Sri Weld Food Court: An Afternoon Eatery

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Mike and I came across Sri Weld Food Court coming back from the post office, and it became our go to lunch place. Of course, it is not immune to tourists, us included, and all of the benefits that brings (English menus and English speakers), but seemed to serve a lot of office workers on lunch break as well. We didn’t run into any rats or cockroaches at this place, just cats and kittens that will beg from you or paw at leftovers in the dirty dish bins.

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The court is only active from 11 to 5 pm, so its nicely shaded. The largest stall is for drinks, and you can get anything from pricy Western food to Taiwanese food to traditional Chinese-Malay food such as Hainnanese chicken, “pao” (baozhi) from a very clean hawker stall, and wonton mee.

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The place is famous for its nasi lemak and its soup beef koay teow, if you’re into that.

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Broadway Budget Motel: New and Shiny

After we had had enough of the Oriental Hostel’s exposed bathrooms and our noisy neighbors there, we moved across Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling to the Broadway Budget Hotel. We had encountered its sparkling environs our first day walking about Georgetown, but it was 70 MYR a night, and 80 MYR Friday through Sunday, so we waited until Monday to move in.

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Unfortunately, we hadn’t booked ahead, so we had to pay 80 MYR for one night in a room with a TV, where we watched too many Harry Potter movies and part of Life of Pi. We would have paid the extra 10 MYR for the weekend, but again, failing to book ahead, they ran out of non-TV rooms. Unwilling to pay 90 MYR a night when when we had to move our stuff anyway. Plus, our original budget per night for housing had been for 60 MYR, so we decided to move on.

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Pros: very clean and professional, provides toilet paper, soap, and thick towels, air conditioning, includes window, bathroom, wardrobe with drawer and pole (no hangers), a tiny desk (more of a vanity), plenty of hooks behind the door, each floor has own wifi router, three outlets, one of which is universal. Your room is mopped every day. Rooms also include a Keblat, pointing towards Mecca.

Cons: The hotel has Indian concierges, but bargaining is not allowed. The lobby has benches, a TV, and drinks for sale from a refrigerator, but no tables. The outlets are far from the desk, but near a tiny shelf. There is no elevator, and people smoke in the stairwell. You trade away personality and history for the new, shiny rooms.

Also, depending on the room and the weather, your can see great views.

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Eating Famous Street Food

Here is a picture of some wonton mee I had today for lunch, from Sri Weld Food Court:

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And here’s a picture of some wonton mee I had today for dinner, from New Lane:

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One was from a famous food stand, as promoted by a food brochure, and the other one was not. Both bowls were the large size and cost 4.50 MYR. The one I had for lunch was good. The one I had for dinner had more noodles and larger slices of BBQ pork, and came with a dish of sliced peppers in soy sauce, but before I added the soy sauce, seemed a bit bland.

Ultimately, I have to say the noodles from New Lane were a better deal. They filled me up, something that the wanton mee from lunch needed a nasi lemak to achieve the same level of fullness.

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Those are famous nasi lemaks, by the way. One is shrimp (not shelled) and one is dried anchovies with part of a salted egg. They are supposed to be spicier than usual. They’re the only ones I’ve had, so all I can is that they are good. The rice was fragrant and the sambas was spicy and savory.

But in terms of taste, even in terms of quantity, there wasn’t that much of a difference. Maybe my sen se of taste just isn’t refined enough, but both wonton mees tasted good. The famous one from New Lane is not much different from the one from Sri Weld, and probably wouldn’t be that much different from the one from Red Garden or a random stand on Chulia Street. The only thing is that Sri Weld is a lunch time food court, while the rest are evening eateries.

I wanted to go to the New Lane stand to prove my hypothesis, but I also wanted to see New Lane at night. The previous time I had been there it had been pretty dead. Saturday night it was full, and some locals had driven cars to eat there. The air was hazy from the smoke and steam coming from the various vendors.

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It’s a bit of a walk to get to New Lane from the UNESCO part of Georgetown (south of the Komtor), but it’s less touristy than Red Garden or Chulia Street. The worst part is crossing Jalan Doktor Lee Chwee Leong. I suggest taking Jalan Penang south and then crossing the overpass.

