Scenic. Quick. Easy. Adventurous. Edgy. Stimulating. Convenient. These are the words that
come to mind when thinking about riding my motorcycle or motorbike in Penang. Read more…
My good friend, Dave Ray at DaveRayPhoto.com was able to make it to this year’s Dragonboat festival. He tells me that the haze was particularly bad this past weekend, and it was difficult to capture good shots of the action from the dam.
Presented below are some archive images that Dave took from last year as well as some photos of the award ceremony from this year.
On July 7th 2008, UNESCO declared Georgetown a World Heritage Site. This 4th anniversary is going to be a weekend of celebrations through the streets of Georgetown. Read more…
Don’t miss this weekend’s Dragonboat Festival. It’s an annual event that they hold above the dam in Teluk Bahang. You’ll have to go past the Butterfly Farm to get there.
Dragonboats are long, traditional paddle-powered boats with a drummer in front setting the pace of the rowing. A carved head of a dragon graces the front of the craft, hence the name.
Unlike “crew” rowing, popular in the west, dragonboat paddlers face forward and the paddles are not fixed to the boat.
For photography enthusiasts, there is a photo contest. First prize is RM800, second is RM500 and third is RM 300 for photos that capture the spirit of the race. Register for the contest at the event.
More information can be found at the official website for the 23rd Annual Penang International Dragonboat Festival.
A few weeks ago I came home and got the kids into the house. As I was taking out the trash and checking the mailbox, a woman on the street said “Look out, there’s an alligator in your gutter there.”
There was a four-foot long monitor lizard just hanging out there in the drainage ditch. If you look at its belly, you can see it is a little distended. I think it had just eaten.
Soon the neighborhood started gathering around to check it out. It became quite an event. Teenagers were acting like teenagers, with the shy ones clinging to each other and the brave silly ones doing dumb things like poking the lizard with a stick.
We had an event to go to, and by the time we got home, the police had come and gone and left the lizard in the ditch.
The next morning the ditch was empty, and I couldn’t see any trace of the beast.
A few days later, I heard from another neighbor that the animal had made its way down the street, still in the drainage ditch. It had gotten close to someone, and scratched them. They called ‘999’ or Rescue, and the animal was removed.
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How to eat at the hawker stalls
One of the best places to experience Penang, especially Penang food, is to visit the hawker stalls. The locals also call them food courts. One popular one on the north side of the island is Long Beach Food Court in Batu Ferringhi.
If it is your first time to one of these places, the noise, lights and chaos can be a little daunting. Here I offer you a step by step script to help you navigate the hawker stalls.
Step 1: Get a table
The sellers start setting up around 6:30pm and will start selling sometime before 7:00. Typically, the first thing you would do is settle yourself at a table. At a larger place like Long Beach, you might find a number engraved on the table. This is useful for you to know, so you can tell the food servers where you are sitting. If there isn’t a number, you can wave in a general direction towards your seat, and they are really good and remembering you and your order.
Step 2: Get a drink ordered
If it isn’t too busy, a drink seller will already be hovering near you as you sit down. Juices, coffee, tea and beer are available. The server can tell you what is available and what is not.
Before you leave Penang, you should try a teh tarik. This is tea with milk and sugar. Americans tend to find Malaysian teh tarik to be too sweet so if you want it half as sweet ask for teh tarik kurang manis (literally: less sweet). If you want it completely without milk, ask for teh o. Tea without sugar is teh kosong. Tea without milk or sugar is teh oh kosong. If you want it cold, you can ask for teh ais (ice in Bahasa Melayu), or teh ping (ice in Hokkien). These words all apply to coffee, or kopi, as well. Being an American, I have “my drink” (probably a product of marketing from a certain Seattle coffee company). My drink is a kopi ais kurang manis.
Step 3: Get up and browse the stalls.
Each stall around the tables will serve their own specialty. There is hardly ever any overlap. There will be a guy selling char kwai teow. Another guy will sell kwai teow t’eng. Sometimes you have to look carefully because there might be variations in spelling. I’ve seen kwei tiow, kwey tiaw, and kway tiaou.
If you are watching out for heat, you can often ask for things to be no spicy or half spicy depending on your taste. Full heat can sometimes be quite painful for those not used to the Southeast Asian chili peppers.
Prices are clearly posted and pretty standard. There is no need to haggle. They might negotiate with you anyway, but that is usually just to up-sell you. For example I was at a place where 2 chicken wings were posted at RM 4. The seller offered me 3 for RM 5.
Step 4: Pay when served
When the food is ready it will be brought to your table. Have cash ready. The server will make change. And there is no need to leave a tip. In fact, it is inadvisable.
Step 5: Eat
Step 6: Leave
There is staff who will come and bus your table. Don’t worry about that. If you found the food to be especially excellent, be sure to swing by the seller and rave about it to them. That is worth much more than a gratuity.
Should you tip?
This question was posed to me by my friend Amanda who blogs at http://PerkinsinPenang.com. I had to do some research and asked around in my neighborhood. This is what I’ve learned about whether or not you should tip in Penang.
North Americans have a hard time navigating the “tipping issue” when they start living in Penang and in Asia in general. We are used to tipping. Even when we are given poor service, we feel obligated to tip 15%. We’ll tip 10% when we feel like insulting the server.
The other part of the equation is how small the numbers are. If you have a roti canai and a coffee for breakfast, and your bill comes to a whopping RM 3, why not tip 60 sen as a thank you?
Tipping is not cultural
Look around you, as you eat. What are the other patrons doing? Do you see money on the tables after people leave? It is simply not part of the culture to leave a gratuity in restaurants. I think the important take-away from this is that the tip is not expected. They will not be offended if one is not left.
The idea of the gratuity as a thank you is a very western concept. It is starting to come to Asia, but it isn’t there yet. If you want to express thanks, verbally communicates very well. If the service is exceptional, rave. I will say something like “I’m going to tell my friends about this place.”
Service charge already on the bill
Some restaurants have a 10% service charged added to the bill already. I never add a gratuity to a bill that already charges me a service charge. Now it should be noted that the service charge goes to the owner of the restaurant, not the service staff.
What are you communicating?
In general, leaving a tip will probably confuse people, if you are lucky. It can be insulting as well. Some might see it as a handout – that you are treating them like a beggar. They see you as underlining or emphasizing the class divide.
Some have also said that by tipping when it isn’t expected, you are artificially driving up the local inflation. You are telling the sellers that their prices are too low and should be charging more. That can be a detriment to the other people in the neighborhood that cannot pay more.
One travel book has these other recommendations:
- Taxis: round up to the nearest ringgit.
- Hotel porter: 1-2 ringgit.
It seems like most people already over-charge the foreigners, so you don’t need to add to it. Having lived here a little longer, and having become a regular at several places, I am starting to get the “local” price for certain services. For example, I am now getting the local rate for my haircut at my barber’s.
Since these rates are usually negotiated, I figure I am “tipping” simply by taking the first price, and not bargaining.
Please comment below. Are you tipping? Are you going to stop?