Singapore Adventure

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lost In Translation
by venitha

Being unable to read a city's language can add a great deal to its beauty. Slashing Chinese characters in Taipei and looping Thai letters in Bangkok give even billboard advertisements a certain loveliness. In Penang, however, we are literate. English is prevalent, and Malay conveniently uses the same alphabet, so we trade beauty for education and something that's been in sadly short supply of late: laughter.

  • It's both common and understandable that hotels ban the dreaded durian, but this was the first time we've seen the Queen of Fruits, the mangosteen, exiled along with King Durian. What can possibly be her crime?

  • This sign on the ceiling of our hotel room points to the Ka'aba in Mecca, toward which Muslims face in their five-times-daily prayers. Malaysia is a Muslim country, and this coming Thursday is a holiday to celebrate the end of , the month of fasting.

  • This sign is everywhere in downtown George Town, and we know jalan means road, so this Sehala Road must be one exciting place! Perhaps there's a bustling market selling roasted nuts and live chickens. Perhaps there's a pedestrian walk awash in ocean breezes along the beach. Perhaps there's big Buddha reclining within a splendid temple next to painstakingly restored Chinese mansions and shophouses.

    Jalan Sehala is, however, nowhere to be found on our many tourist maps. Should we just follow the signs? Jim saves us from such a brute force and inadequate solution with a flash of insight: Jalan Sehala means one-way street.

  • The crowded street market near our hotel was crammed with lengths of vivid batik fabrics, plastic jars of tiny cookies, and piles of black velvet and white cotton songkoks, the hats that Muslim men wear. Air con is, of course, what air conditioning is called in southeast Asia. Next, I suggest fashion designers tackle the challenge of an air con burqa.

  • At the end of the steeply downhill hike from the top of Penang Hill, we emerged sweaty and exhausted into the hot afternoon sunlight of the botanic gardens. Thankfully, we were quickly rejuvenated by the juvenile giggles afforded by this sign.