop and sit on the guardrail, gasping for breath, and I'd say, okay... I can... make it... to the next... curve.  Fun.  When we finally got to the top, we were drenched to the skin.  We staggered into the cafe at the top, ordered some food, and collapsed on a bench.  Once we'd eaten and our legs stopped wobbling, we took the funicular train back to the bottom.  

We spent a fair bit of time at the beach at Batu Ferringhi, camped out under the trees, reading a book.  The sand is rather coarse, the water is somewhat cloudy, but it's clean, quiet, and makes a good place to spend a couple of hours.  We also went bowling.  On the waterfront in Georgetown is a bowling alley.  It's air-conditioned, cheap, and fun.  Neither of us is going to win any tournaments. We saw movies.  In any given week, there are at least three American movies in the theaters.  Most of them are blockbuster adventure type shows, but they are, again, cheap.  We almost never go to see movies in the States because of the expenditure, but when a ticket costs no more than 3 USD, why not?  We saw: The Avengers (twice), Battleship, The Cabin in the Woods, Dark Shadows, Men in Black III, Safe, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Prometheus.


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