I spent a few days over Christmas in Georgetown, Penang. About the most exciting thing that happened while I was there was nearly falling through a manhole cover. I have a thing about stepping on metal plates or manhole covers and as a rule I step around them. Didn’t step around this particular one and felt what it is like to fall in slow motion. The whole plate dipped beneath me in a graceful bow but did not – some magical how – slip out of its holdings and so there I stood for a second, believing that if I were to stay immaculately still, I would fall no further. Then the thinking part of my brain kicked in and I quickly finished my step and was astonished to discover I had to step up onto the pavement – a good 30cm hike it was.
Anyway, Georgetown is pretty with some lovely street art which I did not photograph because I am somewhat lazy in that regard, but I did buy post cards – I will scan them in at some point because a couple are really charming and worth see
ing. The whole place felt a lot like the back streets of Newtown or Paddington in Sydney. Narrow, two story town houses built cheek to jowl nestled around a working harbour.
At one end of the harbour are some jetties built may years ago by Chinese immigrants who, in an effort to avoid paying land tax, built houses and businesses out over the water on stilts. Five of these jetties, as they are known, remain. They are named after the clan that built them. Clan Chinese culture is still quite strong in Penang.
It is home to a mix of races and religions and I was looking forward to hearing the call to prayer from the mosque that was close to the hotel I stayed in. I can recall standing out on my balcony in Al Ain, in the heat and hearing the call to prayer roll over the desert, softening and smoothing everything it touched. Well, when the call to prayer started with a vigorous clearing of the throat, a lovely hoiking into the microphone and then a lackluster, flat, nasally appeal, punctured by small, fruitless coughs, for us all to acknowledge that God is great, I think that even God might have been saying “no, stay in bed this morning, if that’s my creation, I’m taking a couple of days off, see if I can regain my touch.”