My Kerala Trip: Kuruva Isle

This was a post I wrote after I came back from our India trip in 2010 with the Paul Penders team. I didn’t get around to posting it up so here it is.

One of the places we visited was Kuruva Island which was 20 minutes away from VanaMoolika. This was our jaunt in the forest as we were going to an island to partake in nature.

Where's the island?

Where's the island?

The four Innova’s were again packed with all of us. I felt excited as we were told we were going to an island. Coming from an island like Penang, I had my ideas about islands. I also heard we had to pay an entry fee to get to the island.

Entry fee list for Kuruva Island

Entry fee list for Kuruva Island

When we got out of the MPVs, I was looking for a visible island. None that I could see! I could see paddy fields and a bit of a jungle path.

The thing in India is, one never really knows what’s happening. The drivers speak Malayalam so that’s alien to our ears. Finally we were told that the island could be seen after a few minutes walking. We all hung about waiting for things to get settled. While waiting, I saw an interesting tea shack near the fee collection booth. Made with all natural materials, it was a roughly put together shack – an Internet cafe! And this British motorcycle too! It’s truly antique stuff.

Seen outside the "Internet cafe" - a very old British motorbike

It was almost noon and getting fairly warm. After what seemed like eternity, we were herded down the path through the paddy fields. At that time of the year, the fields were emerald carpets! Not a soul to be seen though. It was just the bunch of us – a motley and noisy bunch!

Crossing the river in a bamboo raft to get to Kuruva Island

Crossing the river in a bamboo raft to get to Kuruva Island

After a few minutes of traipsing, we came out to a clearing which ended at a muddy river, the colour of ‘teh tarik’. Bamboo rafts were tied to the bank. These rafts were our transport over to the island which was about 100 meters away.

The raft journey barely took 10 minutes. Our raft man didn’t need to do much work except pull his way across the river – a thick rope was strung across the river and he just guided the raft across this way. I didn’t see any birds or fish during this river crossing. I thought we were looking for biodiversity! It was exceedingly quiet for an island teeming with nature.

Loaded up on the raft

Loaded up on the raft

After we got off the raft, we crossed a bamboo bridge and finally, we were on Kuruva Island!

After getting off the raft, we walked on a bamboo bridge

After getting off the raft, we walked on a bamboo bridge

Coming from Malaysia where our jungles are thick and humid, the walk on Kuruva Island wasn’t really a jungle experience. It was more of a thick forest than a jungle proper. What made it pleasant was the weather. It was not as humid as Malaysia so the leisurely walk didn’t drench us in sweat. We didn’t see any animals except a lone macaque and some butterflies. Notably missing too were bird calls and the incessant humming of the jungle (which is so prevalent in Malaysia).

Truth be told, we didn’t walk the entire length of the island so what we saw was possibly 20% of Kuruva. It was an interesting walk though despite not seeing any animals. Maybe I was expecting to see tiger tracks or wild boar tracks (we saw some wild boar poop though….). Maybe I watch too many National Geographic TV programmes!

A Passport Adventure…Or Why We’re Always Behind Singapore

Lots of people find difficulty in creating blog posts.

I can tell you that if you observe your daily life long enough or meet enough people, you will have plenty to blog about.

Case in point – today we were at the Penang Immigration Department on Beach Street.

Most people, especially Malaysians, hate dealing with Government departments. The waiting time is long as hell and you get crappy service most of the time. I say this because sometimes, like a glimmer of light from beyond, one or two officers will come forth and shine and make your dealing with them a lot better. But these people, once we come across them, are like gems. Few and far in between. The rest have this “attitude” which you really dislike.

Like intensely.

Nic for one hates bureaucracy. As the rebellious person that he is (and he is famous for this even when he was in USM – he was well-known for his rebel nature), he finds such experiences tiring. I do too but I take these experiences better than he does.

Anyway, based on our last experience at renewing our passports, we figured it would be a breeze. At least you now do not need to wake up at the ungodly hour of 6 am and wait in line for a number. With improved services, we now have a passport renewal kiosk – a machine which shortens the time considerably.

