Penang: Heritage in Hues Part 3 – End


Nothing religious about the next story of my journey. Not even if religious buildings are the centre stage of my post. My only belief is that “Heritage in Hues” will be lack of hues without showing enchanting temples worth to see on this island. I purposely created a separate post from part 1 and 2 to show ornamented details of each temple I managed to visit. Having nearly zero knowledge about Buddhism, religious events and all the carvings couldn’t stop me from appreciating and admiring the beauty of craftsmanship and vibrant colours in these sacred places of worship. It didn’t take a genius to enjoy them wholeheartedly. Especially in limited time.


Goddess of Mercy Temple (Kong Hock Keong) is dedicated to Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy, and Ma Chor Po, the patron saint of sea voyagers.

I’m not the only one who accidentally snapped the green shirt grandpa with his walking stick. I recognize the same grandpa appearing in other images of this temple on internet.

These birds are not meant for pets. They will be released from their cage as part of a religious event.

The sacred temple was crowded with worshippers burning and raising incense sticks to seek answers for their prayers. The strong smell from the incense sticks forced us to hold our breath several times and the thick smoke lead our eyes in tears. I squeezed among the crowds to be in the corner part of the temple to capture this moment without disturbing the religious activity. Thank God the pilgrims didn’t care much of their surroundings. Perhaps they are used to with bunch of curious tourists visiting the oldest temple in Penang, which is still actively in use.


As we got off the bus, we were skeptical with the surroundings. We only saw regular shophouses, some were closed and untreated, middle class residential areas and a soccer field. No sign of a majestic edifice, proudly called “The Heritage Jewel of Penang” on its postcard, has ever existed. We finally found a shophouse lookalike entrance door at Cannon Street, the oldest part of George Town, after asking the locals about the road direction to the temple.

The temple façade is as stunning as what people said, and that’s not it. Go upstairs to see the peak of its beauty.

Khoo Kongsi is the clan house of Khoo family who migrated to Penang from Sin Kang clan village in Hokkien province of China. Khoo family was one of the richest Straits Chinese traders in early Penang and Malacca back in 17th century. Initially, the Khoo ancestors built a clan house in 1851, which was burnt down in 1894 by lightning strikes. However, some believed that the angry Gods were the cause of destruction triggered by the clan house’s resemblance to the emperor’s palace.

One of the rooftop details of the clan house

In 1902, the less grandiose version of the clan house was re-erected and finished in 1906. The temple is a family temple to respect the passing predecessors and a place to keep ancestral tablets. Wait a second – less grandiose a.k.a simpler?? I can’t imagine how magnificent the old clan house was. If I were the God of Jealousy, I would burn it down once more because it beauty exceeds my present palace. ;p

Passing through the red door is the starting point to be up, close and personal to the history and family tree of the wealthy Khoo family

Rickshaws are part of tourist attractions, but the rate is way too touristic for me. Compared to these rickshaws, taxis without meter are cheaper. Some shophouses situated around the clan house surroundings are being renovated. Those days, its neighbourhood was like a clan’s village where governmental activities including finance, welfare and education were held. These activities contributed a strong influence for civilization in Penang.


We only had an hour to visit the largest Buddhist complex in Southeast Asia before its closing time at 6 pm. It could be enough although we had to sacrifice a bit of enjoyment of the visit. It was our last day in Penang, so we had no choice.

Kek Lok Sie, meaning “Temple of Supreme Bliss” in Hokkien, is the only Buddhist temple we visited outside the Heritage City George Town. It is situated on the hill of Air Itam town. Built in 1890, it took more than 20 years to complete the execution and it is still in ongoing process to expand, funded by the affluent Chinese community.

The Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas with its seven tier was completed in 1930. Its architecture is a combination of a Chinese octagonal base, a Thai middle tier and a Burmese crown.

Colourful ribbons represent wishes. Each ribbon, which has different Chinese inscriptions, is put on the table with the following English translations in front of it, for instance wisdom, health, wealth, success, prosperity etc. Visitors can write their name(s) and wish(es) on their chosen ribbon. Then, the temple officials hang them on the twigs that makes it look like a “tree of wishes”.

The other option is to write it on a roof tile. I preferred writing it on a ribbon as it is more colourful and I loved seeing my handwriting hanging on a “tree”. Moreover, the markers they provided to write on a roof tile were non-permanent ink. Since they really place the written roof tiles on rooftops, it won’t be a good news if one day the pouring rain washes away the marker ink.

I’ve made myself clear: I was there!

The Kuan Yin Goddess statue and its pavilion was completed in 2009.

Turtles on a turtle pond located inside the temple complex

After the turtle pond, we passed through the hallway with lots of souvenir shops on both right and left side. At the same time, the cab driver who drove us to the temple waited for us outside.

