Happy Canada Day !!!
Having just stepped off the plane as newbies to Asia one day before July 1st, Diane and I didn’t really have much time to take in Canada Day last year. Uniquely different from American Independence Day, I always enjoyed celebrating when we lived in Calgary and love how Canadians appreciate independence differently than their patriotic neighbors to the south. Although there are Canadian expat organizations in Malaysia, the main ones are in KL and since we chose Penang over the big city, we don’t envision raising the red flag with any fellow Canucks this year either. With Canada Day falling during Ramadan this year, the island is especially quiet and so in the interest of all Canadian expats, I’m presenting
three ways to celebrate Canada Day; Penang style
1) Eat Duck Rice
One of Penang’s signature dishes, chicken and duck rice like Canadian bacon cheddar burgers in Alberta. Although there are dozens of shops to choose from, there’s one that stands out above and beyond the rest. Conveniently on the way to our favorite park and the Botanical Gardens, Sin Nam Haut serves up generous portions at strangely low prices. Offering crispy roast pork, honey glazed char siu, chicken and roast duck, the tables are large and roomy, servers come take your order right away and the floors are spotless.
With several locations, we usually eat in the Tanjung Bungah location near Island Plaza on the way to one of only two worthwhile supermarkets where we buy groceries. Less glitzy than the Pulau Tikas shop shown above, the staff always remembers us and we usually order combination duck, char siu and pork along with four marinated eggs. Also offering one of the island’s tastiest homemade soups, the homemade stock tastes like it’s been cooking for hours and it’s chock full of fall off the bone pieces of chicken, greens and some veggies. Granted the rice in Penang is nothing to write home about but the orange-colored moderately spicy sauce tastes perfect on top and for the price, you can’t beat the value. Coming in at about 25 or 30 ringgit, (about $7 USD) it’s one of our favorite lunch time treats and while you can’t chug a Molson Canadian to wash it down, we drink cold green tea and remember that a similar take away order from Edmonton’s Chinatown runs about $25.
2) Visit a serene park
One of Penang’s best free attractions is the Botanical Gardens. Unlike Singapore and other cities, the gardens are part of an untouched rainforest and house various collections of plants with well signed information. Offering monthly free guided tours on the last Saturday and Sunday of each month, it’s packed on weekends but becomes a peaceful oasis where monkeys and monitor lizards roam free on weekdays. Without a car, we usually take the bus and walk about a mile when we feel like taking a shaded walk in a quiet environment. But even better than that, there’s a large mostly unused recreational paradise designed for locals on the way to the Gardens. Having passed Taman Bandaraya City Park’s eastern entrance many times, we decided to give it a shot and found a beautifully clean park complete with skateboard park, public pool, modern and unbroken outdoor exercise circuit, a large cafeteria with extensive selections of snacks and drinks and most unbelievable, a clean bathroom with toilet paper (For those unfamiliar, finding toilet paper in a Malaysian public toilet is akin to purchasing a winning lottery ticket).
Fascinated with monkeys, I can spend hours hanging out with them and be happy but there are problems with the island’s two most common species. Macaques are found all over and while amazingly tame and tolerant of humans, they’re often aggressive and if you’ve got food, they’ll literally take it from you. Idiot tourists flock the popular places and tease them which only makes it worse. On the flip side, dusky-leaf monkeys are cuter with clown like black and white faces but as vegetarians, they’re not interested in your food and tend to be shy, more protective and elusive. Much to my surprise, I walked a bit up a quiet back trail in this park and found a bunch of unusually friendly and curious dusky-leafs who not only came all the way down to the bottom of the trees to see me, they even mimicked my hand movements. Probably less familiar with humans, this is my kind of wildlife encounter and despite being mobbed by mosquitoes, I stayed for a few hours,
Uniquely popular in Asia, reflexology is the application of appropriate pressure to specific points and areas on the feet, hands, or ears. Reflexologists believe that these areas and reflex points correspond to different body organs and systems, and that pressing them has a beneficial effect on the organs and person’s general health. (definition from Wikapedia). While I’ve seen shops all over, I’d never seen reflexology trail. Made up of all hard stones, the signs instruct you to walk slowly as far as you can while barefoot and not exceed 20 minutes. Naturally, I had to try it and after taking two steps, cringed in pain and immediately jumped off. Shortly after, we watched an old Chinese guy leisurely stroll through it like one of those carnival guys walking on hot coals. Thinking I’ll stick to Thai Massages for my sadistic pleasures, I think you need to be Asian to appreciate this discipline.
3) Have dinner at a Ramadan Night Bazaar
Admitting I’d make a grumpy Muslim during Ramadan, fasting and cardio don’t exactly mix very well and with local Malay food courts all closed for lunch, Diane and I miss our lunch fix of Nasi Campur and Laksa. Fortunately, there’s special nightly passars (food markets) set up in various locations throughout the island to accommodate those observing the fast on their way home. Starting at about 4 PM, the bazaars feature an enormous array of Malaysian food and even some Malay versions of popular Hokkien Chinese dishes like char kway teow. The smallest and most localized one happens to be only ten minutes from our condo in the small town of Taluk Bahang so we decided to give it a try.
With only a few stray tourists coming from nearby Penang National Park, it’s obvious this bazaar is strictly for locals and they begin lining up for take away bags to bring home as they anxiously wait for sundown. But Malaysians are among the world’s friendliest locals and absolutely love sharing their local specialties with expats. Feeling a bit guilty for eating before they’re able to, we pondered taking it all home in plastic bags (the Asian way) but the first vendor we went to assured us it’s fine for non-Muslims to eat anytime and they’re not offended so we chowed down on some delicious Mutton Murtabak (Indian style flatbread) and the vendor even gave Diane a free order of Bubar Lambauk, a kind of porridge we’d never seen before.
Strolling through the market, we began sampling small little dishes including some small but delicious popiah (Fujian style spring rolls), skewered chicken similar to Mediterranean style gyros, an authentic bowl of laksa (not sour enough for me), some noodles with beef and sambal and ayam (chicken) served tandoori style. Beckoning us over, one ultra friendly family gave us samples of some incredibly tasty puffs but we were already getting full so we took them to go. If you’re visiting Penang during Ramadan, these markets are a must do and there’s much bigger ones in Little India, Georgetown and Ayer Itam. Like Penang itself, Diane and I prefer smaller less crowded places so the little market at the end of the island was a perfect outing for us. By around 6:30, they’re mostly sold out and vendors begin closing up so they can eat a soon as sunrise arrives so don’t get here too late.
So while it’s not exactly the same thing as Tim Horton’s and Molson Canadian, we always enjoy July 1st knowing that Canada Day is taking place on the other side of the globe and millions of Canadian expats all over the globe are celebrating as best they know how.
Being only a few days away from a trip to Bangkok, we’re easing up on the cash so this year is once again devoid of anything very Canadian for us but we do wish everyone in Diane’s homeland a Happy Canada Day and hope you all remember the reasons why Canada sets itself apart from other democracies around the world. With a new Prime Minister about as far left as humanly possible when compared to America’s ignorant choice of Republican nominees, I’m hoping NAFTA remains intact, Canadian beef continues to flow all over the world and crossing the border between our two nations remains easy and amicable. But having seen the results of Brexit, who knows what will be when Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2107?
Either way, cheers from Southeast Asia and enjoy the holiday !!