The last time we renewed our passports, it was easy. Just get there, get your number, and do the needed at the kiosk. The kiosk scans your passport, scans your MyKad and scans your right thumbprint. Plus it also accepts your cash. And it spits out your receipt. Your new passport will be ready in an hour, give or take a few minutes. So in that one hour, you can go and do other things, run some errands, have your breakfast and later come back for your new travel document.

This time, we thought, it would be relatively quick.

I think I give our Malaysian departments too much trust.

How To Renew Your Malaysian Passport

Here’s how the procedure works and I experienced it first-hand today. So consider this post a how-to, so you can save time, prevent yourself from tearing your hair out and cut out the stress. At least if you can learn from this post, please do. Go all prepared. Then you have less issue and less frustration.

I don’t know why this time we had to get the passport renewal forms to fill up. But we did. If you see a line of people, skip the queue. These people are lining up for their numbers. If you haven’t gotten your form yet, go right up to the counter (which lies smack in the middle as you enter) and ask for the form. You DON’T need to line up for forms.

Next, you need a photostat copy of your MyKad as well as 2 recent passport-sized photographs. I brought along mine which was taken not very long ago (I had a hair cut since then) but they told me that I had to take my photo again! Of course I grumbled. Surprisingly Nic was calm.

You don’t have to go very far to get your instant passport photos taken. The Immigration Department has a little annexe (more like a hastily put up shack) behind the main building. You go around the building (walk to your left as you exit the main entrance) and you will see a line of people waiting in the sun for their turn to get their photos snapped or to photostat their MyKad. No shade whatsoever. The smart aleck who is doing a roaring good business behind the main building charges RM0.60 for photostat and RM10 for 4 pieces of photos.

So we had to wait in the bloody hot sun, in a line, to get our photos snapped.

Once you get that, you check your form – fill it up properly – and attach your 2 photos, your MyKad photostat copy and your old passport. Of course, none of this is written down on their Immigration Department board or website. I check websites religiously – I even told Nic we could do the renewal online but Nic does not have faith at all in the online system. If it failed, we’d have to do the regular way. So might as well save ourselves the agony and do it the regular way. That is how mediocre our Government departments are. That is how much trust we have in them.

With your form and necessary stuff in hand, you now get back into that stupid line again (yes) to get your number. Tell them you want to use the kiosk. It is much shorter (unless the kiosk throws a fit and refuses to scan your passport, in which case you need to do the Manual Renewal method…which I will clue you in, too, since I am in such a good mood…NOT).

With that number in hand, you go to the kiosk which is a little room and get this, with one of their officers inside! (We can’t trust machines too much, can we?)

Basically, the kiosk scans your old passport, scans your MyKad and scans your thumbprint. Then you “feed” it with money (RM300 for 48-page Malaysian International Passport of 5 years’ validity) and you get a receipt. In usual cases, you are asked to come back in one hour. Today being a Friday, I was told to collect my new passport at 3pm. Done deal, right? Not so. When you come at 3pm, you line up AGAIN to get a number.

When Being Punctual or Early Can Be Bad

The officer won’t give you a number if you’re early by a few minutes. Oh no, it must be on the dot. I was early by 5 minutes and he told me that but I told him I wasn’t going to line up again. I am quite nice most times but I can be nasty when I want to. I told him, “Look. There’s a line behind me. I am NOT lining up again.” Maybe it was my Tiger face because he finally decided he didn’t want to argue with me and gave me my number. Earlier I had made a fuss when his colleague told me I had to take my photo again – and that colleague (when I went back to him again to get a number) told me not to be so mad. I was quite furious and when I get mad, it shows on my face. You don’t want to mess with me then.

With this number and my receipt, I went to Kaunter 8 and dropped the receipt in this pathetic, cheap red plastic tray. The guy behind the counter will call your number. You just need to present your MyKad, sign the new passport and sign the form (the one you initially had) and scan your thumbprint. That is it.

I was lucky. My passport was deemed accepted by the machine.

Nic wasn’t so lucky. The machine refused to scan his passport and finally he was asked to do the Manual Way. This is something we dread because it is long, tedious, bureaucratic with stupid systems!