This vintage optical ad was seen on the hallway, marking the last thing I photographed before I left Penang


I could have selected only the best to share up to 10 images max, but I decided not to. I’d rather show several particular details I loved while visiting these wonderful places. It’s hard to tell that the carvings on the left wing room is better than the right one, for instance. Each element should be embraced as a whole, depicting harmony and unity of the architecture, as well as the interior.

En gros, Penang is all about showing off its Southeast Asian heritage to the world, from historical buildings (Straits Chinese shophouses, mansions, places of worship, town hall), delicious street food until peaceful environment and friendly people. Apart from that, many Indonesians come to Penang to get more affordable medical check-up in a hospital. Of course I wish you all are in great health, therefore you can put the hospital thing aside.

The heritage presented with full colour of life, art and culture – that’s what I love best.  I just don’t see any other reasons not to call it “Heritage in Hues”.


Penang: Heritage in Hues Part 2

Personally, eating local delicacy, taking taxis and buses in Penang brought back school life nostalgic moments. Therefore, this time I mostly highlight experiences that remind me of life in Petaling Jaya (PJ), Selangor (Malaysia) in 1999 where I pursued my study abroad for the first time.

Should I categorize this in travel or personal?


Going to Penang without local street food equals to an incomplete journey. I regret not capturing great pictures of delicious food I ate that can arouse your appetite. I even need to replace some failed images with the better ones from internet. I hate doing this, but I think it’s necessary to do so. Otherwise, nobody knows what I’m talking about. That’s the last thing I wanna do with my blog.

Instant solution for chairs that don’t meet required size spec

Gurney Drive: Not about the Beach

Which ones do you prefer?

As described by the hotel receptionist, Gurney Drive is famous for its hawker centre along coastal line of Penang. I imagined it would be like dining by the beach in Jimbaran, Bali. Nevertheless, the hawker is actually situated across the street from the beach. The sand shore was partly covered by rocks. There were neither coconut trees nor sound of waves. I don’t think it’s suitable to call it “dining by the beach”. Quite dissapointing.

Hanging sotong (squid)

However, as the sun went down, there were more crowds coming to the hawker. Hearing the sound of chattering, laughing crowds and shouting vendors, I suddenly felt relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. I got the same feeling years ago when I hung out with friends at a hawker centre after finishing school projects. It was the best stress relief ever. Moreover, it represented all local food that challenges your appetite, from beef marrow soup, char kway tiauw, chendul, rojak, various kinds of seafood etc.

In a nutshell, Gurney Drive is about a social meeting spot for families, couples, friends, colleagues, and business partners, not the beach and the sunset.

Malaysian chendul (green rice flour jelly) have longer jellies than Indonesian cendol

 Hanging tutti frutti a laPenang

Pork char sieuw and intestine at the hawker near Sunway Hotel George Town

Herbal Eggs

Best source of energy to start your day!

Herbal eggs or Chinese marbled eggs are hard-boiled eggs simmered in Chinese herb soup. Whenever I had no time for breakfast or lunch at school, I took them as quick snacks. I didn’t only love the taste of the herbs absorbed in the eggs, but also they kept me energized, “hunger free” for hours and much better choice than junk food.

I was so glad I accidentally found herbal eggs in a food court at Gurney Plaza, a shopping mall in Gurney Drive. Now they cost RM 1 per piece. Then, RM 1 for 3 pieces. I couldn’t expect to get the same price as before, but at least they still taste the same as that of 13 years ago.

Indian Food

As Indian community is very rare in Indonesia, I purposely came to Little India to enjoy authentic Indian food which is hard to find in my hometown. Briyani rice, chicken masala, chicken tandoori, mutton curry…..yummy yummy! Besides, we went to Indian food stall close to the hotel to get roti tisu. Even tough I was so afraid of gaining weight, it was too irresistible to resist.

Roti Tisu

Back in PJ where I pursued my study, roti tisu, roti canai and roti prata were some of my favorite supper menus for lepak (hang out) at a hawker centre or a mamak stall. A very fattening and “heavy duty” choice for supper, but it was fun to share with my schoolmates and incredibly delicious!

Bak Kut Teh

Don’t judge a book by its cover: it tastes better that it looks

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t eat bak kut teh (Chinese pork ribs in herb soup) when I stayed in Malaysia. The only thing I remember about bak kut teh is a strange experience with Chinese cab drivers in PJ. Knowing I’m a Chinese descendant, these drivers -different person, time and place- approached me with a conversation mainly about Chinese community to get my sympathy, then they offered me instant bak kut teh for RM 2 moments before I got off from their cab. I didn’t take the offer, though. I kept thinking whether these people were doing multilevel marketing by selling instant bak kut teh in a sachet as their side job.

