Malaysia: February 16, 2010

Malaysia we hardly knew ye. We did a lightening tour of Malaysia making stops in Kuala Lumpur and Penang as the principal destinations. While we only spent a brief time in the country, we were favorably impressed. While KL was similar to Singapore in many respects (orderly, clean, efficient), it also had some grit that added some liveliness. It seems odd to say but a little bit of litter here and there, some street vendors taking up the sidewalk, and some people pushing you a little bit, really does bring a city to life. Throw in some Chinese new year celebrations, cocktails overlooking the Petronas towers (the tallest buildings in the world until a couple of years ago), and dinner in streetside cafĂ© and you have a winning recipe. Along with the fact that we stayed with some wonderful local hosts, this made us think that KL would be a fun place to live.  

Chinese New Year celebration with our new friends at the Chinese Assembly Hall, KL

Then we took a trip to Penang (as the rest of Malaysia calls the city of Georgetown, which is the capital of the island of Penang, just off the northwest coast of the country). Penang was a British colony starting in the 1700s as they attempted to horn in on the far eastern trade. While touring Fort Cornwallis, the colonial era fort and now museum, we were struck that in many ways the story of the colonization of the far east is a parallel story to the American struggle for independence from Britain. While the British were struggling to hold on to the American colonies, they were beginning to get a strong foothold in the far east. For example, Fort Cornwallis was named after the British general who surrendered to end the Revolutionary War and Georgetown is named after King George III. 

History aside, the food was the highlight of Penang, which has a distinctive cuisine that mixes Chinese, Malay, and Indian influences to create a superb dining experience. Our final night in Penang, we ate at a local food market that was filled with stalls serving a variety of tasty dishes.  As Jed went on a mission to try them all (unfortunately, it turns out even he can get full) we sat and watched the crowds celebrating the New Year and felt very lucky we had been in Malaysia for this event.  Unfortunately, it also meant our time there ended early as the ferries and hotels in our intended destination in Malaysia were all full because of the holiday.  Instead, we took a bus across the border to Thailand, sad to be missing out on more of Malaysia, but very excited for some much anticipated Thai food!

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