Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Random Acts of Art and Beauty

29 April 2014

We're still hanging out in Georgetown, having fun and waiting for our costume fitting call.  Or maybe just a call saying "you don't have the look we need."  At any rate, we're enjoying Georgetown and the environs, and aren't worrying about the call we have not yet received.

We moved from the 1926 Heritage Hotel, which we enjoyed, to a big multilevel modern hotel closer to the center of town.  Not that we didn't want to stay at the 1926.  But since we travel without a plan, and don't know how long we'll be in a place, we tend to just book one week at a time at any given hotel.  Then, when we decide to stay longer, the hotel often doesn't have a room available.  So we switch hotels.

Anyway, we're at the Hotel Continental, on the 18th floor.  AMAZING views of the Straits of Malacca and the bridge to the mainland off to the south, the continuing shoreline off to the north, and the hills in the center of the island off to the west(ish), which look very moody and atmospheric with morning mist and fog.  Plus, of course, wonderful views of old Georgetown - a patchwork of terra cotta and green and grey shingle roofs interspersed with tall modern buildings where some lovely old place was obviously torn down.  We can see temples both Buddhist and Hindu, mosques, and maybe one or two churches from our window on high.

And of course a few murals, most notably the trishaw driver just beyond the parking lot, and where there's usually a line up of trishaw drivers waiting for tourists.

The parking lot is for the Red Garden - that's www.redgardenfood.com

This is a night market and food court and Malaysian fast food center all rolled into one.  Under a big sprawl of red roofs, there are food stands built into the structure, each just a small kitchen with cooktop and storage space, serving just about every Asian cuisine imaginable.  Hungry tourists, locals, neighbours, workers, children, grandparents, everyone comes in and wanders around, ordering satay or briyani or tom yam or penang chicken rice or mee goring or nasi lemak or tempura or sushi - and all you do is tell the chef at the stand what you want, and what table you're sitting at.  They come out with a plate of food.  You pay them.  There are separate staff people who come around and ask what you want for a drink - they take your order and bring it back to your table, you pay the few ringgits.  Really, I had chicken tandoori with veggie briyani one night, it came to $6 or so, and was such a huge portion I ate half and had the other half for lunch the next day.  Two sushi rolls for 10 ringgit, or about $3 US.  Tonight was chicken satay - 10 skewers and fabulous sauce for 9 ringgits.  

It's like an open-air market for fast food.  Great for people watching, inexpensive food, music in the background, and live music later into the evening.  The place has an energy and pulse all its own.

And check out the neon sign - it's a pulsating light show!  Really, the two photos are different, just moments apart!

On Sundays, in the other direction, there's the Little Penang Street Market - a combination of a food, arts and crafts, and flea market event filling the street under tents.  Interesting, and I found some lovely earrings.  (Such nice souvenirs, LOL - there's always room to slip an extra pair of earrings into a bag.)

I found this odd red/pink/white display at one end of the market, looking more like a wedding than a street market, but hey, it was pretty, I took photos.  NO idea what it really was all about, but I just liked it.

Our hotel is also up the street and around the corner from the Purrfect Cat Café, so of course I've been back a few times.  It's great to order an iced latte or something, go upstairs to play with a kitty or two, and just relax and cool off with a cold drink and a cat playing at your feet.  Or stealing your straw.  

My favourite kitty is definitely Bear - she has the colouring of a Russian Blue, but the face and ears of a Scottish fold.  Just so adorable.  (She went over to every single cat and woke them up for a little cuddle and lick and maybe a bite.  She's truly a character!)

As usual, with walking around the city, we stumble onto a mural or two.  Today, though, I found gorgeous paintings in the road.  I'm not sure what they're all about.  They were both in the general vicinity of Little India, and one definitely looks something like a mandala, a circular sort of symmetric and radiating design often used to center one's thoughts during meditation.  Mandalas represent the universe in an abstract artistic expression, and are used in both Hinduism and Buddhism.  (I didn't realize they were also Buddhist.)  The other was right in front of a shop, looking almost like a welcome mat.  They were both just beautiful, so of course they are now in our blog.

The peeling gold man making a funny face?  I'm not sure - an ancestor?  Demon?  Spirit?  There was a place for incense in front of him, so he's something or someone being remembered.  Loved his face, though!

I've been looking for a few murals - we have a map that lists many of them and shows the locations, but not all the little alleys and lorongs and lorings are on the map, so it isn't easy to find them.