When You Renew Your Passport Over The Counter

Here’s the manual way, explained step by step:

1. You get a number. (If you don’t have a number, you won’t get anywhere. Get in line. Get a number.)
2. You wait your turn. Remember to check if you have: your old passport, your xerox copy of MyKad and 2 photos and the stupid form (which you got earlier and filled up).
3. The wait can be horrible. You see, the Penang Immigration Department is one of the most run-down and dismal places to be in. The wall where the cheap Kilometrico pens are (tied with string no less, just in case you decide to steal some Kilometrico pens! Oh for god’s sakes)
are littered with such interesting profanity and art that it shows how bored mindless the waiting can be. The desk here is dirtied with ink of leaky pens.
4. The wait is annoying because there aren’t enough seating or if you do find one, it’s a dirty seat with stains and what-not. When I am here, I feel like I am in some dingy Third World country – oh wait a minute, I am in a dingy Third World country. Like the LCCT in Sepang, this waiting area makes me ashamed to be called a Malaysian. Is this Malaysia? Not only are the seats dirty and cramped, most people hang around and wait, making it utterly claustrophobic.
5. When your number is called, you go up to the counter. The officer takes your form, processes it and asks to scan your thumbprint. You get to ink your thumb and put your thumbprint on the form too.
6. Do you pay your RM300? Oh noooo….. you take a seat again because your money will be paid at another counter.
7. So you return to your seat and resign yourself to another 30 to 50 minutes of incredibly mindless waiting. The officer who takes your form doesn’t take your money?! This is a system problem. Why must you be re-routed to another officer so he can collect your money and give you a receipt?
No wonder our civil service is so bloated. It takes 2-3 people to do one person’s job!
8. So you endure the wait until the officer calls your name.
9. When he calls your name, you pay and get your receipt. When you get your receipt, you are asked to collect your new passport in 1 hour. (Now’s the time to go around the corner and have a cup of coffee while you wait out the hour.)

Some Useful Tips

Make sure you renew your passport for as long as you can. You never want to endure this ordeal too many times in your life. It kills you.

A woman complained that she had been there since 8.30am. A woman we met said she was scolded by the officer when she stood too near the counter (she had seen her form on the next pile and knew he was about to call her name). He actually slammed her form on the counter, showing his displeasure. If I were her I’d say, “Go ahead and get mad. Then give me your name because I am going to write a letter of complaint to your big boss and report you as rude and uncivilised.”

What sort of civil service is this if you treat fellow Malaysians like they didn’t matter? Here are people of all walks of life with most being nervous when dealing with Government Departments because they lacked proficiency in Bahasa Malaysia and don’t know how to fill forms. I saw many people like this. They worried not knowing what to write in their forms.

They hung around, unsure of what came next. Uncertainty is a horrible feeling when you are illiterate and the worse thing is when some officers throw a tantrum in front of the people they are supposed to serve with a smile?

Some are friendly – no doubt – the lady who served me when I was at the kiosk was a cheerful spirit.

But I was lucky. How many others got horrible officers?

The moment we got our new passports, I told myself that I won’t need to step into this place for another 5 years and that’s in 2017.

I met a friend too who was lining up for a second time to get her number – she was apparently too early the first time around and the officer refused to issue her a number. She said,”Oh but it’s like that. We’re not like Singapore you know.”

But why aren’t we like Singapore?

Why do we accept mediocre service and think it’s OK to be bullied by rude officers? Why do we take such crap without even a squeak? That is why Malaysia will never progress beyond what we have now if we don’t speak up and get services improved. Many Malaysians are too accepting of rubbishy service particularly from the Government departments.

Just like the other day when a bank officer at the RHB Sungai Dua branch (a woman no less!) was rude to Nic. I told him never let that get away. We have been loyal customers of this bank for more than 10 years. Is this any way to treat your customers? Then and there, Nic went up to the bank manager and told him that he was unhappy that not only did she not offer a solution to his ATM card problem, she laughed like a hyena while walking away. I hope she gets a good earful from her bank manager.

So don’t stew if you get bad service – write about it, blog about it, write to your newspaper, write to the company. Let them know that you are unhappy. At least then something can be improved. Of course don’t just complain for nothing. Complain so that they improve their services. That’s the goal.

In Singapore, businesses take complaints seriously. Customer service is a serious culture over there.

