Places of Worship

Old town Georgetown, in Penang, Malaysia, recently designated as a UNESCO Heritage site, is a historic and beautiful combination of cultures and religions. This small area boasts an impressive collection of places of worship. From Muslims to Christians to Buddhists to Krishnas, Georgetown is home to a variety of beliefs. Over my few days in the city, I spoke with priests over street noodles regarding training in Rome, sat down with an Imam to discuss false impressions, and watched monks collect early morning alms. Each distinct religion lives sides by side, contributing color and life to a city that would be lesser of if any of these institutions were removed.

However, these is another Penang institution that has a zealous and loyal following. While worshiping, some look towards Mecca, some to the sky, some look within. But in Penang, people look to the kitchen table. Penang is known as one of South East Asia’s culinary hubs with fresh and unique seafood dishes, fresh fruits (a farm holds 250 unique species) and mouth watering curries. Close your eyes and point at your menu. You can’t go wrong.

A favorite memory of mine was standing near a small tree grove with a stomach filled with char kway teow (think garlic, egg, chili, seafood and noodles), watching fruit bats dart in and out of the tree tops hunting for their dinner. Both the bats and I left that tree grove with full bellies that night (no, I didn’t eat the bugs…)

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(Above: An example of some of the religious buildings found in Georgetown, Penang.)

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(Above: The canons of Cornwalis, a war memorial for fallen soldiers, the historic town hall.)


(Above: A guy with amazing hair.)


Operation Tree Fiddy

After diving in Khao Lak, I poked around town looking for a decent deal on a bus ride down to Penang, Malaysia. From what I saw, it was about a 12 hour journey, all done in one day, and should cost roughly 32 dollars. Pricey, but flights were even more. When I went to buy my ticket, the price magically increased by roughly three dollars and fifty cents . Ok, when I write it in dollars I feel kind of silly, so let’s put it in Thai Baht. The price magically increased by 100 baht. 100 BAHT? Who has a 100 of anything these days? Who am I, John Q. Rockefeller? Buoyed by my frugality and my principals, I kindly turned them down and hatched a new plan. Operation “Save about Tree Fiddy” is a go!

The operation consisted of the following:

1)      Wake up at 5am to catch a city bus. Bus came at 7am. Time well spent city at the bus stop pondering how big of an idiot I am.

2)      Take city bus for an hour to another random city bus station. Get confused and buy a ticket to the wrong destination, then realize my error at the last moment as the bus I really need is about to pull away. Grab all my stuff, run like a lunatic and talk my way onto the bus.

3)      Get to Hat Yai, meet really nice German woman named Theresa. She asks me to buy her bottled water, just make sure it’s not made by Nestle. I come back with bottled water, made by Nestle. Smooth.

4)      Get to the Malaysian border, but it’s now 8pm. It’s been a 13 hour journey, and still not even close to Penang.

5)      Theresa and I realize we missed the last bus to Penang.

6)      We try to hitchhike.

7)      It begins to rain.

8)      We meet a very nice Malaysia man who offers to let us sleep in his house.

9)      Opps. Something was lost in translation. He ends up trying to take us to a random hotel.

10)   Turns out this nice Malaysian man had an accident 8 years ago and isn’t all there. The random hotel has been shut down for years. It’s boarded up.

11)   His friend sees us in the street and picks us up (He’s the one who told us about the accident). We end up riding with him for an hour as we talk about Malaysian politics and his family. End up in some town 4 hours from Penang.

12)   Find a dodgy hotel. Fall asleep at 1am. Need to wake up early to catch the first bus.

13)   Oversleep, miss first bus to Penang.

14)   Catch bus, get to Penang at 2p.m.


So as you can see, the operation was a phenomenal success. Sure a 12 hour trip ended up taking 30 (including sleep so it’s not THAT bad). However, not only did I actually end up saving about $10 dollars (300 baht!) when it came down to it, I also made a new friend and crossed something off my bucket list (hitchhike in a foreign country). As ole’ George Dubya would say, Mission Accomplished!