Today, we stumbled on Kung Fu Girl - a young girl, larger than life, using two windows to prop herself up as she practices her kung fu kick.  She's probably about 10 or 12 feet tall (3 or 4 meters), but looks like she's maybe 9 years old.  Just to add to the humour, she's located in the courtyard of a Buddhist temple.  She's adorable, and looks ready to fight off any boy who tries to wave a spider or frog in her face.

If you're looking for her, she's just down Muntri from the Purrfect Cat Café.

Around the corner from our hotel in the other direction is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.  This beautiful and elaborate building was started in the 1800s, and was the home of (obviously) Cheong Fatt Tze, a wealthy man living in Georgetown at the time.  He built this mansion hoping to house nine generations of his family, according to stories handed down along with the house.  Here's the website - you can actually rent this incredible site for special events, or even stay in the guest rooms overnight!  http://www.cheongfatttzemansion.com/ 

Anyway, it's sort of an electric cobalt blue with amazing tile mosaic trim, a wonderful entrance gate, and enormous grounds surrounded by a garden and ornamental walls.  Takes up half the block.  I haven't had time to go see the interior (the tour is pricey but I'm sure worth it!) - but the exterior just begs to be photographed.  The colours are so rich and lush and unexpected!  Absolutely wonderful!

I'll leave you with a view of Georgetown at night, with all the lights glowing.

And we're heading to the beach this weekend, so I'll report back later.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Jalan Burma

25 April 2014

Our current hotel is on Jalan Burma, so we're getting to know the area quite well.  Since the hotel, 1926 Heritage Hotel, was originally 24 row houses built for the British colonial administration officials, there are many other old buildings in the area - presumably to house other officials, support staff, shops, restaurants, pubs, and such.  And of course the churches.

There are stores like the wedding gifts store, the front display jam packed with red and gold light fixtures.  Not quite the paper lanterns, but maybe glass and metal renditions of tradition Chinese lanterns.  Lovely en masse.

There's also the occasional mural, like the little boy feeding his pigeons.

We discovered a lovely enclave of buildings and shops today along Jalan Nagor.  [Just as an aside - Jalan, pronounced jah-LAHN, means street.  Lorong or Loring means more like an alley, and often contains the name of the main street from which it branches.  Lebuh is a smaller street.  We aren't sure of the difference between all the various streets, avenues, roads, and boulevards.  But Jalan seems to mean a fairly main road.)

Anyway, Jalan Nagor.  Home of Mon Délice Patisserie.  Oh my.  Not that we need another place for yummy cakes or pastries, of course.  But, well, I allow myself either one cake or pastry per day, or one frothy sweet drink from a coffee shop.  You know, the venti-cappu-frappu-mocha-deluxo-ccino type things.  One of those, or one sweet.

Today, it was the Earl Grey Opera at Mon Délice.  Mmmmm, very light and very thin layers of hazelnut cake layered with Earl Grey infused butter cream alternating with dark chocolate ganache.  Decorated with gold splatters on the top layer of ganache.  And accompanied by a cup of lavender Earl Grey tea - which yes, tastes exactly like Earl Grey tea with lavender flowers in it.  The lavender is more of a fragrance in your mouth than an actual taste, and yes it's just a wee bit perfumey, but it's absolutely delightful.  Brings the tea to a whole new level.

So I practiced my British tea drinking skills while Richard extolled the virtues of his deep dark delicious Chocolate Mud Cake, and I enjoyed my lovely layered and gold-bedecked Opera.

You've GOT to go to Mon Délice - their website is www.mondelice.com.my

We chatted with the counter guy, Leon, who is the fiancé of one of the bakers.  We didn't meet her, she was very busy making extraordinary items like, oh, fruit tartlets.  Mango charlotte, which I unfortunately can't even taste.  Noisette, a nut and chocolate layered torte.  Items with words like gateau and dacoise and genoise and, oh, just more chocolate!

And then this adorable Malaysian lady came in and we said hello, she proceeded to inspect the pastries of the day (and had a reason to not buy each one - too heavy, too cheesy, too small - sort of like Goldilocks).  She sat down and chatted with us.  She was too funny, asking where we're from, where we've been, how long we'll be in Malaysia.  I got a few questions in between hers - she was born in Georgetown, she's seen many changes but wouldn't say if they were good or bad, she's done some travelling around but never made it to the USA or the Caribbean.  And back to questions about us.  She really was very funny, quite a little character.  Probably as old as most of the buildings, which we have been told date back to somewhere between the two world wars.  The church, however, was dated 1891.

