So much for recovering from Langkawi, it's the peak of festival season across the various different cultures and communities in Penang.
Balloon festival (4 Feb)
After the ferry from Langkawi returned me to George Town, Malaysian Mum picked me up from the jetty without my asking, because she's nice like that, and delightedly exclaimed that my skin is now darker than hers.
It wasn't long after I got home before I was heading out again. GJ had made it to George Town too, Ira was staying in a room in my apartment, and GJ had met H, another aspiring vegan, on his ferry. When I meet aspiring vegans I feel obligated to share my knowledge and food discoveries, especially when they're as excited about food as I am.
So I took GJ to Ee Beng first, and we ate quite a lot. Then we met H on Love Lane, and walked through town to Little India. IN NR Thali Sweets they ate curries and I bought some of all of the vegan sweets to share. We stuck around until Ira could join us. We walked to the jetty and picked up a free shuttle to the Polo field, where a balloon festival was happening. There were loads of food options here too. We walked around then chilled on the grass and waited for the hot air balloon and fireworks show to start.
Chinese New Year (4 Feb)
We took the bus back to Chew Jetty then watched the Chinese New Year dancers, fireworks, and wandered around. Bumped into some others from the Penang CouchSurfing community.
Walking back after midnight, in every direction were fireworks and on every street sudden firecrackers. Lots of people, lots of scared stray dogs. I've had a quite enough of the Chinese fixation with fire and loud noises. Pulau Penang is the best place in Malaysia to watch CNY celebrations, anyway, because of its about 70% Hokkien Chinese population.
Ira and I got back to the apartment around 1, and jumped in the pool. My feet and legs were still on fire from mosquitoes and ants, plus the jellyfish stings from almost two weeks ago started scarring and itching.
Temples (5 Feb)
The next afternoon I met them again at Wholey Wonder. After lunch and yoga, we headed to Air Itam to see the Temple of the Jade Emperor and Kek Lok Si. There wasn't much going on at the former; the Jade Emperor's birthday was the night before, when it had been very crowded. We waited around at Kek Lok Si until it was dusk, when all of the lights came on.
Thaipusam - coconut smashing (8 Feb)
This morning I met up with some people from the Penang CouchSurfing group at Times Square. The Thaipusam chariot is being hauled from Little India to the Waterfall Temple, about 15km, today. As it goes, very slowly, people smash coconuts into the ground in front of it. The coconuts are hastily cleared up by small diggers and men with large brushes, to allow the chariot to proceed. There is free vegetarian Indian food everywhere, which is awesome. And a general party atmosphere. Lots of bright colours and music. While we waited for the chariot and coconuts, we also wandered around a couple of the nearby temples.
I threw a coconut but I'm pathetic so it bounced instead of smashed. My wish isn't coming true. I did get pretty well covered in water and bits from other peoples' coconuts though.
Thaipusam - evening festivities (8 Feb)
In the evening I walked along Jalan Utama, the road which leads to the Botanical Gardens. It was lined on both sides with stalls, refreshment stands, and people handing out free vegetarian food. People were dancing, sitting around, and the atmosphere was incredible. I stuffed my face with chapati and dahl and followed the road. Lots of people were heading towards the Gardens, and turning off to climb the steps to the Waterfall Temple. I followed the crowd; it's 500-and-something steps up. Lots of people were carrying pots of offerings.
As we neared the top, I started to feel conspicuous; I was pretty much the only non-Indian (there were one or two Chinese people by this point, but most Western tourists had remained at the bottom) and was starting to worry that there was some ritual happening inside the Temple I'd have no idea how to take part in. The line became single file, and segregated into three sections. One was obvious: the people with pots hanging from hooks in their skin. I'm not sure what the difference between the other two were. I was also a little worried as my shoulders and knees weren't completely covered. But it didn't matter. Aside from having to leave my shoes (which I'd been carrying) outside, I made it into the Temple and simply wandered through. The people with pots had them emptied into.. I dunno, a bigger pot, on the way in. The pots contained some kind of white milky substance.
I wandered around the Temple a bit. Behind it was more free food and seating. People were milling around everywhere, just hanging out. The views of George Town from the top and the way up/down are amazing. My shoes went AWOL, but then I found them again, and headed back down.
On my return along Jalan Utama I picked up a stack of food to take home. Most of the stalls giving out refreshments were interestingly by electronics companies. Pretty much everyone I know in Penang was there, but I didn't find anyone because the crowd was so huge.
Thaipusam - piercings (9 Feb)
I got up early and went to the stadium to watch men having dozens of hooks with things hanging from them poked into their skin. Some men had little swords through their lips, and some have big hooks in their backs from which they will pull chariots later.
In other words... aaarrghhh whhyyy lahh
This evening on the way back from the Penang CS meetup I got caught in a torrential downpour (as usual). But when I made it to my road, I was handed a carton of soya milk. A bit further down, some noodles. Voila! Thaipusam is outside my front door tonight! So from my balcony I watched more coconut smashing, and eventually the golden chariot was pulled past. Pretty neat.
So I am still somewhat in Langkawi vacation mode thanks to festivities and new friends... and there are still things going on until at least the weekend. But, I will get back to work.
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