Over here, we take crap from people who should be serving us with a smile. Why?

My Kerala Trip: Discovering Sankar

Another India post – a much delayed one!

On our final day in Sopanam, we had a plan. It was a plan borne out of the desire to see Kochi city, at least before we flew back to KL. Towns and such are located a distance from each other so we left Sopanam with our luggage all packed on top of our Innova. We would go to the airport directly after entering Kochi.

Sopanam to Kochi was about 1 hour's drive

Sopanam to Kochi was about 1 hour's drive

We didn’t have a plan for Kochi – Uma deftly instructed our driver to drop us off at M.G Road. In the end, we didn’t get to M.G. Road for traffic reasons.

It was a Saturday but traffic entering Kochi was as bad as on a week day. Even the trip from Sopanam to Kochi took us more than an hour.

We were angsty from all that sitting in the car and with the way our driver drove, we were dicing with death at every sharp turn! In the end, we vent our frustrations by conversing with each other in Bahasa Malaysia.

See? Our national language is very useful overseas because you can bitch in that language and no one will know.

Finally he dropped us off at a busy part of town where a few shopping complexes were. Everyone had a stare fest at us because we were different. Some thought we were Japanese and tried to tempt us with “konnichi wa?” There we were, Yvonne who was Dutch, Uma was Malaysian Indian and me, Nic, Faye and Gwen were Malaysian Chinese.

Mobile phones are very big in Kochi too!

Mobile phones are very big in Kochi too!

We were hungry too and the first shopping mall we entered had a Marrybrown outlet! I have only eaten once in Marrybrown when it was in Penang and despite it being a Malaysian franchise, I had no desire to eat Marrybrown in Kochi. Uma then went off to buy her Enthiraan CD while we hung around, waiting for her.

A quick prata lunch in Kochi

A quick prata lunch in Kochi

Once she was done, we decided we really had to have lunch. Off we went in search of food. We landed at a typical Indian restaurant selling dosa (thosai to you and me) and roti prata (roti canai). We wanted to shop and look around more so having prata was the fastest way to gulp down our food. Though it was the last day, we still didn’t take any chances and decided to have hot drinks like milk tea instead of the plain water served to us in typical stainless steel cups.

Again it was funny to be stared at. In the restaurant, everyone looked up at us as we entered. It was a 2-storey restaurant with upstairs seating. However, the rule was, if you wanted to eat banana leaf rice, you sat upstairs. If you wanted to eat other stuff, you sat downstairs. After taking the stairs up and learning of this quirky rule, we all came downstairs again. Indian restaurants seem to run low on electricity – they’re badly lit and very dim.

Spent some rupees in this Himalaya Herbal shop inside the airport

Spent some rupees in this Himalaya Herbal shop inside the airport

Finally with our meal done in super fast timing, we trooped out. Already it was past noon and we had 30 more minutes before we had to get back to the Innova. Our driver seemed intent on hurrying us and worried that we’d not make it to the airport on time. (We had plenty of time except that the AirAsia staff in Kochi took a heck of a long time in checking the 5 of us and our luggage in.)

In the end, we didn’t buy anything at all due to the time constraints though Gwen tried some ice cream and vadai.

We still each had lots of Indian rupees and thought perhaps we could have some McDonalds at the airport. After all, how much of prata and dhal curry can one eat right? I was excited at reaching Kochi Airport and the thought of biting into a luscious beef burger made me cheer up.

This unassuming building is the Kochi airport!

This unassuming building is the Kochi airport!

The Kochi Airport is fairly large but we had to show our passports in order to enter! Unless one was legitimately travelling (taking a plane that day), one could not simply waltz into the airport.

Waiting for the driver to unload all our luggage

Waiting for the driver to unload all our luggage

I didn’t know if the security was high as it was nearing the New Delhi Commonwealth Games (which would be held in a couple of days and no one wanted to jeopardize the security of the host nation). Once inside, I spotted a shop where I knew I could spend my rupees. (It was the Himalaya Herbals shop where they sold their products comparatively cheap.)

A familiar brand greets us!

A familiar brand greets us!

But first, where was McDonalds?

