Balik Kampung

In a short while, Wuan and I will be going on a long road trip again. I am going back to Penang to get some legal matters sorted out. The long stretches of undulating landscape bores me. Six hours straight on the road is a pain. The only consolation is the familiar food that I am going to get to enjoy. I have become a visitor to my own hometown like a tourist coming in for the sights, sounds, smells and savouries and then leave without any qualm. I feel a little lost right now. There is this ache, this emptiness whenever I think of Penang. They say home is where the heart is. But where is home?

Gurney Getaway – Day 4 (December 30, 2004)

Sunrise at Gurney Drive
Sunrise at Gurney Drive.

0707: Wuan caught a few of these remarkable shots of the sunrise while I was still deep asleep. She is definitely a very morning person. All the sunrise shots for this trip were taken by her. She excitedly woke me up just to show me what she had captured. When I looked out the window, the sky was already bright and clear.

Bak Kut Teh at Gurney Drive
Bak kut teh at Zealand Cafe in Gurney Drive.

0856: On the previous mornings, Wuan and I had noticed that the morning crowd usually gathered in the coffee shops selling bak kut teh. This is a popular herbal soup cooked with pork ribs, pork and almost all the innards of a pig. It is served with either white rice or yam rice, crullers (ewe char koay) and bean cake (tau kua). It is true that we Chinese eat almost anything four-legged except tables and chairs. We thought it must be good since there were always sizeable crowds in the shops. However it was not as tasty as we had expected. We must have appeared odd photographing our food before eating it.

Feet of the reclining Buddha at Wat Chayamangkalaram
Feet of the reclining Buddha at Wat Chayamangkalaram in Penang.

0941: We went back to the Siamese temple to take a few shots that we missed for our own personal album. It was already crowded with tourists, mostly Japanese and mainland Chinese. Tsunami or no tsunami, Penang was still full of tourists. This photo is of the reclining Buddha with the motif of a wheel on the sole of his foot. I gathered that the eight spokes of the wheel represent the Noble Eightfold Path (Attha Sila) of Buddhism.

Gurney Drive Penang
Gurney Drive, Penang.

1205: It was time to leave. This had been one uneasy holiday. And I did what most tourists have done more often than me – visit the two Buddhist temples. I believe I have been there as a kid but I do not have any recollection. Now I can be certain that I have been there, thanks to Wuan. Everywhere we went in Gurney Drive, we overheard people talking about the tsunami, the earthquake and the rising death toll. Would we go come back again some time in the near future? Perhaps, just to see the Gurney Drive that I know before it is lost forever to the waves of development.

* More photos in the Gallery.

Gurney Drive Escapade – Day 1

Gurney Drive Penang

When I was a kid, every trip to Gurney Drive with my parents was a treat. Dad would park his car at the stretch where the casuarina trees were. We would then look for the ice cream man, either on his bicycle or cart. We would order ice cream on wafer cones which would either be vanilla, chocolate or corn. We would sit on the sea wall, licking on the ice cream as it began to melt in the sea breeze. Afterwards, we would play around on the white sandy beach, digging for siputs that we took back to fry with soy sauce and chilli.

Gurney Hotel Penang

Wuan, through her office, had booked a two-room suite for two nights at The Gurney Hotel beginning last Sunday. The hotel overlooks the stretch of casuarina trees where I used to frantically lick the ice cream as it dripped down the cone onto my hand and clothes. The ice cream man is no longer there. The beach is no longer there too, being replaced with huge rocks that were dumped there to prevent further erosion of the beach.

The hotel messed up the booking and we were left without a room. Since it was a Sunday, Wuan could not get her office to sort out the mix-up. After much arguing the hotel refused to budge and suggested that we pay for the first night for a studio suite at RM150 nett and then get Wuan’s office to clear up the booking on Monday. All flustered and hungry, we went looking for lunch first before deciding on the next course of action.

The hotel’s coffee house was serving Sunday buffet brunch for RM38 per person. We thought it was rather expensive for the limited amount that was on the buffet train. The waiter there offered to give us a 50% discount. Being the bargain suckers that we were, we decided to eat there. Still, I have tasted better buffet at much cheaper prices and serving more food that I care to eat.

View of Northam Road from Gurney Hotel Penang

Having come all the way already, Wuan decided to stay one night at her own expense and then get her office to sort it out the next day. As usual, we asked for higher floors. Surprisingly, we were given the highest floor which is the thirty sixth floor. The room window overlooked the Penang harbour, the entire old city and the Penang Bridge. The room had all the usual amenities one would find in other hotel rooms with the exception of a Jacuzzi. We rested a while and then decided to have our dinner at Gurney Plaza, which is at the other extreme end of Gurney Drive.

Gurney Drive Penang

The casuarina trees provided some shade from the sun which was still shinning brightly. I remember that fishermen and fishmongers used to sell their freshly caught fishes, prawns and crabs by the promenade. Now, there are mostly loafers and courting couples, people exercising and some who were fishing by the rocks just beside where the waves gently lapped. The view is still remarkable despite the changes but all this will soon change again when sea is reclaimed for commercial intents. When Gurney Drive is no longer there, I still will have these images to remind me when it was such a popular spot among the locals and tourists alike. Among others, Gurney Drive is synonymous with Penang. I cannot imagine a Penang without a Gurney Drive as it is today.

Loke Villa, Gurney Drive Penang

As we neared Gurney Plaza, we could see cars being parked haphazardly. This is a usual sight, especially during weekends. The unique building style of the Loke Villa caught Wuan’s attention and she took a few quick shots from outside the fence. When we reached Gurney Plaza, it was crowded. There was an auto exhibition outside and at the main atrium of the complex. We skirted around the exhibition area and checked out some of the clothes that were on sale at Parkson.

After buying bottled water and some buns from Cold Storage, we surveyed the food outlets that lined the walkway of the complex called the Gurney Place. We settled on La Manila for a wedge of chocolate cake and a grilled salmon set meal with mushroom soup, tea and ice cream. After dinner, it was a leisurely walk back to the hotel as a slight breeze was blowing and the night sight of Gurney Drive was a total transformation from the day with all the fairy lights strung across the road and the many food shops decking out their outlets with dainty lights to attract customers. We did not sleep that well that evening as I was consistently coughing throughout the night which woke Wuan up.