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New Lane is called Lorong Baru in Malay. You’ll know you’re there when you see the sign for Sunway Hotel.

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Mike can’t stomach most street food, so he bought the ingredients for PB&Js tonight. We’re going to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, where hopefully the food will be less touristy, as in it won’t swing between really cheap hawker stalls of questionable hygiene to really pricy clean places with 5-star aspirations.

Having Experiences v Recording Experiences

It is just as I figured. In the rush to finish things up, I left a mess behind. Those last few items of clothes in the dryer, the cover for my laptop, my hair clippers (not sure if that was a Freudian slip), some of Lucy’s hair clips I meant to pack, and the charger cord for my digital camera. The only thing that I’ve missed (so far) is the camera cord.

I didn’t even notice the charger until my camera battery died. When I went to get the charger out of my pack, it wasn’t there. It didn’t take long to search through everything I have (one of the benefits of living out of a bag), and only a little bit longer to search my memory of the places I might have left it along the way. There is only one place it could be, and I just got confirmation by email: it is back in Seattle sitting right where I left it, all ready to be packed away in my traveling electronics bag.

It is too bad about the camera. I guess I have mixed feelings about it because I generally don’t like looking blatantly like a tourist, stopping every two feet to take pictures of stuff. I’d blend right in here in Georgetown though, because there are so many tourists. Many of the tourists are Asian, and, not to perpetuate a stereotype, but it is true that many Asian people are obsessed with taking pictures.

All tourists from every ethnicity take pictures; that’s part of being a tourist. Asians, however, elevate it to a form of mania. I saw a guy last night taking a picture of the shadow of a door. He was crouched down in the middle of a hallway in front of the restrooms trying to compose his shot, while at the same time blocking anyone from entering or leaving the building. Today I saw a woman standing in the middle of the street (not a wise move considering the drivers are Asian as well—oh no I didn’t!) so that she could get just the right perspective of her friend posing in front of something along the side of the road. I guess inconveniencing others or risking one’s own life are secondary considerations to capturing that all-important moment in time.

Many Asian people take pictures of everything, including all of their meals. Asian women in particular like to take food pictures. Once I saw six women sitting around a table in a restaurant and each of them was snapping away at the food in front of them. Who they think will ever want to see these pictures is a mystery to me–especially since millions of others are simultaneously taking and posting food pictures (including their own dining companions). Will they look at each others’ pictures of the same plates of food and compare them (“I like your angle on that won ton!” “Oh, but you really captured the light on those fries.”)? Lucy is a victim of this obsession as well, and I keep slipping up and digging into my meals before she gets a chance to record them for posterity. It makes me feel so guilty. Then I have to do some food plastic surgery to make it look like it did when it first came out of the kitchen. Sometimes I have to place a fork or spoon strategically so that it looks like a bite has been intentionally taken. You know, to make it more dramatic. It makes me wonder if someday the gastronomic photography obsession might extend to including photographing what happens at the other end of the digestive system. I hope not!

I’ve never made a secret of my antipathy towards travel and tourism, and part of that is that tourists and travelers often seem more concerned with checking things off lists (for example, countries: “I’ve been to fifty-seven countries” followed by a carefully memorized list) and with creating tangible records of their experiences. In terms of picture taking, a lot of times this means that people spend more time taking pictures than they do actually experiencing where they are. A couple of examples come immediately to mind:

Once I went to a place called Ali Shan (Ali Mountain) in Taiwan. It is very famous for its beautiful sunrises. However, to see it you have to get there at dawn (obviously), which means getting up well before dawn so that you can get to the special train that takes you up to the viewing area. Besides having the experience ruined by a hawker with a megaphone, I notice that as the sun rose, no one was looking at it except through a camera lens. Then, only moments after the sun came up over the mountain ridge, everyone turned around and headed back to the train platform. I couldn’t believe it. The best part about seeing a sunrise or sunset is watching the sky gradually change as the sun’s position relative to the horizon changes, but when you are just checking things off a list, you end up missing the beauty of the experience; you end up missing the point. This is not to mention that you can’t see a sunrise or sunset in its glory when you are looking through a viewfinder.

