Penang and the Cameron Highlands or How I Ate My Way Through Malaysia

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Happy Chinese New Year!! Apparently it’s a holiday more festively celebrated in Penang than in China – lots of Chinese people nostalgic for home. We arrive in Malaysia on the third day of a week long festival and are welcomed by people in brightly-colored, tasseled and sequined dragon costumes storming into businesses, cymbals, drums, and fireworks at odd intervals throughout the day, red paper lanterns hung between buildings and along power lines, and incense sticks 5 feet tall and 8 inches thick meant to scent up entire streets. All this in a historic colonial/European style town with arcade sidewalks à la Bologna, fancy painted tile facades, and even wooden slat window shutters in contrasting colors. We spend our days wandering the streets of Little India and Chinatown, exploring the parks and jetties, and working our way through a list of no less than 23 “must try” dishes. And boy, were they delicious (Malaysian food post pending). We accomplish our goals via a strict regimen of splitting one to two dishes between the three of us and eating like hobbits – second breakfast, afternoon teatime, dinner, supper, after-dinner desserts. . . We also get rained on for the first time since Italy, and then get rained on every subsequent afternoon, in very Miami-like fashion – intense, quickly moving downpours that leave the sidewalk tiles ridiculously slippery. This has continued throughout our time in Malaysia.

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George Town, the capitol city on Pulau Penang, is also a designated UNESCO world heritage site, and is pretty frigging charming. The city is littered with street art, mostly in two veins – quirky hipster murals, sometimes (usually) involving bicycles or wrought iron cartoons with accompanying history fun facts.

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We decided pretty immediately that we liked Penang, but alas, with only two and a half weeks in Malaysia, onwards to the Cameron Highlands!

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The Cameron Highlands are a popular destination for Malay tourists primarily because their height means cooler, less humid weather. The area is famous for it’s tea plantations and, interestingly, strawberries. We stayed in Tanah Rata and eat a lot of Indian food, do some seriously muddy hiking, and visit the Boh tea plantation, factory, and museum, where we brushed up our tea knowledge.

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Behold, Tea Knowledge!
– Only the young, new leaves of tea trees are good for tea. Thus, the trees are manicured short and flat. New leaves are harvested off the top every three weeks. If you pick one, it tastes like tea and also like leaf and isn’t particularly delicious.
– Almost all tea comes from the same leaves of the same plant, camellia sinesis. The only difference is the processing – oxidizing or fermenting the leaves for different lengths of time.
– Tea leaves are dried, crushed, oxidized, dried again, and then sorted by size. Fairly simple process, SO many different ways to do it.

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A tea tree. More photos:

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The Penang waterfront, looking across towards mainland Malaysia.

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Alex and J and two sticks of incense.

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Dragons and awesome schoolgirl drummers at the Chinese New Year festival!

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This was the most impressive dragon show I’ve ever seen. Those poles are 10 feet tall, and those boys were leaping and throwing each other from pole to pole while bent over at the waist.

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Dragons are cool.

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J at a very cool Chinese tea shop with a very small teacup.

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J “hiking” up Gunung Brinchang.

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Intrepid Alex.

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Lots of love!
C, J, and Alex!

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2 thoughts on “Penang and the Cameron Highlands or How I Ate My Way Through Malaysia

  1. Wow, Clara, how exciting! At the dragon show, what is that fungal-like growth on top of the poles? And where are the leaping boys? I love you. Dad

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