I finally ate the original bak kut teh for the first time in Penang that didn’t come from a sachet. I just couldn’t get enough, so damn good!! Besides, the dried version of bak kut teh with sprinkled salted fish. It doesn’t exist in Jakarta. So it’s something worth to try, even though I like the original one better.

Teh O Ais Limau: Bad Tea Day Saviour Remembered

SURGEON’S GENERAL WARNING: addictive when mixed with iced tea!

Teh o ais limau refers to iced lemon tea in English. However, what Malaysian people use in their traditional iced lemon tea is lime or key lime (limau), not lemon. It should be “iced lime tea”, even though nobody calls it that way. I believe a lime causes Malaysian iced lemon tea has exceptional taste, and that’s what I miss the most. Therefore I spontaneously answered, “Teh O Ais Limau!” at hawker centres in Penang almost every time the waiter asked me for drinks. By the way, limes are very common in my hometown, but not a common ingredient for iced lemon tea.

Well, how I end up as a lemon tea addict actually started from the first depressive month in PJ as I’ve been an unsweetened tea addict. Getting unsweetened iced tea  (Indonesian: es teh tawar) at a Malay mamak stall drove me nuts. I said teh ais (also literally means iced tea in English) confidently because I thought it was the closest term to es teh (tawar). But suddenly I got iced milk tea. It didn’t say milk (susu) at all!

I was advised to order teh o ais if I don’t want milk in my tea. So I ordered teh o ais next day. It was true there wasn’t milk, but sugar instead. It didn’t say sugar (gula) at all! A few days later, I ordered teh o ais again with a remark “no sugar”.  The waiter nodded. Still, there was SUGAR in my tea!! The week after was my last attempt. I tried to order in English “tea without sugar”, once in Malay “teh tanpa gula“.  Both have the same meaning. But again, the GODDAMN SUGAR was STILL there!!!

Finally, I gave up. I would rather get a different type of drink. I gave a shot ordering iced lemon tea,  although I didn’t really enjoy tea with lemon. Yet, at least the lemon could neutralize the sweetness of the tea. Et voilà, I love it!  Since then, it was my regular drink besides ais kosong (cold water).

I should have asked all the drink terms listed in the menu, but it was time consuming and I was Ms. Know It All, then (now I know I wasn’t). Although Malay and Indonesian are similar, Malay beverage terms could lead me to total lost in translation.

Gula Melaka Ice Cream

The best home made ice cream is just two steps from here!

The café across Yap Temple, unfortunately I forget the name, has one of the best home made ice cream I’ve ever tasted, from chocolate, chocolate chip, coffee until tiramisu flavour. Chocolate chunks on the chocolate chip flavour tasted really good despite being slightly oversized, even without the (vanilla) ice cream.

How about gula Melaka (palm sugar) flavoured ice cream? The lady who served me was a very honest person. She didn’t recommend me to try it, but I insisted on getting the tester. It was something new for me; the only food that has nothing to do with my school life flashback. Not so horrible that I wanted to throw up, yet I just couldn’t enjoy it that much.

Don’t get me wrong. I love palm sugar. I mix it with coffee, grilled banana and avocado. Nonetheless, I admit it was a bizarre ingredient to create ice cream flavour.



Sorry to say, but I don’t see the point of placing announcement on the front taxi door as shown above. In reality, I never found any taxis in Penang using meter.  The best thing I could do was to get preliminary information about the average rate to certain destination or ask the hotel security guard to bargain with the driver. Taxis in the airport don’t use meter either, but you can get fixed rate if you buy tickets from the taxi counter after claiming your baggage.

“We won’t earn much for living because Penang is just a small island where everything is close.” said the driver in response to the question why taxi drivers in Penang don’t want to use meter. Regardless of not using meter, the drivers who took us were friendly and love chit-chatting just about anything, from tourist attractions, food until their wife, children and grandsons.

On the other hand, exploring George Town was very convenient thanks to CAT (Central Area Transit), a free shuttle bus mainly concentrated on tourist attractions around the heritage city area.

There are many ways to enjoy Penang and see what this island has inherited to the world, especially in Southeast Asian culture. And that’s not all yet, my friends!  I’ll bring you more “hues” in the last part of the heritage sequel. Stay tuned…

Penang: Heritage in Hues Part 1

George Town, the capital state of Penang, Malaysia, is a modest and a laidback capital city at a glance. Mid 80s to 90s shopping centre and hotel architecture mingle with metal-roofed hawker centres, Komtar Tower -the highest skyscraper in town-, colonial style government buildings, churches, museums, Buddhist and Hindu temples, peranakan shophouses, mansions, mosques and a few recently built modern properties.