There was none. Not a fastfood outlet in sight! The airport had food kiosks which sold masala tea and snacks like vadai at reasonable prices (and were mighty tasty too unlike the crappy sandwiches we get at the Penang airport food kiosks).

An Indian touch at the Kochi Airport - at least it is not crowded like LCCT Sepang

An Indian touch at the Kochi Airport - at least it is not crowded like LCCT Sepang

As we reached the airport earlier than the others, we had plenty of time to spare. I spotted Sankar’s, an unassuming bookstore near the departure lounge. It was small but its size did belie the selections! The books were incredibly varied, from business to Ayurveda (this is Kerala we’re talking about) and even some eclectic books which I think I will never find in Borders. As the books are printed in India, the prices were comparatively cheaper. Novels were going for RM20 to RM28. Thick autobiographies selling for RM35. It was a gleeful time as I went from shelf to shelf picking out books. Then I realized I had already checked in the luggage and how many books could I carry into the plane?

What a conundrum isn’t it? To come face to face with the loveliest little bookstore in Kochi Airport and have to DECIDE which books NOT to buy because we had some constraints in carrying these books! (Sankar’s is found in most major airports in India so if you are going to India, stop by their bookstores. They’re very worth your while.)

I heard that there were more well-stocked bookstores in the city but Sankar’s would do for me. The Indian salesman was polite and smiled happily as we complimented his good selection. It seemed I wanted every book. Kerala, a friend told me, has the highest literacy rate in the whole of India.

I had to tear myself away from the bookstore as I had finally spent all my available rupees!

Rebuilding An Oasis in Love Lane

Penang is shaping up nicely indeed, if going by the lovely restored buildings of character each day. Just last Sunday, we were at the old Oasis Hotel on 23, Love Lane.

Love Lane is a quaint old name, conjuring all sorts of imaginative visuals – why Love Lane? (It’s good alliteration too…rolls off the tongue in one long loop!). Did secret love trysts happen here? Was it named after someone called Love?

Love Lane reminds me of my maternal grandparents who used to live in a rented room (room, mind you, not even a house) on 76, Love Lane. Like a movie, I can remember as a child of 4 or 5 being in this little room which functioned as a bedroom and dining room. I can still recall the amalgam of smells of that room. Like a whiff of everything – food, old people’s minyak urut, old newsprint and Tiger plasters. I cannot recall exactly but the people who rented rooms in that building shared their bathrooms and kitchen. I can imagine the morning rush!

Anyway, Love Lane also connects to Convent Light Street and St Xavier’s. These are the schools my mom and dad studied at, respectively. Apparently that is how most girls met their future husbands. (Why are all convents situated near boys’ schools? I studied in a co-ed school so I really can’t understand why boys and girls can’t just study together instead of separated?)

Almost Missed It

We almost couldn’t tour the old Oasis Hotel as Nic forgot to RSVP Sook Foong of PHT. Luckily some who RSVPed did not turn up so we quickly joined the PHT tour. As the boutique hotel of 10 rooms is not yet open to the public(it opens on 1 December), joining PHT has its privileges! We were taken on a private tour of this new premises, restored and perhaps looking even better than it was looking before!

Dr Gywnn led us to gape at the wonderful work that has been done on this building. It certainly looked painstaking and arduous, going by the ruins it was in when the current owner bought it in 2008. Back then, this building was an old backpackers’ hostel called Oasis Hotel and owned by the Tan family (who now runs the famous Rainforest Bakery on Chulia Street).

No Photos Please

Despite most PHT members coming armed with cameras, we weren’t allowed to snap any photos. It was a pity as the restored hotel is absolutely beautiful. It abounds with nostalgia. Hence, you won’t see any photos here. But I am sure you will soon see them as the hotel prepares to be launched next month.

You can of course follow their restoration blog where they’ve chronicled every detail which went into making this building a pride of George Town again. This is truly a helpful and immensely detailed blog, useful for people who are looking to restore old buildings and wanting to know what work goes into it.

It helps that the rooms are impeccably decorated with classic teak furniture and lots of local artwork. It seems that finally the owner has a place for his art pieces and furniture he’s collected over the years. I for one am glad that there isn’t any ugly or cheap furniture. You may spot one or two IKEA items. The best piece of furniture has to be the Planter’s Lazy Chair on the verandahs -a lounge chair where one could lie back and have a ‘stengah’ or two!

