Wednesday, 12 October 2016

George Town: A Temple, more meandering, a Cemetery, and a rant about food and a review of a restaurant.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Today I missed the chance to see the fishermen. One needs to get one’s lazy arse out of bed early to see them, and I resolutely slept through until quite late.

This morning at breakfast there is much less cloud over the coastal fringe where the hotel is situated. Yesterday was warmer than Monday. today looks to be a real scorcher. Within seconds of writing this sentence there was a short-lived but heavy rain shower. The temperature dropped noticeably and the sun continued to shine brightly. Nothing unusual there, then.

Probably the main delight for me is aimlessly meandering around the streets of George Town. There is a marvellous nucleus of colonial buildings, in different stages of (dis)repair. 

Some appear to be in need of architectural last rites. Dotted around the place is street art for visitors to enjoy. It’s interesting stuff and looks good in situ, but, like photographing Venice’s Grand Canal from atop the Ponte Rialto, such images are two a penny. I would need to have, or find, a special or quirky reason to pause at each one and “collect the series” either in part or complete on my camera. I twice observed a gentleman with a Leica resolutely searching out some of them.

After my large, late breakfast I made my way to the Kuan Yin Teng, the Temple of the Goddess of Mercy. She’s popped up in a few temples I’ve seen, so I guess she’s done a few good turns, a bit like the Virgin Mary I imagine. In Penang she has two temples apparently, one Buddhist, the other Taoist. I know some people hedge their bets on religion to be on the safe side, but for a Goddess to get about a bit is not so common place.

As is common with most functioning temples I've been to, one can buy last minute offerings to the relevant deity in literal or symbolic form. This temple is no exception!

These joss sticks are a bit unwieldy.
This is quite a lot of incense. 
Joss sticks were not allowed inside the temple.
These are located immediately in front of the building.
We went inside this temple on the last day of our first trip, 13 February 2011. Chinese New Year was late in 2011 and there was a lot of activity inside. This time was much quieter, a more relaxed day. A Chinese lady stopped to talk to me inside. In the winter months she comes back to Penang, but the rest of the year she is in Mississippi. It's interesting the people you meet.

These lanterns filled the ceiling above the altar at the back of the temple.
This is one hell of a temple block.
It is about 18 inches or 45 centimetres long.
I really wanted to test it!
When I saw this I initially only saw
 the small parts making up the whole.
The design is beautiful to my eyes.
I love taking photos of candles.
It's not easy.
Looking up, one sees beautiful work like this. 
The lady arrived as I was setting up the shot.
She has made the image work.
I then went on another nose following expedition, taking a diversion down an alley where useful stuff was on sale, stuff like screwdrivers, harness clips. In fact, in this small area including a few shops nearby, this seemed to be George Town’s hard core hardware ghetto. After the stalls had petered out, the plants outside this door caught my eye.

Walk off the beaten track.
You never know what you will find.
This is an ex-house. It has ceased to be. It is no more.
The Campbell Street Market
A small diversion on the way back to the pool, sorry, I mean the hotel, was the Protestant Cemetery. 

The cemetery, as seen from outside.
Most cemeteries are full of the usual notables and nobodies, and this cemetery does not fail in that respect. It does, however, contain the remains of a notable nobody, one Thomas Leonowens (according to Wikipedia it seems this surname was a creation and not the name he had at birth). He married his childhood sweetheart, emigrated to Australia, thence to Singapore, before finally arriving in Penang, where young Thomas found work as a hotel keeper. He died on 21st May 1859 aged 31 years & 5 days. His burial place is marked by a not insubstantial monument. 

The grave of Thomas Leonowens
His wife, Anna, went on to be better known, as the author of The English Governess at  the Siamese Court (1870) which was the basis for another book, several films and probably best known of all for a couple of generations, the musical The King and I.

One of the larger monuments of somebody I know very little about.
A detail from the above monument.
Whilst in the cemetery the heavens opened and the air was refreshed. It being only a short distance from the cemetery to the hotel I was back in the room in next to no time.

The arcade beneath the E&O's new extension.
But before I reached the room I was captivated by the colours of a stunning scene of the sea and sky. When I see things like that, I wish had the ability to paint and capture what I see and the emotion aroused by it, rather than merely photograph it and edit the image to try to recapture the parallel lines and the colours.

Seascape after rain. 
After resting it was time to go in search of food. The idea of eating before I am truly hungry defeats me, but yesterday on my hunt I found a not unpleasant place that offers pasta and tapas, Coffee Atelier, 55 Restaurant and Cafe, 55 Lorong Stewart (on the corner with Lorong Chulia), but as ever, once one gets out of Europe those terms become more fluid. 

Bruschetta (charmingly mis-spelled as bruchetta) appears under the heading of tapas. I'm sure as many sins have been created in the movement from East to West as have occurred in the opposite direction and also between one country and another. Spaghetti bolognese springs to mind as one culinary crime which will get Italians, if not foaming at the mouth, simmering with rage at the non existent and probably bastardised version served up before them.

One would hardly believe Fish and Chips could be cocked up in a grand scale, but it does, not least with the usual abortion laughingly dressed up as something made directly from the potato rather than a mush. Chips must be firm!

The young man the previous evening had been very polite, that I thought it churlish not to return, even though I preferred something more local, but with locals working on European stuff, why the Hell not? This review is not based on extensive knowledge of food, Jay Rayner style, but of one ordinary traveller's experience.

My choice was their aglio olio (no mention of peperoncino!) with bacon. It came served with cherry tomatoes and sliced black olives. I was offered the opportunity to have it served with cheese or to sprinkle it myself. I chose the latter. There was a gentle sprinkling of something black around the edge of the pasta bowl (yes, that was a nice touch). What came as a shock was the heat of the first mouthful on the tongue, and that was most welcome, but there was one more pleasant shock to the system. The pasta was firm! The concept of al dente was not only known but practiced. 

I will not allege this aglio olio will set the culinary world ablaze overnight with a culinary purity that even the Olympian Gods could scarcely believe capable from humans. 

Complaints? I would have loved a bit of ciabatta or focaccia to wipe the bowl clean. 

I came with no expectations, but I left the first course with a still warm tingly mouth, tongue and lips. 

For dessert I chose, as I have an evil streak in me, the homemade (please note the term, homemade) tiramisù, a dessert I really enjoy and I have eaten in different guises over the years. When it was brought before me it was served in a glass. Homemade was not interpreted like 'della casa' meaning bought in from a large catering company.

As a winter pud it would have stood up to the rigours of a walk in the cold back to the hotel but for George Town on a typically warm evening it was too heavy for my stomach. The creamy distinctly coffee flavoured filling (I think it was mascarpone) and the well soaked sponge tasted wonderful. A more daring oomph of alcohol would not have gone amiss for me.

Including a 600ml bottle of mineral water and taxes, the bill came to RM 48.75 (about £10 post Brexit). The food was better than some I've had in Europe, and even, dare I suggest, in some Italian places where the tourist customer is not treated with respect.

I had a pleasant conversation with the young man who was front of house. Yesterday he had been chef. He probably told me too much, had I been a critic revising restaurants, but it was pleasant to talk about food and to pass back to the staff the pleasure one's had. 

Our conversation had meant I avoided the rain and I returned the hotel dry to complete the blog prior to bed.

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