Sunday marked our move from Penang back to Bangkok and it was bitter-sweet. Penang had slowly started to feel like home and we had friends we were going to miss the second we left, and we do. The move offered me a similarity that the friends we adore are also the food vendors we most frequented.
In Penang, I found the Malay flavors to not tickle my palette, and best avoided. Instead, we found a home at the local shawerma stall at our food court, “Mr. Shawerma”! We’d happened upon it our first week in Penang and James was immediately hooked. We took to eating there multiple times a week for the owners were so nice and the food was always fresh and delicious.
There came a point in our visiting that I reached my shawerma limit (probably for a lifetime) and yet felt guilty to try somewhere else. As I stood there debating supporting them with my purchase, James pointed out my dilemma to the owner, how embarrassing! The owner let me off the hook though and said he doesn’t even eat there every single day. I ran off for soup but of the 30+ times we ate at the food court, over three months, I only ate somewhere else perhaps 4 times. (James never strayed.)
And so, we built a connection with the guys, exchanging greetings, chit-chat, and pictures when we visited. They also took very good care of us and would give us little extras when they knew we liked an item. Have you tried Muhammara (red chills mixed with Mediterranean spices)? It’s delicious!
I also loved sitting in front of their stall and hearing one of the owners sing as he worked. It was in arabic and had a haunting, beautiful quality to it. There would be the dull roar of the other patrons and notes of his song would get carried above it all. As I am always singing to myself, it was nice to hear another kindred spirit.
So as our departure neared, I was sad to know we would not to get to see them for many months. On our last day, we went for our final shawerma and one of the owners made his special dish, shawerma pizza. It sucked!…because it was fantastic and I would not be able to get it again for months! Cruelty, if you ask me!
Before our last goodbyes, we took pictures with the guys and joked that we would cry. I had been worried I might though! The guys were that great.
We returned to Bangkok and were again filled with emotions as we arrived in our old neighborhood. We had our fingers-crossed that our favorite vendor would still be out at her stall…and she was!
The taxi had slowed as the street narrowed and I rolled down the window, as we shouted and waved wildly. She returned it with equal exclamations, “Maria!, James!” and wai-ed to us. We were so excited!
We quickly dropped off my pounds of luggage and headed back down to see her. It cracked me up for as soon as we hit the street, James decided it would be a good time to jog. So we took off jogging down the street. It felt great to run but also seemed a bit odd and we stop a bit short. James decides that was enough jogging for one day and there was no need to be out of breath for our hellos.
We arrive, wai-ing and saying our greetings; I wanted to hug her but it’s not really the Thai way. We did clasp hands for a moment though and everyone has smiles from ear-to-ear.
We immediately sunk into our routine of putting together the elements for our omelettes that she makes and she set to frying them. Unlike usual, we decide to eat down there (as we still needed the mandatory trip to 7-11), so she directs us to her mat behind her table.
It was great to be outside with her and hear the blasts of chaos from her children taunting one another close by. The night was also shocking hot and sweat was soon dripping down our faces. She noticed and offered us a drink a few times but we’d say ‘no’ each time, for we were going to 7-11 next. But even with our consistent “no’s”, she was soon the one running down the street to the restaurant to grab us some cokes. Even as she had a customer waiting for their omelette to be cooked! I was overwhelmed by the gesture and felt unbelievably grateful that she would think of us enough to do so. She was the first one to welcome us to the neighborhood and is truly the most kind and wonderful person. She also would not hear of us paying for those drinks even with our continuous offers.
So we are safely back in our neighborhood for the next month, surrounded by people we adore and missing our friends in Malaysia. Once again it is a mixed blessing of traveling to get to meet such incredible people but then also have to say goodbye.
I sincerely hope I never forget the sound of my friend singing as he works or the sound of her voice as she always calls to us from down the street. I hope we are always so excited to meet each other that a jog is involved too. I feel confident when we return to Penang that James will once again set a quick pace to get to our shawerma guys.
Who or what would you jog to/for?
P.S. I’m heading to Japan in a few hours! Stay tuned!