The new hotel is also wheel-chair friendly so disabled guests can also enjoy this little boutique hotel.

While working/digging the old hotel, workers found shards of old crockery. These are cleverly used as decor pieces around the hotel. An old horse shoe or two was also found, giving some information that there used to be a horse stable at the back. Even the Chinese doors when sanded off their paint revealed some Chinese couplets!

A Touch of Charm and Then Some

I love old buildings like these – high ceilings, lots of wooden louvred windows complete with sheer cotton curtains with deep green borders fluttering in the breeze. The only modern items would be the Sony iPOD dock and Sony TVs in each room. Other than that, it simply reeks old world charm all around.

The upper floors are made of real wood, not the laminated floorboards we know today. Walking barefooted on real wood floors is divine.

We never did find out how much accommodation per night costs here but we hope it will be affordable enough that locals can try out a night or two. I was bemused when one of the staff commented that Nic and I could stay in their “Secret Room” with the Spectacular Bath for our honeymoon. Nice try but I’ve been married for a decade already. Too bad. Otherwise I would book it for our honeymoon!

Until then, I’m satisfied that I know what is behind the Chinese gate.

I could say this place could be called The House No One Loved, Look At It Now….fabulous!

That Quest For Tau Sar Pneah!

Living in Penang for the past decade and more makes me quite Penangite in the sense that I do not truly appreciate the little things Penang are famous for.

Lor bak, Singapore style.  From Food Republic, Vivo City.

Lor bak, Singapore style. From Food Republic, Vivo City.

If you ask me when was the last time I had a plate of sinfully oily char kueh teow, I’d have to think a bit. I cannot recall. I don’t normally eat char kueh teow. It’s more like I don’t crave it that much. That goes for quite a number of Penang hawker food like chee cheong fun, Hokkien mee, laksa (assam laksa to you KL people) and curry mee.

In fact, eating out can be quite a chore.

Nic and I have to really think hard if we want to eat out.

Most times, we eat in because I much prefer to cook (yes, for some strange reason, I like cooking and I like knowing what I put into my food).

It helps that Nic is always the eager guinea pig – I think he secretly enjoys my little kitchen adventures! But he won’t admit it. Oh men are like that. They’d rather have a tooth extracted than heap praise on their wives. But then again, I shan’t be judgemental. I’ve only seen this hesitance to praise of the men in my family – my uncles, my dad and of course, my husband.

So the only time we ever go out is when friends from abroad or out of state come for a visit. Then we have to figure out the hawker food for them as non-Penangites are very focused when they come to Penang – like Soh Peng said, “Give me hawker food. I don’t care for any Western cuisine.”

Penangites are the opposite. We’d rather tuck into Western/Italian/Japanese/Korean than plain old hawker fare. Maybe we have had too much of the same thing.

While on a flight to Penang sometime ago, another friend told me that she spied a Singaporean woman seated in front of her checking a long list of must-eat food in Penang! But that is really what Singaporeans come here for. Our lipsmacking food. (Which really, does taste much better than any old Singaporean fare. No wonder they go mad here over our Penang food. And they go “cheap, cheap”!)

Over the Hari Raya Haji weekend, Soh Peng came to stay. On the last day, hours before she took her flight home to Singapore, we went in search of Penang’s famous snack – tau sar pneah. These round little biscuit snacks are usually bought by visitors to Penang. Most locals I know never touch this biscuit. We’re that bored of our famous little biscuit.

You see, we didn’t want to buy the biscuits on Friday when she arrived. We figured the biscuits would be fresher if she bought them on the day she left. Funnily we forgot that the rest of the world (KL and Singapore people) were on the island for the three-day weekend too.

We thought we’d buy at Him Heang on Burmah Road. Wrong move! The shop was packed with tourists that Monday morning. I had this feeling that we were a bit too late. There was no more tau sar pneah! People were buying biscuits like there was no tomorrow. The next batch of tau sar pneah was arriving at 3pm but who wants to wait till then?

