Many thanks to Wan Phing Lim of AsiaRooms for this guest blog post. Here is a delectable, vivid account of childhood in Penang, Malaysia. It goes to show that the smallest cultural details really do make the biggest impressions. I have never visited Malaysia, but still, this piece inspires a combination of nostalgia and the desire to hop on a plane to South East Asia!
Growing up in Malaysia in the 1990s was a very enjoyable experience. My hometown in northern Malaysia, Penang, is an island paradise that is also the second largest city in the country. However, I left home at 18 to pursue a university degree in Manchester, UK, and since then have continued to work and live abroad. Despite that, Penang and Malaysia will always be my home, and in this post I will tell you about my experience growing in the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ and why it’s an interesting place to visit:
1. Buying ice cream from the ice cream man
In Malaysia, you get ice cream men who sell ice cream on motorbikes. The freezer sits atop his bike and he rings a bell as he rides around the estate. Some interesting flavours you will get include purple yam (also known as taro), durian (dubbed the King of Fruits), corn and Neapolitan (a three-layer chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavour). These ice creams are either served in wafer cones or squashed in between lightly coloured bread like a sandwich. I’m glad these ice cream “uncles”, as we call them, still exist today. In fact, here’s a picture of a cousin and me taken just last year outside our grandma’s house in Gelugor:
2. Road trips to Hatyai
If you don’t already know, Malaysia is geographically situated between Thailand and Singapore. My hometown in Penang is a mere 200km (124 miles) to the border of Thailand, and therein lies Hatyai, the Bangkok of the South. It is popular mostly to Malaysians who come for inexpensive food, a good massage and lots and lots of shopping! The two-hour drive is made all the more enjoyable as the landscape becomes more rural in north Malaysia, past the green paddy fields and rubber tea plantations. All of this before we enter Thailand and the bustling markets and chaotic tuk tuks await us.
3. Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western food
Malaysians are very proud of their food, and if you ever visit the country, it would be a sin to not try local delicacies like nasi lemak (coconut milk rice), roti canai (Indian flatbread) and rojak (spicy fruit salad). Because of the multicultural mix of Malays, Chinese, Indians and Eurasians that make up the Malaysia people, you’ll find either authentic, adapted or fusion foods from these cultural backgrounds. The name Penang, especially, is synonymous with good food, so if you’re in town, don’t miss out on local favourites like assam laksa (fish broth noodles), hokkien mee (prawn curry noodles) and char koay teow (egg fried noodles).
4. Weekend outings to the beach
As Penang is a beautiful island surrounded by the Straits of Malacca and the Andaman Sea, it comes as no surprise that the beaches are pretty fantastic. On the northern tip of the island is Batu Ferringhi, a coastal town with winding roads, steep cliffs and beautiful bays, much like the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Certain parts of the stretch have been highly developed for tourism with international hotels. However, if you go a little further up the coast, there’s plenty of greenery to be found. One of my favourite spots is a quiet beach called Pantai Teluk Aling and a lighthouse in Muka Head, both located within the Penang National Park.
5. Holidays in Singapore
Holidays in Singapore were an expensive affair. They were few and far between, but once every 2-3 years we took a vacation to the Lion City one hour away by flight. Dad’s favourite hotels (excluding the homes of our kind relatives) include the 5-star Mandarin Orchard and Duxton Hotel, the latter which is surprisingly just around the corner from where I work today. The modern, clean and efficient city of Singapore is considered first world and first class in the region of South East Asia. This is where I spent my childhood visiting the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park and Haw Par Villa. The amazing thing about Singapore is that it has since continued to progress and develop into the vibrant metropolis that makes it such a successful country today.–Wan Phing is the Online Editor at AsiaRooms.com. Born and raised in Penang, Malaysia, she has lived in Beijing, London, Benevento, Kuala Lumpur, and Manchester. Currently, she resides in Singapore. Wan Phing loves travel, photography and discovering new trends. Be sure to head to her website, add her on Google+, follow her on Twitter, or send her an email. She is full of great travel advice and will be more than happy to connect with you!