As night falls, the shadows are shredded by a motorbike’s headlights shining through a gate whilst a cat peeps out from a doorway at the steaming noodle cart across the road. Our new found home (at least for a while) could create a thousand bright and colourful films of smiling locals and visitors enjoying the incredible architecture, art and easygoing vibe of this beautiful town, but it’s the night time bustling that intrigues your Rat & Dragon team this time.
Georgetown on Penang Island has been declared the most liveable city in Malaysia, 8th in Asia and 62nd worldwide, and there are many reasons why. Twinned with Adelaide, Taipei and Bangkok, the town’s inhabitants display various distinct cultures, religions and influences. Muslim Malaysians, Indians and Chinese rub shoulders on a daily basis and form one of the most functioning mixed societies in South East Asia, doubtlessly contributed to by the fact that most people are trilingual – speaking English, Bahasa Malay and Tamil or Chinese.
Penang’s standing as one of Malaysia’s leading tertiary education centres compliments Georgetown’s historic quarter’s status as a Unesco World Heritage Site, where street artists such as Kenji Chai, Cloakwork, Drewfunk, Katun, Siek, Julia Volchkova and Ernest Zacharevic draw a young crowd of visitors year round.
It is this multifaceted yet flowing vibe of Penang that inspired us when we arrived – this crazy mix of crumbling colonial buildings with locals living real lives in stead of begrudgingly manning souvenir shops in homes they no longer own. A fresh and vibrant young arts scene on an international standard were made all the better by the ready availability of incredible (and incredibly cheap) street food.
Not so much a place to ‘do’, to have a list of ‘must see’ attractions to tick off, Penang simply felt welcoming just to BE in. Local brothers Eddy and Ivan, who run independent Pit Stop coffee shop loved to sit down for a quick chat and brought us ‘food from around here you must try!’, including Durian – check out the lowdown on that crazy stinkball!
The Camera Museum, China House and Purrfect Cat Café were just other examples of quirky but sophisticated hangouts that could easily give London’s hipster lokales a run for their money. And having the privilege of staying in 33 Stewart Houze hostel, run by arguably Malaysia’s most friendly family was the icing on the layercake.
There are many cultural events around the year, the George Town Festival and Tropfest being only two to keep and eye out for, and there are some beaches and rainforest in the National Park at the North West corner of the Island. But whilst the beaches weren’t as spectacular as others we’d seen, they were a lovely respite from the bustle of walking in traffic along the streets of Old Georgetown.
Georgetown is a relatively affluent part of SEA, and where in KL anyone who can afford it is likely to move into the newest, shiniest, ‘yuppiest’ glass and metal mega-structure, Georgetown residents seem to quite like their crumbling facades and shrine filled front rooms. Life, as we soon found out, was lived everywhere, and we were by definition right in the middle of it.
And thus, dear reader, we head off to take you on a short journey through the maze of night time Penang, the long sheltered walkways, the midnight thunderstorms, the murals and sculptures by young and fresh artists everywhere you turn. Our Russian Lomo’s double exposures on grainy film inspired multi-layering our rushes, just as the many facets of this town light up all in one frame as a taxi passes by us through the alleyways to the main street beyond.
You’re in the proverbial rabbit hole, and all around you glitters with intriguing little snippets of all sorts of different types of life. Welcome to hours after after-hours.