As in every place we visit, I have found my favourite place to eat – and this one ranks up there with my korean BBQ obsession in Seoul (which says a lot). It’s called Andrew’s Kampung – meaning village in Malay – and has the most delicious and reasonably priced authentic Chinese food I’ve ever tasted. Just thinking of the crispy duck and black pepper beef is making me drool! Most of the staff (who are all related) wear cute t-shirts that say ‘Love Kampung’ but one auntie wears a t-shirt that says ‘Tame and Lovely Pussy’ which never fails to make me laugh out loud.
One of the many reasons I have come to love the Island of Penang is he deep rooted cultural influences of the Chinese, Indian and British. And that’s not just my stomach talking. I’m reading a book by one of Malaysia’s best known authors named Tan Twan Eng, who grew up in Penang and captures this place absolutely perfectly in his novel ‘The Gift of Rain’. As he put so eloquently, “one could loose one’s identity and gain another just by going for a stroll.”
Captain Francis Light, a British trader and explorer, first arrived in Penang in 1786. He named the Island Prince of Wales island and it’s settlement George Town, in honor of King George III. The Sultan of Kedah leased the land to him for 6,000 Spanish dollars and it quickly became an important trading hub for goods like tin, rice, spices and opium. Immigration was encouraged by promising as much land as one could clear and Light even shot silver coins into the jungle to entice settlement.
As the city of Georgetown began to grow, the British brought in large numbers of convicts from India and China to build the city’s infrastructure. This is the main reason why Penang has such a diverse and multi-ethnic population.
The city of Georgetown was divided into segments, with separate areas for the Chinese, Indian and Malays. And of course the Brits kept the best waterfront bits for themselves, which is why this area is packed with colonial style mansions and is known as millionaire’s row. There are even smaller areas dedicated to other nationalities like Armenian Street, which was once home to Armenian traders.
As you walk the streets of downtown Georgetown, each of these neighbourhoods has its own place of worship – the huge St. George Anglican Church, the Buddhist Snake Temple, the Kapitan Mosque, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple – and each has its own melange of smells and sounds.
We visited these areas many times but we loved our outing in our little rickshaw, which Sami peddled and Nu believed he steered using his own steering wheel. We went through the small lanes of Campbell street and Chulia Street, admiring the architecture of the old shop houses and stopping to spot the famous street art which dots the streets of the old town.
The Kek Lok Si Temple is the largest and most impressive temple in Penang and is a reflection of the diversity of the island. The temple is dedicated to both schools of Buddhism in order to welcome all worshipers, be they Chinese, Thai, Sri Lankan, Cambodian, Burmese, Malay, Indian or Japanese. It’s huge 30 meter pagoda is divided into three sections with each having its own architectural style. The bottom level follows the design of a Chinese temple, the middle layer uses Thai design and the top of the pagoda is typical of a temple in Burma.
I think one of the reasons our month here has gone by so quickly and has been so enriching is that while we have stayed in one place, we have simultaneously experienced the cultures of many countries all living in harmony together.