This past week was the Chinese New Year. And since it’s one of the biggest holidays for public and government workers, I spent almost an entire week on the road. It was so nice to get back out and explore my favorite place in Malaysia: Penang.
Penang is one of those places that presents a near opposite persona to the rest of a country. In the case of the very conservative, very Muslim Malaysia, Penang is much more liberal. It caters to tourism in a way that most other places in this country do not – or at least will not. And because they have become more dependent on this form of income, they have long since started to “put up” with the more unpleasant backlash to including many foreigners in their commerce – at least they’ve done so in terms of the way that the foreign element is seen in a majority Muslim country.
My trip started on Thursday morning and because it’s the monsoon season, my trip took more than 12 hours! I left my home port at around 9am and changed buses in Seremban. Then I traveled on what should have been an eight-hour bus ride to Butterworth. From there, I took the ferry across to the island of Penang. And then it was a short city bus to India Town inside of the Georgetown area of the city.
Being that it was the first evening of the New Year break, it was pretty difficult to get a hotel. But I finally checked in at the “Red Inn” on the historic colonial street, “Love Lane.”
Love Lane is the road where one’s “love life” took an expansive turn when the city was first established by the British in the turn of the 20th century. And the name quickly changed from its original designation, which predates the finality of the settlement – and which clearly was not instituted by the colonial era British settlers.
As the story goes, young men from the Catholic school (then named the School of the Assumption Church) would come to this street to meet with the girls of the Farquir Street Covenant School. This street, even today, because of its narrow, high buildings abutting either side, was a clever and opportune location for escaping much of the risk of meeting in other highly visible locations nearby.
As the students grew up, they simply named it “the Lane of Love” which then stuck as this generation was the first to expand upon the building of the infrastructure. Later still, it became even more iconic as more and more westerners used Penang as their jumping-off point to Thailand and parts south in Malaysia. Because many of the old buildings were converted into hotels, it became a hotbed of prostitution and confirmed its appropriate title in the city maps and history books.
Today, this area likely resembles what it must have looked like back then. Only now, the prostitutes have penises and the only clergy in this area aren’t out hunting nuns.
Penang’s location so close to Thailand has poised it to be the one-stop shop for all visa-runners and renewers from the country to the north. And when they (and all the other through-traffic that frequents this island) come here, they bring with them a hint of their party lifestyle from Thailand.
The local shops here have adapted to selling passport photos, …
[Continued on Penang for the Chinese New Year Part Two]