210. Pearl of the Orient

My alarm rang at 4.15am. Being me, it took another 10 minutes before I actually crawled out of bed. A car ride and an hour’s flight later, I found myself planted in a little island off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, wondering where can I get me a plate of the fabled Char Kuey Teow.

Behind that thought was a little annoying, excited voice going on about how I was in Penang again for the first time in 8 years.

It was in the first week of work, I think, when my ex-boss called me up as I was driving home. She told me about a digital filmmaking conference in Penang at the end of February, and asked if I’d like to join the team. It wasn’t that I was moved that she asked me, or that I was terrible passionate about digital filmmaking, or even the thought of going to Penang. At that time, if you remember, I was so bored and jaded with work that I’d do anything to get out of it.

So I said yes.

Yesterday, after yet another full day of doing absolutely no work, I left the office happy knowing I won’t have to step in until the beginning of next week.

So here I am today. A friend picked us up, and we put our bags in his place (where we will be staying over the next few days) before heading out to get some good old Penang food. I was thinking Char Kuey Teow, but no, the native Penangite among us insisted that we went to Bali Hai for dim sum.

So we did.

Bali Hai happened to be firmly planted on the other side of the island, so as a bonus, I was treated to the sights around: the new developments, the old buildings, and those stuck in between like souls in purgatory. Our friend the native Penangite rattled off stories associated with the various places that we passed by: a school that has been around for almost 200 years; a street that has a sign that literally says “Beware of Bouncing Balls”; old buildings that are not there anymore; and of course, where to find the best food in town.

Never let it be said that Malaysians are difficult to please.

It’s always an interesting experience to see the new merging with the old. Some might imagine that new things emerges out of old things, like a sprout from a seed. But I think it’s really more like adding new layers on top of existing things. Like soil upon soil. If you dig deep enough, you’ll see how the past really holds up the present, and the present gives support to the future.

And just like soil, it’s always interesting to dig through the surface and see what lays underneath. Most of it would be nostalgic. Some of the things might inspire a sense of bittersweet. Occasionally, horrors of the past might pop out. You’ll never know until you try, so there’s always that exhilarating air of mystery to the whole thing.

It’s only been 4 hours into my time here at Penang, and I cannot wait to see the rest of it over the next 4 days or so that I’ll be here.

And I’m still waiting for my Char Kuey Teow.


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