Day 2 of 4: Penang
Penang! To be honest, Penang was so unlike anything in NZ that I felt a bit intimidated and much like a fish out of water – my first impression of the city left me disliking Penang. However, we went exploring a little after arriving at our hotel, and it didn’t take long at all for me to change my mind completely! In fact, I would love to go and visit Penang again one day!
The people there are so friendly and everyone greets you with a smile (and from where they sit on their scooters, they wave back somewhat bemusedly as you wave enthusiastically from the sidewalk…maybe they’re used to us strange tourists?).
That night we all took taxis to see the night markets, and my group’s driver was a lovely man named Henry. I felt sorry for him at first because he had to deal with a car full of teenage girls (who were now hyperactive after having been cooped up in a plane for close to seven hours), most of whom kept asking him to turn on the radio to a music station (anything in English, please?) and would sing along loudly. However, he took it in his stride and even got involved, entertaining us with interesting facts about the city, pointing out landmarks and telling us about his children, all of whom he is very proud of! Henry became our friend – even though I genuinely feared for my life a few times when he would enthusiastically gesture in his story-telling (with BOTH hands – which equals ZERO on the steering wheel!) and the car would begin slowly drifting into the oncoming lane. But, needless to say, we survived, and of course, we had a group photo taken with him when he dropped us off back at the hotel.
Earlier that evening, a massive thunder/lightning storm had started. I put the slash in there because, really, there was more lightning than thunder. It was amazing to watch – especially as the room I shared with my roommate had a view of the mountains. We’d never seen any storm like it in NZ! Which explained why many of us were shrieking or yelping in fright at every lightning flash on the way to the markets, and good old Henry had just laughed at us – I think he said these kinds of storms happen almost everyday at that time of year. Of course, the minute I decided to try and catch a photo (or even a video!) of a lightning bolt (after the hundreds I’d just witnessed), the lightning stopped. Yeah, talk about trying to catch lightning in a bottle!
The markets were interesting, but only five or so stalls were actually trading because of the storm – it was supposed to be a two mile long stretch of stalls, if I recall correctly. But that didn’t dampen our spirit! It was still heaps of fun, and I was such a touristy-tourist and got myself an “I <3 Penang" t-shirt. Laugh all you want! It's one of my favourite shirts, too! Also at the markets, a major cultural difference we encountered was the concept of bartering - it was actually expected of you! Well, the art of bartering eluded me - I was useless at it. I admit it. I was so pathetic at it that one of my fellow Youth Ambassadors took pity on me and appointed herself barterer on my behalf. She was much better at it. Although, maybe no one was quite as skilled as the drama students we had on the team - their bartering was a sight to behold and I still laugh whenever I think about it! Those stall owners didn't know what hit them - they had certainly met their match. Although, I think perhaps our laughing in the background as we watched may have slightly hampered the success of some of the serious bartering endeavours.