Georgetown Penang, we’re not in Bangkok anymore!*

by FieryTree on March 3, 2014 · 7 comments

Post image for Georgetown Penang, we’re not in Bangkok anymore!*

*And definitely not Kansas!

In trying to figure out what to post today, I made an important discovery. I moved to Malaysia because I wanted some place new and yet here, I want all the familiar things of Thailand. Whoops!

Mainly, I’ve missed Thai food and many other little things, but I thought it timely to celebrate all of the wonderful differences and acknowledge those things familiar.

Differences –

The National religion is Islam.

This is an intriguing difference to me as it influences so many details in the culture.

Adhan, call to worship –

Somewhere I picked up referring to this as the “the call to prayer”. For many mornings, 6am or so, I would wake to the call. It would drift in through my window and pull me from my dreams. Slowly, my thoughts would sluggishly but happily follow it to consciousness. I would listen until the melody ended, then promptly go back to sleep. I liked being pulled from dreams in this way though.
My wikipedia research says it happens five time a day and frequently, we’ll hear it drifting through our open doors. Somehow, the call in the afternoon always strikes me as different and there seems to be more voices in the evening, different muezzins singing out across the city, perhaps.

Halal food –

Food packaging and restaurants proudly display signs labeling them as Halal, meaning they are allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines. Pork is something that is not permitted, so in grocery stores where chicken, pork, and fish all sit in a row together, pork is completely segregated in a different part of the store.
In one grocery store, these products even had to be purchased within that section, instead of at the main register. This made sense for at our regular grocery store, we’d accidentally brought bacon through the line of a Muslim cashier. She scowled at the package and James moved it so it could be scanned without her touching it. It was a mistake we made most ignorantly and one that has not been repeated.

Pepperoni – what about it? It is beef or chicken here. For me, that would not make it pepperoni but at the halal pizza restaurants we’ve now found two of, chicken or beef must be specified.

Food stalls - outdoor dining for cheap!

Food stalls – outdoor dining for cheap!

Food vendors –

In Thailand, you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a food vendor. Perhaps a slight exaggeration and you shouldn’t be chucking stones at people but food seemed everywhere. And if not a food vendor, there was a 7-11 with dozens of packaged food options that they would heat or press for you. While I’d always turned up my nose at ‘gas station food’ in the States, many of these were amazingly good! Here there are a few 7-11 around us but all of their hot food options appear to be missing.
For cheap food, there are food vendors that gather together with their various stalls. We have one at the end of our road, at least 40 different vendors, selling many of the same things and so few that actually look appealing to me…like sheets of dried squid which I’ve not yet tried. (I’ll try to be more adventurous!)


Sign reads “Do not rub gold leaf on the Laughing Buddha”.

Temples –

There are Mosques and beautifully decorated Hindu Temples. I have found some Buddhist Temples too but they are just a bit different. They have new gods/deities unknown to me. Likewise, the statues are porcelain with light pink tones for skin instead of being gold. The lotuses here are candles instead of the actual flowers and signs in the temple say NOT to rub the gold leaf on the Buddha.

Diversity of faces –

Penang has a mix of Malay, Indian, and Chinese. James will argue this point with me but our neighborhood in Bangkok was all very similar. I don’t recall seeing any Indians and certainly no Muslims with their head scarves. Certainly, if you looked closely at faces, they were quite different but with the wash of my American melting-pot eyes, there is more diversity around us here.


There are beautiful trees and water right out our window. To walk in-between the buildings we are shaded with tall gorgeous trees. The water too is a delightful change, watching as the tide rolls out, revealing sunken boats, just to roll back in and hide them again. It’s been wonderful to gaze at so much green instead of concrete everywhere.

Headache? Go to the Farmasi!

Headache? Go to the Farmasi!

People speak English and they use the same alphabet!

We can read signs (not always with understanding) and we can communicate with just about everyone…but don’t seem to.  This has allowed us to be here for weeks and still be completely ignorant of any Malay words. We have been delighted to read their English signs though. Most are spelled phonetically, like “Farmasi” or “Boutik”.

Things familiar –



Smoke created by men with machines blowing it through the development.

Mosquitos –

Even up here, high in the condo, the mosquitos find us and they are relentless. The trick of having the fan on is not always sufficient, for they still manage to chew on our legs, arms, and any exposed skin. Experience has taught me that the bottom of the feet is the worst though. We slap and attempt to catch them only for another one to take its place.
Here, they also do “fogging” to kill the mosquitos, one apparently will be happening soon. I hate the idea of chemicals being released into the air (and it’s becoming less effective as they build resistance) but I also hope it has an effect too.

We live in Smogtown lately.

We live in Smogtown lately.

Smog –

In the last week, the sky outsides, well the entire outside, is covered in a haze, could be smoke, smog, who knows. It is a gross whiteness that covers everything, obscuring the hills from us and bleaching everything below us. James says he can taste the air, like he could in Chiang Mai when we rode in the back of the songthaew (basically a truck with benches in the back).
This was in Thailand too, there would be days when the sky was so bad that we could no longer see buildings on the horizon. There too we would pray for rain and also be denied.

Toilets –

There are still many “squatty toilets”, more a ceramic slab with a hole in the ground, though many flushable. In Thailand, I hated these so much so it’s ironic I’ve found myself more inclined to use them lately. For reasons unknown to me, toilet seats here always appear to be wet, as if recently hosed down or the bowl below clogged.
Toilet paper cannot be flushed down the toilets here (or Thailand), it must be thrown away. Thailand solves this with a nozzle that sprays water, that James and many others have come to call a’ bum gun’. I’ve seen hoses, without the nozzles here too, but I’m not sure if there goal is the same. As in Thailand, I shy away from these.

I’ve realized, my similar things are mainly the things that irritated me in Thailand too, so I hope the overall impression of this post is not negative. I am glad to be in Malaysia. I know when we move on, I will miss the call to prayer and so many other things I’m still discovering. I’m sure my list of loved things with continue to grow and we are just beginning to scratch the surface of all this diverse country has to offer here in Georgetown Penang.

What new thing delights you?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christina March 3, 2014 at 10:43 pm

It takes a while to discover a place. I will bet you end up loving Malaysia as well. I love the call to prayer you wrote about. What new thing delights me? Actually seeing something that has always been there, ex. Wildflowers in the park that I am just now noticing or an interesting tree that I walked by every day. How are you protecting yourself and especially James from the mosquitos? I remember they especially loved him.


2 FieryTree March 7, 2014 at 10:24 pm

True, I think we are settling into Malaysia, we found Malaysian food we like! (Probably didn’t hurt that they were delicious pancakes!)
And the mosquitos have been nicer lately, perhaps the fogging worked!
Love that you are finding delight in the things surround you!


3 Will S March 4, 2014 at 1:16 am

The ‘bum gun’ is something the West should adopt. Much more sanitary than smearing feces on your butt with recycled paper. Has lots of ‘green’ advantages as well, especially in areas with abundant water. (okay – TMI, but you brought it up!)

Very interesting and informative, as always!

Person A

P.S. Person B also enjoyed this. 🙂


4 FieryTree March 7, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Ugh, thanks for the feedback.
Tell Person B I miss them!


5 Dawn & Sami March 4, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Maria, I love your posts. You’re writing style is so inviting. I’m enjoying your journey & always look forward to reading more! Namaste’


6 FieryTree March 7, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Thank you so much Dawn! So great to hear from you and I appreciate the feedback.
Do you guys have any travels coming up?


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