(Him Heang has its tale of notoriety. In the good old days, they will never entertain walk-ins for their biscuits if you did not pre-order. Yup, they were that snooty. But snootiness attracts more customers because it must mean very tasty biscuits or else why would they be so snooty? Just as we would patronize a restaurant if we see it full of people. You never want to go into an empty restaurant would you? Reminds me of that super famous, super fine butter cake sold in the morning market at OUG. My KL friend lined up patiently for this cake (so we could get a taste of it) and yes, it was superb. The things we do for food!)

Singapore famous chui kuih snack

Singapore famous chui kuih snack

With dejection on our faces, we went in search of Ghee Hiang. At least Ghee Hiang has 2 outlets nearby. I am sure we could get at least something! I thought I was being smart. We tumbled into the car and zoomed off before any tourist could figure out why.

The Ghee Hiang bungalow on Anson Road is normally very quiet. Their compound is spacious and most times, only one or two cars are parked. That day, it was full of cars. All with outstation number plates. Errgh. Not a good sign. On regular days, you can park leisurely, walk out of your car and get into the shop, pay for your bisucits and get out in less than 10 minutes.

That day, we eyeballed a long line of people! The compound was maxed out with cars and even one or two bulky tourist vans. Soh Peng decided to line up.

Ahead of her were about 7 people. She said that a riot almost broke out when the first woman in the line asked the Ghee Hiang staff for 30 boxes of tau sar pneah! The person behind this lady wasn’t too happy because he might not get any the way she was ordering.

We didn’t stay on to hear the bickering as I told Soh Peng that we could try our luck at the drive-by outlet of Ghee Hiang’s on Burmah Road. Ghee Hiang is smart in that way – they opened an outlet just a few hundred yards BEFORE you reached Him Heang. No doubt this was to waylay unsuspecting tourists to buy from THEM before they could buy at Him Heang. Damn sneaky! After all, it was a one-way traffic road and you would see their shop first.

So we went around to this Ghee Hiang outlet.

Oooh, no one at all! No line, no busy people (it was just a window counter where you walked up and made your order).

Unfortunately, no line meant that they too had sold out their tau sar pneah!

Dang!

I was at this point rather clueless on what we could do next. All the island’s tau sar pneah were bought up by crazy car-loads of tourists. Who eats 30 boxes of tau sar pneah anyway?

Soh Peng finally decided that we could try Chowrasta market.

This was getting to be quite strange.

(Earlier, we crossed the road to Apom Guan on Burmah Road near Union Primary School because she had a craving for apom with bananas. We stood to wait at Ah Guan’s stall as he was busy making lots of apom. A well-dressed lady stood nearby too. So did a man. Ah, 2 people before us. Still manageable! Luckily I asked Ah Guan because he said that he was just at 100 pieces of apom and the lady had ordered 200 pieces of apom! OHMYGOD. What the heck would she need 200 pieces of apom for? With that, we just turned tail and left.)

Singapore rojak...somehow tastes different

Singapore rojak...somehow tastes different

And so we got to Chowrasta. For sure they will have Him Heang or Ghee Hiang. The first stall we came to did have Him Heang but in a box of 16 pieces, not 32 pieces. The woman who manned the stall convinced us to try out a non-branded tau sar pneah called Chuan Toe. Eventually Soh Peng decided to buy the non-branded tau sar pneah because she had no choice. She was flying back in less than 3 hours and she had to have her tau sar pneah!

I have not seen such madness over a snack like this for a long time. It amazes me the lengths people go to for their food.

Many people also feel that Him Heang and Ghee Hiang are over-rated and commercialized. That maybe so but these are old-time brands people associate with. It’s tough for people to switch brands especially if nostalgia and good memories are woven into this association.

In my next post, I’d tell you about one non-branded tau sar pneah biscuit which we found – made fresh and tastes just as good, if not better (according to my tau sar pneah fan of a husband).

Singapore style fried prawn noodles

Singapore style fried prawn noodles

PS: Why show photos of food from Singapore? It just shows that I don’t have photos of food in Penang. LOL. Just in case you’re wondering if the photos are wrong. They’re not. They showcase hawker food. Just not hawker food in Penang. ;-)