Why on earth did you booked a train to Penang?” a friend, Doc Gelo, asked me. He was not the only one who asked. Few friends were puzzled over my choice of transportation to Penang. They told me that I could’ve cut the 6 hours journey by half if I take a bus.
My answer to them was all the same; that it had been more than 34 years since I last travelled on a train to the north side of Malaysia. I need to see the greener side and maybe use the time to plan my 2014 work schedule. I don’t really like to take a bus (the last time I took a bus to my hometown Raub, the driver drove like a maniac) and since the petrol hike took effect recently, driving was not my preference too. Well, perhaps if my husband and son could come along with me, I would’ve travelled by car. Anway, the train cost me only RM68 for a return ticket for KL-Buttwerworth. Very economical. I don’t mind all the 10 stops; it was nothing to compare to the slow train ride I took from Frankfurt to Cologne with 69 stops!
Accompanied by my so-called entourage—my niece, Wanda and her friend, Ika—we left on Ekspress Rakyat from Kuala Lumpur at 4pm. We got seats facing south while the train moved north. I enjoyed watching the landscape and enjoyed uploading photos and checking-in on random train stops along the way on my Instagram account. When the journey from one stop to another took longer time, I took out my sketchbook. I normally don’t do this because I will feel nauseous. But that didn’t happen! I discovered for the first time that I have an advantage from having a seat facing opposite direction.
We reached Butterworth at 10pm and later took the ferry to Weld Quay. My friend, Faten Rafie and her husband Azizi Hassan, fetched us at Weld Quay, George Town, Penang. We went for a late dinner at Nasi Kandar Kapitan. We wanted to go for Nasi Kandar Beratur earlier on but had to cancel because we would’ve had to literally ‘beratur’ (queue).
On the way to the hotel, Faten and Azizi took us around George Town (yes, it was almost midnight but we were up to it) to look for random welded iron caricatures by local artists as well as those street arts by Ernest Zacharevic.
It was around 1.00am when we reached the hotel. “I’ll be your tourist guide tomorrow,” Faten (Tanjong born and bred) said before disappearing into the night with her husband.
I woke up the next day feeling excited. Having a room on 15th floor means that I could look at George Town from bird’s eye view. The view of roofs and buildings along Noordin Street were beautiful. I could already imagine doing a watercolor painting of the scenery.
Noordin Street, or Lebuh Noordin, is within a city area known today as the Seven Streets Precinct and it is the only street in the precinct to be named after a Muslim, in this case Habib Marican Noordin, the Indian Muslim merchant who was one of the benefactors of the Kapitan Keling Mosque, and who built the Noordin Family Tomb. *
Faten took us to Padang Kota Lama esplanade area and we had lunch at Hameed Pata Special Mee (noodles) situated just besides Fort Cornwallis. The noodles was super delicious! Combined with coconut milkshake, it was a lunch that worth all the fat I gained.
We didn’t go inside Fort Cornwallis as I had been there on my previous visit few years back, so we went straight across the open field to reach the Town Hall and City Hall. Both buildings were built in 1880 and 1903 respectively. The white City Hall is the largest of the two, but Town Hall painted in yellow and white is arguably the most handsome one.
From Padang Kota Lama, we went to 179, Victoria Street to reccee the place where The Borders Children’s Program would be held the next day in conjunction with the George Town Literary Festival 2013. I had to see how to get there because I was one of the invited children’sbook illustrators for the event. I wouldn’t want to miss it because I could’t find my way there.
After discussing with The Borders representative, we later went to China House café to have coffee and cakes. I love the place, the interior is beautiful. There were crayons and paper table cloth and next thing we knew, Faten and I (as well as Faten’s niece, Najah Zahry who joined us later) doodled and scribbled on it.
After coffee, Faten and I went to discover the nearby area looking for more street arts, cat arts, old buildings and many more. My entourage went elsewhere with their Penang friends; the teenagers were happy to be away from two middle-aged women. Faten and I walked for hours discovering Victoria Street, Armenian Street, Acheh Street , Cannon Street and Kapitan Keling Street.
A set of windows from Syed Alatas Mansion which was built in 1860. The mansion was once known as the Penang Islamic Museum. I wanted to enter the mansion but it was closed for renovation.
It was a great walk and I mostly had a blast capturing photos of of windows (another hobby of mine when travelling). The windows were all oh so beautiful! The mossier and the older, the more beautiful.
“I surprisingly took 252 photos for two hours walk, I must be crazy!,” Faten messaged me on WhatApp chat on phone when she reached home that evening. “Haha, we are equally crazy, I took 275 photos!” I told her before saying goodnight and making appointment with her again the next day to give me moral support at Victoria Street.
My head was spinning as I thought about my presentation the next day. I am the Glossophobia type. I rather people see me draw than hearing me talk. Previously I had the fear of drawing in public but I overcame that two years back when I was given a big panel to draw at Illustrator Lane during Children’s Literature Festival 2012.
I was about to sleep when Wanda texted me “Ngah, do you want anything from Nasi Kandar Beratur?” I quickly replied, “Yes, one nasi kandar for me!”
*This is the unedited version of the article I wrote in my column Em’s Diary in Gaya Travel magazine, issue 8.6/9.1.