Another example, and this was the one that made me realize how the photography obsession really detracts from actual experience, was in Hong Kong. I went with a friend up to the Peak, which is a mountainside right next to the city from which you can look directly down on the high rise buildings. It is a really stunning sight. I was up there snapping away with my camera, jostling to get the good spot along the rail of the observation deck. Then the battery on my camera died, so I put it away and just started looking. The longer I looked the more amazing the scene was. I could suddenly see things without a border and in their full three dimensional perspective. After a while I realized that people were eyeing my railside “real estate” with envy, so I stepped back to let others get a better view. Then I started looking at people, and there were a lot of them to look at. As my gaze moved along from person to person, I noticed that nobody was looking at the view other than through a camera. Most of the cameras were digital, of course, so this meant that everyone was looking at one of the most awesome views I’ve ever seen on little tiny TV screens. It seemed so sad to me that I actually stopped taking pictures for a long time.

Photography is a wonderful thing, and it has been extremely important in preserving historical images (personal and social) as well as being an art form in itself. As an element of journalism it has revolutionized the way that we record and disseminate information (one picture > 1,000 words). With the advent of digital photography and online photo sharing, however, I feel like we’ve reached some kind of saturation point. For one thing, people take so many pictures now that they can never have the time to actually look at all of them, other than maybe to flip quickly through them. And if everyone is doing this, how are they going to ever have time to look at anyone else’s pictures? I mean REALLY look at them. Before digital photos, photographers had to really think about what they were shooting (much like writers, before word processing, or even typewriters, had to really think about what they were writing). Photos were limited, and therefore more valuable. The moments in time they captured were special, or even if they weren’t, they became special in time because they were recorded. Now every meal is recorded. Hotel rooms are recorded. People’s outfits and shoes are recorded. People take pictures of other pictures. People take pictures of other people taking pictures. Everything and anything has become worthy of being a photographic subject. This in itself, I think, has diminished the value of photography.

Just imagine an archaeologist a thousand years from now having to sort through trillions of digital photos and trying to piece together what the societies of our time considered important. Well, there’ll be a lot of porn, so they’ll probably think we were perverts. And there’ll be a lot of self-portraits (some bordering on porn), so they’d probably think we were narcissists. Then, of course, there will be billions and billions of photos of food, so they’ll probably think we were either really hungry or had some kind of bizarre eating disorder (which will be reinforced by the fact that a lot of the people in the photos will be overweight).

My main point (I’m getting to it!) is that people seem to spend more time and effort on recording experiences than they do on actually having experiences, to the extent that they don’t actually have the experiences at all, but instead watch them on a tiny TV screen. This seems to be a theme that runs through the world of travel and tourism in general, and is really more of a symptom or indication of something deeper–that much travel today, as well as the social cache that goes with it, is the product of a slick marketing campaign (waged by airlines, travel agencies, hotels, tourism bureaus, publishers of travel guides and maps, and so on). There’s nothing wrong with travel in itself, nor certainly with photography, but people should be mindful of what is really happening when they book a trip or take a picture. Are they being sold what the Spanish call “gato por liebre” (cat in place of rabbit)? Is is a pig in a poke? Do they believe they are spreading fresh creamery butter on the toast of their life when they are really using margarine? Are my metaphors getting annoying?

My camera battery died, and I left the charger about eight thousand miles away. For a few moments I was frustrated, then sad, but now I’m kind of glad. I don’t take many photos anyway (and they usually aren’t very good by artistic measures), but now I’m going to be forced to only look at things with my own eyes (at least until I break down and buy a new camera). I hope other people, travelers or not, will consider doing the same, at least part of the time. Sure, take a few photos to preserve those memories, but put the camera away for awhile, too, so you can actually have the experience you think you are having in the first place. While you are at it, use your other senses as well. Be present. That way you might have an experience real enough to be worth remembering.

Oh! One more thing. A friend of mine who must have gone around the world a dozen times, including back in the days before jet travel, once told me not to bother taking pictures. He said to just look at things with your own eyes, and then buy a pack of post cards of the place. That way you don’t have to waste your time getting that perfect shot, and the people who take the postcard pictures are probably better photographers than you are anyway.

