Penang and Langkawi, Malaysia March 9, 2016
We’ve now spent two day in northern Malaysia, after our fun day in Kuala Lumpur, and we find this country to be even more diverse and interesting than we thought 2 days ago. The substantial Chinese influence in Penang was evident – red and gold everywhere, pagodas, dragons, lantern lights, Buddhas, etc. – like Chinatown on steroids. Yet, headscarves and burkas were also in view, as well as the facial markings and saris on the Hindu and Indian women.
One of our tourguides explained to us that the Malay, Chinese, Indian and Thai people in this area all enjoy a peaceful coexistence because the result is 14 public holidays every year, in addition to religious holidays for Buddhists, Hindi, Muslims, Taoists, Confucionists, Christians and others. We didn’t think she was kidding. Malay schoolchildren are taught Malay and English languages (and Tamil and Mandarin are also taught to children of Indian and Chinese descent, respectively).
Yesterday we saw tons of temples – we took our shoes on and off about 8 times as we visited the Thai Buddhist temple and the Burmese Buddhist temple in Penang (across the street from each other), and then the enormous Kek Lok Si Temple, home to thousands of Buddha statues of all sizes and poses (including a line of large Buddhas in the parking area). This temple is an elaborate complex of various styles that unfolds up a hill with various gardens, shrines and sculptures having been added over time as donations come in for expansion.
We also saw some lovely beach resorts (with prices that are very low compared to anything else we have ever seen), another batik/textile plant and some rubber plantations. And we learned more about growing rice – unlike Indonesia, which has more rain, Malaysians grow only 1 crop of rice each year, not 3.
The Peranakans (the Chinese who came to Malaysia years ago and prospered) lived an extravagant lifestyle in Penang, due in part to the profits from trading opium and other products. We visited a museum that was formerly the home of one of these titans, and saw a young couple posing for pre-wedding photographs, apparently a big tradition for the Chinese. The British colonial style architecture in Georgetown, Penang is beautiful, and reminded us of Bermuda in prior years.
The literal highlight of our trip was a cable car ride to the top of Mount Gunung Mat Chinchang (2800 feet at 45 degrees, 15 minutes up and 15 minutes down). Once you get past the sheer terror of it, it is a peaceful ride, like floating through the air and listening to birds singing. On the ride and at the top, you can look out and see Thailand, the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea.
So as we leave Malaysia (the ship has just started to move out of port), Joe and I wish you Buddha’s 4 blessings: love, peace, happiness and prosperity.
PS – Almost forgot to mention another benefit of being in this spot today – we saw the total solar eclipse this morning – very cool to see.