Messages From Myanmar #14
24 April 2016
Photo Update Alert:
Hello there… Rodger French here.
By most accounts, the Thingyan Water Festival was a bit more restrained this year, as the authorities put serious restrictions on where groups could set up their pandals (essentially reviewing platforms) from whence they could train their streams of water on truckloads of young people who had begun drinking whiskey early in the morning. (Incidentally, the 2016 Thingyan death toll in Myanmar stands at 35, due primarily to auto accidents and drowning.)
A.J. and I hunkered down at The Shang for a few days, then made for the airport and hastened to a change of scene in Penang, an island off the west coast of what’s known as Peninsular Malaysia. Originally part of the Malay Sultanate of Kedah, Penang subsequently “belonged” to the British East India Company, represented by the locally renown Capt. Francis Light. Later it became, along with Singapore and Malacca, one of the Straights Settlements under British colonial rule. Then… part of the Malayan Union, the Federation of Malaya, and finally in 1963, Malaysia.
[History Buff Sidebar - Having lived in Ghana, South Africa, Argentina, and now Myanmar, a heightened sensitivity to the history and legacy of British colonialism is manifestly unavoidable.]
We stayed in the capital George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and bona fide melting pot of ethnicities. Our hotel, heroically created/restored from the ruins of a row of shophouses, was situated within easy walking distance to the historic city center. Consequently, we spent our days in true gringo fashion, wandering the tropical heat-whispered streets, taking in various museums, Chinese clan houses, temples (Confucian, Hindu, and Buddhist), and mosques, as well as shoppes and restaurants.
[Social Sidebar - A high point of our walking tour was Ten Yee Trading, a classic old tea shoppe, where we were offered tea by the shoppe owner and a friend of his who was there on his lunch break. We had a lovely conversation about many subjects including history, economics, politics… and tea. Naturally, we did not leave empty-handed.]
We also managed a trip to Penang Hill, riding what I daresay may be the world’s fastest funicular to the old British hill station situated some 833 m (2733 ft) above sea level. Decidedly cooler, the hill is popular with locals as well as tourists and offers panoramic views of the city and the bridges to Butterworth on the mainland; vistas which, regrettably, we did not experience due to the tropical haze. Ah, well…
After three nights in George Town, we taxied to the north side of the island and the beach resort of Batu Ferringhi. Not a lot of schlepping on the agenda here, thank you very much; just intermittent trips between our hotel room (with a view of the sea), the elaborate swimming pool (likewise), and the restaurant, with a menu that included nasi lemak (considered the national dish of Malaysia), nasi dagang, and nasi goring; all rice-based, all prepared “not too hot.” All good.
Our return to Yangon was uneventful, notwithstanding that every person in Southeast Asia evidently contrived to arrive at the airport at exactly the same time as we. But, navigating the chaos like a couple of seasoned touristas, we made it back to The Shang safe and/or sound. It was an altogether fine excursion, and - it bears repeating - we feel most fortunate to be in a position to visit such exotic locales. Even in the footsteps of the British.