China House: An artsy place for a slow meal, or two

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I love serendipitous sightseeing the best. China House was one of these. I saw the business card for it while staying at Temple Tree and carried it with me to Penang. So I did look for it, but it’s not something I could have found on Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet. It’s also across the street from a temple I would have visited, but who has time to stop at every shop/restaurant there is?

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Actually, I was apprehensive about going in, and hemmed and hawed a bit before going into the expensive-looking cafe. 12 MYR for a slice of cake? Not when I can get a banana roti for under 3. I even consider the 6 MYR slice of ice cream cake at Jaya too dear. But it’s an interesting space–three houses turned into a mini-mall, if you can call a place that only has eateries and an art gallery a mall.

It’s a nice place to go to to escape the heat midday, and soak up a bit of contemporary artwork and traditional architecture. I have to admit I was more interested in the layout of the space than the artwork on the wall.

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There was live music that night, there were burgers on the menu at one of the restaurants, and we had hardly touched any of our daily budget, so I took Mike there for dinner that night. We got there just in time to see the sunset through the ruin of a house next door.

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Unfortunately the Courtyard Cafe and Burger Bar was closed, so we ordered from the Canteen & Bar, expecting fancy bar portions (i.e. small).

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The 12 MYR fries could have been a meal, but they were oversalted. We still ate most of it to taste the five flavors of dip they came with. They were all good, though these same ginger ones were a little strong. Even the “tomato sauce” wasn’t your average ketchup; it had a mild red wine flavor. Mostly, it was fun to identify the sauce and then judge which one you liked best. I think I liked the red wine vinaigrette one. I may try to replicate it someday. It shouldn’t be too hard–just substitute some vinegar for lemon juice when making mayonnaise.

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Mike’s Thai chicken buns were pretty small, though pretty good. They had all the spicy creaminess of green curry, but without the curry. I also liked the mint garnishes. My miso duck quesadillas were a full-sized meal though. It came with papaya and corn guacamole, and I thought they were bullshitting me, because it seemed like corn salsa, but the red sweet stuff was actually papaya. Unusually good.

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Of course, between the exorbitant drink prices and the salty fries, we drank a lot of water. Also, besides the occasional sightseer, we had the romantic courtyard to ourselves.

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I was feeling spendy, and we hadn’t exceeded our budget yet, so I wanted to try one of Beach St. Bakery’s many pricy desserts.

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But we were pretty full after dinner, and what we could hear of the band from the courtyard didn’t seem that enticing, so I dragged Mike upstairs for awhile to look at the art gallery. When he had had enough of that, we went downstairs to order a pot of chamomile tea from Kopi C. Espresso to help us sleep. To counteract that, we got a slice of their three-layer coffee and chocolate cake.

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The cake was really good. Dense, but soft and moist. And generously layered with coffee frosting and chocolate chips. It’s a cake that’s meant to be savored. Especially while playing math games on your table overlay.

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On that note, China House does have wifi. Mike and I used it to look up what bright thing was next to the crescent moon that night (Saturn). But most adults at the place were actually not on their devices too much, which was nice. In the baker/cafe, if the adults were not talking, the were using he crayons to doodle or play games. This is ironic, because I remember when crayons at restaurant tables were for kids. Most of the kids I saw there were playing video games on iPads or taking pictures. What does that foreshadow about our future society?

Is the tap water clean?

Mike has written about the inherent discomfort that is associated with traveling before. One question is, “Is the tap water clean?”–clean enough to wash with, clean enough to drink, or at least clean enough to brush our teeth with.

In Langkawi, when staying at the Bon Ton Temple Tree Resort, it stated explicitly in their introductory handout that the tap water was drinkable. When we moved to AB Motel in Pantai Cenang, Mike noticed that the water was brownish while attempting to wash clothes. This seemed to wax and wane. We decided to brush our teeth using bought drinking water.

We carried the habit with us to Georgetown, but since we don’t have an ensuite bathroom, it’s more difficult to go back when we forget to bring the water bottle. Today, I chanced it. For one thing, the Oriental Hostel is a family run business instead of some 50 room motel; it does appear cleaner, even if the roof leaks in the hallway. For another thing, Isn’t risk of digestive issues part of backpacking?