Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Farewell to Penang

We are moving back to Texas. As I write this, the movers are here packing up my belongings for the sloooow boat ride back to America. On Friday, I'll lock the door behind me, get on a plane, and say goodbye to the place that I've called home for the last three years. My husband will return on business trips, but I have no idea when, if ever, the kids and I will come back to Penang. It's a long way, and the company will no longer be paying for the airfare.

Seeing how much the island has changed in just the short while that we've been here, I know that it will be a different place in the future. A little more polished. A few more highrises. A few more malls. I'll never come back to Penang as it is at this exact moment in time. My local friends may still be here. My expat friends will have most likely moved on.

Living in Malaysia and all the travel that we've done has been such a learning experience and broadened my mind. I feel like there's been an explosive growth of brain synapses that hasn't occurred since I was a young child exploring the world anew.

I originally created this blog as a way to update "in real life" friends and family about our time as expats. About our fish-out-of-water experiences. It turned into something more public and enabled me to meet people in the virtual world. Astonishingly, it's lead to being able to legitimately call myself a professional writer. Because of this blog, freelance opportunities have fallen into my lap.

But the real audience that I write for is something more narcissistic. I'm writing this blog to me. The me from four years ago. The me that I was as I prepared to move. The me that was so worried and depressed about the great unknown that was Malaysia. Mothering in Malaysia? Daily life in Malaysia? Could I do it? Was I strong enough? Would I end up resenting my husband and the job that took us here? The job that brought a sparkle to his eyes.

I'm writing this blog to the old me and to anyone else who frets about moving to Malaysia. I want to send it back through a time portal to tell myself not to worry so much and that life here can be fantastic. Yes, it has its challenges, but the pros outweigh the cons.

It's a great launching pad for travel. Hop on a plane for a few hours, and you end up in a place with a very different culture and history. While I also enjoy traveling in the United States, there's a certain "Anywhere, USA" aspect wherever you go. The same Wal-Marts. The same Targets. Most of the time in America, I don't look out the window and marvel at the exotic lives of the regular people passing by. I enjoy visiting the landmarks, but I don't find myself wanting to simply soak up the culture.

I will miss the company paying for some of our airfare as is commonplace with many corporate expat packages. When someone offers you money that is earmarked solely for airfare, and it's a "use it or lose it" situation, you should definitely use it!

I will definitely miss Malaysia. It will always hold a cherished place in my heart. Here's a look back at some of the wonderful things I am going to find lacking when I move back to America.

Street Art — There is public art everywhere in George Town.

Monkeys — Once I am back in Texas, I can romanticize monkeys instead of finding them to be thieving ruffians as I currently do.

School Field Trips — We visit amazing places around town like the Reclining Buddha Temple with its golden stupa and jewel-like naga statues.

Trishaws — I have a love-hate relationship with trishaws. They are such an iconic part of George Town that I bought professional photos of them, but getting stuck driving behind one totally sucks.

Festivals - With a mix of Malay Muslim, Indian Hindu, and Chinese cultures, there's always seems to be an interesting festival going on. I will never forget Thaipusum and the accompanying body piercings, but I won't post a photo here in case if you are the queasy type. The water fights at the Thai and Burmese temples during Songkran are also a stand out. Night after night of fireworks for Chinese New Year were a literal eye opener as it is impossible to sleep early during this multi-week celebration. Here's a photo from Loy Krathong when I and hundreds of other people floated candle lit lotus blooms out on the water.

Heritage Bungalows — Many of these gorgeous, old mansions are a leftover from the period when Penang was a British colony. They seemed to have been mostly built by the rich British residents or wealthy Straits Chinese merchants. This one is on Gurney Drive surrounded by high-rise condominiums. The family hasn't lived here for ages but are so wealthy that they've refused all offers to buy.

Shophouses — If the heritage bungalows belong to the elite, the shophouses belong to the commoners. I enjoy wandering around George Town's UNESCO World Heritage area and looking at all the shophouses. Armenian Street is my favorite place to explore, although I think it's getting more touristy by the second.

Living by the water — Penang is an island, and I've been so fortunate that the company has put us up in a beach-side place with an amazing view of the water. I cannot believe that I get to wake up, look out the window, and see this.

Water activities — So much happens on the water, too. From our condo, I can see fishing boats and parasailers, jet skis and sailboats. My boys have tried open water kayaking. A cruise on a yacht or catamaran is a great way to see the island especially at sunset. Whenever I look at this picture, I will think back at the happy times spent with friends in Penang.

Hawker Food — One of the things Penang is most famous for is its food. You know that tip about living frugally by not eating out? It doesn't apply in Penang. You can get a delicious meal that's both filling and inexpensive at hawker stalls. Sometimes, it costs less than making it yourself. All this is just US$4.

Drive-up Fruit Stalls — Drive-thrus are difficult to find in Penang. There's not one for a bank as far as I can tell. Only a few of the McDonald's have drive-thrus. What you can find all over the place is drive-up fruit stalls. You don't have to get out of your car if you don't want to, and you can still head home with healthy eats.

What I will miss most about Penang is the slow pace of life. An abundance of free time is what enabled me to do so much exploring. I spent most of my last decade in Texas being a stay-at-home mom to young kids. Whoever thinks that life is easy is nuts. Every morning when I woke up, I felt like I was jumping on a treadmill and sprinting through the day, trying not to fall down but getting nowhere. There was always so much to get done. As a trailing spouse in Malaysia, that's not the case.

I wonder what life will be like when I move back to Texas. Some of my friends who have already repatriated tell me that their life in Penang just seems like a dream, like it couldn't possibly been real. I'm hoping to keep up this spirit of exploration I've developed and turn it towards reintroducing myself to a town that I previously called home for two decades. It's time to leave Malaysia, and whatever the future may hold, I'm ready to catch a new wave.

P.S. You haven't heard the last of me. This blog will keep going, but I'm going to have to think of a more apropos name now that I'm no longer meandering around Malaysia.

This post is part the following linkups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Penang Homecooking Class with Pearly Kee

Pearly Kee, Nyonya

I first met Pearly a year ago at her last-Saturday-of-the-month dinner when she invites the public into her home and nourishes them with both food and tales of growing up in Penang.  She's a guru of Nyonya cuisine, the intermingling of Chinese food with the spices of the tropics and hints of Indian and Malay flavors. It was fusion before fusion was trendy. Now, I wanted to learn how to cook these generations-old dishes in my own kitchen.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tiananmen Square, I will not forget you

Tiananmen Square. What comes to mind? Chinese patriotism and a longing to see the national flag raised at sunrise? An image of a lone man bravely standing as the sole blockade against a row of advancing tanks?

Tiananmen Square: Monument to People's Heroes and the Great Hall of the People 

Twenty-five years ago, I was a university student working in a microbiology laboratory in Houston, Texas. Three of my labmates were Chinese graduate students who were closely attuned to the pro-democracy movement taking place in Beijing. Knowing that they would one day return to their home country and with so many of the protesters being university students their own age, possibly friends, the topic came up day after day as we did our experiments.

Web Analytics