Sunday, February 2, 2014

People in Penang

I have realized that when I am away from my city; I tend to observe and take extra effort to talk to locals of the town I am visiting. Now why is the question. I have pondered about it. Maybe because I know my stay there is for a short period and I may not may not tread that path again. So I want to experience as much as possible; get to know people and what learn what they have to share about the place, the history and everything else.

Or maybe that I am excited to be in the new place and so observe more than I normally would do. Or maybe in my town; I am pre occupied with hundreds of things on my mind that I fail to notice them or that "There is always tomorrow. Where am I leaving; I am here" feeling.

Whatever it may be. But I have noticed that I enjoy even a simple act of brewing tea on a road side stall or taking in sight of an old man enjoying his solitude in a mosque makes it so interesting. I did have many such experiences at Penang. Penang is dominated by Tamils. Malaysian Tamils and Indians who have gone their for work. It was a nice exercise for me to figure out who were the locals and who were the working diaspora from India among them. Some of them were obvious. Like the Malaysian Tamils who are Muslims now. Maybe their great grand parents got converted to Islam 100 or 200 years ago and now you can see them dressed in traditional Malay Islamic clothing. Based on the same religious lines are the way how a Hindu Malay dressed. Or rather how they displayed their religious virtue. I found them to be very conservative and religious than what we were. The vermilion and ash dominated every forehead.

Just walk along little India; you know what it is to be in India away from India. It was more India than what India is. Indian songs played on loud speakers; Tamil movies being played on the TVs. The TVs were outside the stores on the streets; so everyone gets to watch the movie. The aroma of Parottas and Idlis and Kurmas...ummm. I would wonder if I am in some remote part of Tamil Nadu. Maybe they outdo these things to preserve their ancestry. But its amazing to see how the cultures have blended; each one borrowing from the other and yet the uniqueness preserved.

It was easy for them to recognize that we were not one among them because of the way we looked and dressed. The curiosity let in requesting for snaps with them. Malaysians like to take a picture with Indians. And they love Indian movies! And they certainly like Bangalore and have only good things to say like "Bangalore! its a clean city I heard". "Computers!" and so on. Equally were there folks thinking India is Delhi or Mumbai and very few outside the Indian diaspora knew Southern India.

There are also Chinese; who live along side in harmony and peace; adapting to the culture and food and practice. The Chinese live among their own; so do the Malay-Indians and the Malays. The migrants are found in clusters among these; blending with the locals. You could find them in a restaurant run by a local or in a Kancheevaram Silk store. Its tough to differentiate unless you talk to them. And thats easy! The local Tamils are interested more in you because you are visiting from India. They want to know how India is; their dream is to travel to India at least once if they havent. I met a man on the streets who said his sister is married off to a Chennai guy. I met a lady who has heard a lot about India and wants to visit...And so the anguish and the dreams..

Maybe the Chinese have similar stories to tell, to share...

This was one dynamic lady. Her food cart was just beside the hotel we stayed. Morning 5 to 11 is all she stays dishes out appams after appams. It was her show all the way. Customers order and need to wait; I mean they are at the mercy of this woman. She decides if she wants to serve you or not. She seemed to be a third generation Malay Indian. I was never tired of watching her in action. Her shrewdness was something I really loved.

This was a old Chinese home turned to a cafe. The menu was simple. Just a couple of sandwiches and beers. The owner seemed to be an eccentric man; considering what he named his cafe.

Right! The cafe is "My own Cafe" or his own cafe

Simple menu. Very creative. Just noticed this cafe after a long tour or the Chinese quarters and decided to peep in. The ambience and the cool atmosphere pulled us in and sat for a while swigging a couple of Tiger beers.

The owner.

Didnt I mention enough of its eccentricity? Here's more. A painting of himself on one of the walls

A steaming Badam Milk outside a cafe in the Indian quarters. The food is as every other culture; was a potpourri.  Curries and gravies with a slight twist; tea served in large mugs and so on

 Rest time!


  1. I usually don't interact with people but love to understand and watch the way they behave or talk. Their accent, their dressing... the environment ... there's always something exciting about visiting new places :D

    1. Its a bonus if you talk to them. No amount of reading or researching gives you the satisfaction and the closest truth than talking to local. You also get to know where the locals go and what the locals do

  2. Observing people and striking some conversation is always enjoyable when traveling abroad!

  3. Thanks for your wonderful observation and description of Penang people. And, thanks for the nice photos. At the same time, I want to point out how the Tamil people ended up in Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

    The British needed laborers to work in their tea estates and farms in these places. So they hired agents to recruit laborers. 200 years ago, these villagers did not know what a ship is, how far is the other end of the ocean, and other details. The agents told them they can board the ship, travel for 30 minutes and reach the other side, work there fore 10 hours, and can come back in the evening. Many people believed and boarded the ship and never to return. In the ship, those who protested to go back to their village were severely beaten. Many people were beaten to death. The survivors were forced to work in the tea estates and farms in Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

    The agents moved to the next village to recruit more people.

    1. SG,

      You are right. I have heard from people who have been part of such ordeal and now the family dispersed and trying to reunite and all that. Its sad

  4. Replies
    1. Krishna,

      Welcome to B Log and thank you very much. Hope to see you around

  5. Lovely write up.It brings back memories of my trip there.
    Look at the last pic again.It is sooooooooo expressive.

    1. Chowla sir,

      Thanks much. The last pic was really taken while at rest. It was exhausting day

  6. B, the last pic is my pick. You blend into being a Malaya damsel.
    I guess you have been enjoying the journey the way it should be, Knowing where you are and with who you are,. What better way than befriending the locals to take up the talk with them. Travel is just not sight seeing. In fact many do not see they just pass by.

    1. Thanks Anil. I do confess that some locals felt I was Malaysian-Indian; maybe because of my facial features and skin color. So true; travel is not sight seeing and I am learning that and getting better at mingling with people


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