We Travelled to Penang When Covid Hasn’t Left The Scene

It’s a shame that after 6 years of blogging, I realise I don’t write enough about my own country. It’s not that I have loved it any less since moving to London (speaking of which, there is a flipping comprehensive travel-like-you-own-it article I wrote about London for Popular Malaysia that you need to chow down when you are free…). I figured I just haven’t seen this place with a childlike spirit, because it’s all too familiar. I was born and bred in this land. Nothing is new; everything is home. We always take Home for granted.

But this time, when Covid marched into our lives and robbed us blind, everything that was left became exceedingly precious. I started seeing home in a very different light.

Travelling to Penang after the lockdown was a spontaneous decision. It was a crazy one (on so many levels), but it wasn’t a hard one to make. I can remember very well the last time my passport saw daylight, but I can’t quite recall how it felt when five people huddle together in front of a piece of art and Hello was a touch on the cheek, not a pop-up window on a screen. So this whole pack-and-go experience was as galvanising as it was unnerving. We forgot that our minds had been sedated and dulled by the lack of stimulus and human interaction for months, so we kind of just… go, without much planning. There was no Places to Visit, Food to Eat and the whole shebang crowding up the backseats. Just two people lurching into a sudden roll, because now we can. Now we can move freely and now we can see people moving again. What a foreign concept that is.

We departed on Saturday morning from Kuala Lumpur, had lunch in Ipoh and got to Penang just in time for an afternoon snooze. Nothing was really different from travelling pre-Covid, except for the need of scanning, sanitising, registering, temperature-taking, riddle-cracking and sheep-counting each time you enter a shop, which in all honesty, was really a pain. But we all did what we need to do, put on a mask and made peace with the other camp who tut-tutted all the way when the government decided to unlock the restrictions and unleash the starving pack. If there was anything that Covid had taught me it’s you don’t have to always be a good person. No matter how strong or altruistic or noble you are, when faced with a virus, we can all die.

Georgetown in Penang is a heritage city. What that means is British colonial buildings and Peranakan tiles; fuming backpacker’s bars and stonking good asam laksa. A lot of culture, a lot of flip-flops, a lot of foreigners. Heritage cities like this and Malacca make it to the top of a traveller’s list easily because they promise something uber localised, oriental and parish-pump during the day, then cushion you with pizzas and beers at night. You get that explosion of culture shock, weird customary anecdotes, tropical sun and sweaty back while you hop from one Peranakan mansion-turn-museum to another. But you also hear familiar accents along the way so you feel safe – not physically safe, but safe in the sense that you know the time and the money you spend in this place will guarantee a good amount of fun because all your friends been there and if they haven’t, want to go there. Low risk and high ROI. Why would anyone not want to visit this place?

Suffice to say we had lots of street food at Chulia street and enough to drink. The last two pictures were taken at this bar you need to check out, called China House.

More on the Peranakan Mansion and coconut trees at E&O Hotel later. If you read with an open mind and I continue to marvel at the beautiful familiarity of my own country, that is.

With love x

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