Despite major absence of modernity, George Town has been one of the cities preserving a remaining Southeast Asian legacy besides Singapore and Malacca. Once being a melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Indian traders and European colonies, it has formed exceptional multicultural heritage. Since 2008, UNESCO has awarded George Town as one of the World Heritage Cities.

What fascinating experiences did my parents and I get in Penang, especially the Heritage City George Town? Here in Heritage in Hues Part 1, I emphasize on peranakan shophouses, mansions and language. Peranakan (Straits Chinese) refers to Chinese descendants who acculturate with the locals to form their own culture. I find Peranakan culture is the most distinctive multicultural heritage in this old town, a must to see!


One of my favourite peranakan heritage is the shophouses. These are some words I use to describe them: colourful, contrast, unique, damaged, faded, tarnished, restored, eclectic. Not all of them were in their best condition, but I find this imperfect beauty breathtaking, it’s “vintage”. Nowadays, many of them are commercial centres, such as driving school, dental clinic, cake shop, etc. Straits Chinese shophouses are everywhere in the old town George Town, from busy streets until every block and corner of the street. Trust me, they are very recognizable, you can’t get wrong!

Row of eclectic shophouses at Magazine Rd.

Detail of a Chinese door from one of the shophouses

Restoration undone?

Colourful and patterned tiles are also one of the peranakan signature styles, depicting the detail of the previous shop house right above this image.

This “1938” yellow building is a local snack shop where I got free home-made pia cake sample and bought my favourite dried ikan bilis (anchovy fish) snack .

Restoration (nearly) done

I’d rather call a tooth fairy to check up or take my tooth out than coming to this dental clinic….

Still at Magazine Road, I prefer presenting this picture above in black and white. It’s just more classy.

Another shophouse somewhere not far from the hotel.

Shophouses at Canon St, just across Khoo Kongsi clanhouse.


Enough with shophouses? Let’s move to the mansion, shall we?

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, the proprietary of the mansion built in 1899, applied peranakan style to decorate his lavish mansion using the finest materials from China to Europe, such as English floor tiles and Chinese wooden panels. After several decades of neglect, the mansion was finally restored to return its former glory. People come to the mansion for studying the old generation of Straits Chinese lifestyle, shooting films, photography sessions, special event venues or simply enjoying the beauty of Straits Chinese art. It reminds me of chinoiserie applied in European castles.

From all the colours used in both shophouses and mansions, green wall of Pinang Peranakan Mansion is very distinctive. It reminds me of old houses in my hometown Indonesia during Dutch colony period. Many other shophouses I saw in the Heritage City use similar type of green. Turquoise and salted duck egg-shell kind of blue were also popular in this era, then.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Unfortunately we could only see this magnificent rare blue mansion from outside the fence. We came after 3 pm on Sunday and it was closed. Cheong Fatt Tze, named after its owner, was built in 1880. It doesn’t only display antiquities and exquisite interior, but also provides rooms to stay. Each room has its own theme, designed by famous local designers. Above all, this mansion is known to have great Feng Shui.


Situated not far from Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, this former private residence and office of Ku Din Ku Meh is now a bungalow with typical peranakan style both exterior and interior.

Seems like a nice place to hang out

I took this picture from the bus window on the way to Khoo Kongsi clanhouse. The gates were closed, but the windows were open and looks unpromising. I’m wondering if this hotel still operates. After Bratislava, Rome and Vegas, I think this place is suitable for the next Hostel sequel if any 🙂


As we are also peranakan, Chinese-Indonesian descendants, the first thing we have in common with local people is the language. In general, Chinese Malaysian in Penang speaks Malay fluently and the main Chinese dialect they speak is Hokkien. We speak Indonesian, which is similar to Malay, but unfortunately we don’t speak Chinese. If we could speak one, Hokkien would be our dialect, too.

Having a Chinese look without the ability of speaking the language can sometimes bring discomfort to the beholder. The question “Why don’t you Chinese?” turned to be an endless discussion when I was in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore around a decade ago. Really, it happened more than twice. It seemed that they couldn’t accept a Chinese who can’t speak Chinese.

I was so glad nobody asked me that kind of question in Penang. Is it because they don’t care or they are used to with Indonesian people, never mind. Whatever the reason is, it made me comfortable. I noticed that the locals, especially drivers and vendors, preferred to respond our question in Malay every time we asked in English. Therefore I made use of my time in Penang to practice Malay (conversational Malay, not Indonesian), hoping that my Malay accent was still as good as that of 13 years ago when I studied abroad in Malaysia. In the beginning, I felt awkward since I mixed up a lot with Indonesian terms that are either never used or have different meanings in Malay. But well, I finally made it although it wasn’t that perfect. Hooray!

We used to have rickshaws in Jakarta before being banned. But no worries, street dogs are still not banned there until now

This is not the end of my sharing session with you yet. The heritage still have more hues to show in my next post…..