Anyway, we've made contact with the TV casting lady - there was some sort of problem, she couldn't call us in, she was too busy to talk, she'll call us later.  I'm hoping that the costumes for the "British" women are taking a bit longer to make because they're so gorgeous - I've researched 1932 British fashion, and wow, I'm hoping for something similar to the dresses and gowns by Elsa Schiapparelli.  Sheer, floral, angel wing sleeves.  But, all we can do is wait.

So we're finding fun things to do in our part of Penang while we wait.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Purrfect Day!

24 April 2014

We started our day by heading off to the new Purrfect Cat Café on Muntri Street.  

This is a cat café modelled after the ones in Japan, where people come in for drinks or food, and there are cats to play with.  Of course, there are rules to protect the cats, such as don't feed them, don't pick them up, let a sleeping cat lie, etc.  And there's a special "cats only" room where cats can hang out and sleep without human interruption.

Of course, the exterior was decorated with a few black cats.  We walked in and the first thing we saw was a huge display of those waving kitties - you know, the battery-operated good luck kitties who smile and wave one paw.  The original Hello Kitty.  (I tend to wave back at the cats, much to the amusement of shopkeepers who catch me waving.)

After ordering drinks, we left our shoes at the shoe cubby, washed our hands (one of the rules), and headed upstairs to the kitty room.  Well, there's an eating room, but since we only had drinks we could have those in the kitty room.

Okay, this was like almost heaven for a kitty lover like me.  What made it not heaven was that they have rules about not picking up the cats.  I can understand, not every kitty wants to be picked up by every person who comes through every day.  And while the cats are rotated through shifts, each cat getting some time off from this job, well, the café doesn't want the cats to get stressed from all the strangers picking them up.

But I'm a cat cuddler.  Part of the wonder of kitties is how they snuggle under your chin and purr and you just feel as if you made the world a better place, because this cat is purring so you know he or she is happy.

And this place doesn't let you pick up the cat.

Oh well.

It still was wonderful.  The cats were happy to be talked to and petted, and they'd come play with toys we'd swirl around.  They all loved chasing micies.  (Toy mice on string.  Micies.)  One cat preferred long distance chases, another waited for the toy to come to her.  A third cat wanted a sip of soda or maybe my tea, in a kitty teapot, of course.

All in all, it was great fun.  Very silly, but great fun.  And we weren't the only people in there - there were quite a few young men and women who came just to play with the cats.

The cats come from the North Shore Animal Shelter in New York and are also available for adoption.  I fell in love with Bear, the little grey kitty with semi-Scottish fold ears.  Adorable, playful, with huge eyes and a feisty spirit.  She preferred to run across the room to attack the mousie.  Not that a kitty makes for a good voluntary nomad pet, but she was extra cute and friendly.

So if you're a kitty lover, and find yourself in George Town, Penang, go on over to the Purrfect Cat Café and get your kitty fix.  They don't have a website, but here's the Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/penangcatcafe

They are located on Muntri Street, also called Muntri Mews.

So of course, after the Cat Café, we went to the Mews Kafé for lunch.  Not Mews as in "meow" but mews in the old British sense, a group of buildings comprising a stable, and in modern times often turned into apartments.

The area was still part of historic George Town, with gorgeous old buildings and the occasional temple.  

We started walking toward the Penang State Museum, thinking that would be a great activity for a grey afternoon.  Well, we kind of stumbled upon a different kind of museum that reached out and sucked us right in, no matter how hard we tried to resist.

Yes, cocoa beans are grown in Malaysia.  Chocolate is made in Malaysia.  However, from the information in the displays, Ivory Coast grows some 41% of the world's cacao beans.  Ghana and Indonesia are tied for second place, each producing roughly 15% of the cocoa grown in the world.  And Switzerland eats more chocolate per person than any other country in the world.  

The displays also described all the health benefits from chocolate, especially dark chocolate.

The boutique had samples - my favourite was the 70% dark chocolate, which was darker than the zero sugar and also the bittersweet.  Mmmmm, dark chocolate.

Richard bought some milk chocolate hearts, because, well, it's chocolate.

So we were happy with our day.   Nothing major.  Just a day full of kitties and chocolate.

What could be better?