First Day in Penang: DIY World Religions Walk

Kapitan Keling Mosque in Penang, Malaysia
We woke up today to a sound that was much like a shopping cart with rusty metal wheels going by our door. We finally got up to go to our shared bathroom down the hall and discovered that four birds had managed to get onto the second floor of the hotel. As we tried to go to the bathroom we had to duck as they seemed to charge right for us! We were definitely wide awake by the time we got back to our room to get ready to start our first day in Penang.
After securing our visa documents were in the right hands and changing hotels, we began the day with a masala dosa:

With full bellies, we decided to go on a DIY World Religions Walk. Malaysia seems to pride itself on its multiculturalism and religious tolerance (freedom of worship is written in the Malaysian constitution) and here in Penang there are SO many different temples, churches and mosques to chose from. We began by visiting two churches: Church of the Assumption (which unfortunately was closed on Mondays so we couldn’t see inside)…

…and St. George’s Church. Just as we were approaching the church, it started to rain so we ran to take cover. We laughed as we though how cliche it was to be “taking refuge in a church from a storm”.

Although we had arrived during the 2 hour break when they are closed every day (between 12-2pm), we were able to sit on the church steps, away from the rain. As we sat there, the rain picked up considerably…

…leaving HUGE puddles to play in after it was all over:

Our next stop was Kuan Yin Temple, a Chinese temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy. The big pink sticks out front are actually incense, making the air very fragrant. The two metal cylinders on either side act as a fireplace and have incense in them as well. Inside this temple was decorated with beautiful red Chinese lanterns on the ceiling.

Practically across the street we saw the Sir Maha Mariamman Temple, dedicated to its namesake, the Hindu goddess. We were not there when it was open but the outside looked very interesting indeed:

The next stop on our tour was the Teochew Temple, which was built in 1870 by the Chinese originating from Teochew or Chaozhou in southern China. It is a temple dedicated to the Teochew’s patron deity and ancestors.

The inside was very ornate and the back hall had a series of beautifully carved wooden doors:

Our tour continued to the Kapitan Keling Mosque. With ominous thunderclouds in the background, the stark whiteness of its minaret was breath-taking.
As many men were leaving (we had arrived at the end of the midday prayer) we were not sure if we’d be welcomed inside, especially given that we were improperly dressed.

This turned out not to be a problem because we were given clothing to wear free of charge. We were allowed to walk around the outside and take pictures but were asked not to go into the main prayer hall as that is reserved for men. Women pray in a private room off to the right side.

The next stop on our walking tour was Yap Kongsi, a temple dedicated to the ancestors of the Yap clan Β and their patron deities. This particular clan, like the Teochew above, originated from southern China, but unlike the Teochew, we found their temple to be more ornate in their carvings and use of color.

After puzzling over the map and trying to figure out the narrow alleys of old Georgetown, we finally came across the entrance to the next religious site on our walking tour: Khoo Kongsi. When we walked to front gate, we were greeted by a guard and a cashier. This particular locale would have cost us 10 ringit each, and we weren’t willing to pay that. So, like the adage on t-shirts, “We went to Khoo Kongsi and all we got was this sign:”

The final stop on our tour was the Acheen Street Mosque, which was much more low key than the Kapitan Keling Mosque. Ligeia particularly enjoyed it for its ornate simplicity.

The pool for washing before praying was also sourced by an underground spring. Ligeia request for washing her face, hands and feet with water from this pool was gladly granted.

Mindy and Ligeia continued to the Chew Jetty along the waterfront. This featured a wooden pier with private residences on either side. Many of the homes included store fronts, catered to tourists, selling food and various treats.

Towards the end of the pier, one side opened up into a fishing boat parking lot. If you look very closely you can see Mindy’s foot on the ride side of the picture below:

After a rather disappointing dinner in Little India we went to get a famous Penang dessert called Cendol, which gets its name from the green, chewy noodle-like condiment in the dessert. The noodle gets its green color from the pandan plant, which is found in this part of Asia.

Here are the steps in making Cendol:
1) fill a bowl with finely shaved ice
2) add red beans and sweet syrup
3) scoop the cendal noodle on top
4) cover the dessert with a copious amount of fresh coconut milk
Despite what you might think of the less than common ingredients in Western desserts, this dessert is one of our favorites now. We enjoyed the Cendol to the tune of a Malaysian man with a black cowboy hat playing an electric keyboard and singing the words “Son of a gun, we’re having fun, in the bayou”. It was rather catchy after the millionth time we heard the refrain and we sang it the whole way home. We’ll be going back to the same place tomorrow night for sure!

On the way back to our hotel, we noticed this gorgeous door and just had to get our picture taken. It tuned out that the group of tourists also visiting the temple were from Phuket, Thailand.

We’re off to bed now so we can be rested for another day of adventure tomorrow.
Mindy and Ligeia :):)

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