George Town, Malaysia
Today I got up and worked on updating the website and researching the next leg of my journey in Phuket. Then it started to rain, so I stayed in the hotel until cleared up a little. When I finally did leave, it was still drizzling, but I had the umbrella I had bought in Singapore to keep me relatively dry. I then walked through George Town to the Komitar building (a tall cylindrical building that stands out in the skyline). Next to the Komitar is a mall where I stopped to grab a quick bite to eat at the McDonalds there. Then I boarded the bus bound for Penang Hill (also known as Bukit Bendera). The journey took about an hour and, once I was at the entrance, I bought a round-trip ticket to the top via a sloped train car on the funicular railway, similar to the one found in Mürren, Switzerland. I took the train up to its topmost destination – a cafe and shop building. Then I exited and walked around the top of the hill trying to get the best view I could of George Town, which was a little difficult due to a lot of construction there. Then I walked up the hill further, passing by the Sri Aruloli Thirumurugan Hindu temple and the nearby mosque. After a short walk around the hill, I then took the train car back down. Overall, the hill was a bit of a disappointment due to too many vendors, buildings, and not enough nature.
Once I was back down from Penang Hill, I walked south to the Kek Lok Si temple – purported to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. I believe Borobudor in Java is the largest actual temple (meaning “one structure”), in Southeast Asia and the rest of the world; whereas Kek Lok Si, with its multiple structures (halls and pagodas), makes up the largest temple “compound” in Southeast Asia. On the way up to see the temple, an Indian man told me it was closed already (it was 18:00), but I went up anyway to try to get some decent photos. Lo and behold, the temple was actually still open – it closes at 18:30. Once again, an important lesson is reinforced: don’t believe a word that anyone says, especially random strangers; after all, most people are stupid (Note: I include myself in this category as well). The temple combines both Mahayana Buddhism and traditional Chinese rituals in terms of style and worship. One of the most impressive structures at Kek Lok Si is the main pagoda (or “Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas”) which combines three architectural styles: it has a Chinese base, a Thai middle, and a Burmese crown on top. I first walked in to the main hall which had many tables set up with prayer books for the monks to follow while chanting; there was also three large Buddha statues for worshipers to pray to and many small ones covering the walls; the ceiling was also very impressive with its dome and paintings. I then walked out, passing by a mini pagoda and a large Buddha statue with his followers, as well as deer, giving him his audience. I then walked up to a three-story hall with even more Buddha statues along the walls of the hall and the wall around the perimeter. I walked up to the second-story and viewed the city and hills, but the third story, with a standing Buddha (I think, it may have been a disciple) under a pavilion was closed to visitors. I then walked to an adjacent hall with a shrine in it, before exiting out the way I came. I tried to walk up to the main pagoda, but it was also closed to visitors – perhaps due to all the construction (it looks like the temple is being expanded a great deal more and there is even a giant pavilion with a large Kuan Yin (goddess of mercy) statue in it that is being worked on – should be incredibly impressive once it is complete for public viewing; there were also many crates with roof tiles, Buddha statues, statues of the disciples of Buddha, and deer statues lying around at the entrance and at the base of the hill near a local school). I then went back to the main hall as the rest of the temple was closing to get a better look inside before finally leaving and walking back to the nearest bus stop.
I then took the bus back to George Town and got off near the hostel that the American and German guys I had met yesterday were staying at. I checked to see if they were in, but alas, they had already gone out. So I walked to the Red Garden to have some dinner. Inside the Red Garden, I met the English woman and two Dutch women that we had all had drinks with last night. After ordering my food (grilled chicken and lamb with garlic rice, a fried egg and beans, and coleslaw), I joined their table and we discussed a variety of topics; one topic was about ladyboy anatomy and physiology (breasts implants, effects of hormone therapy (does “it” shrink), how you can spot one, etc.), then we moved on to how bench presses can help perk a woman’s breast, but too much can diminish size due to loss in body fat and gain in muscle – some strange conversation we had. We then finished our food and walked back toward our respective hostels. Once back inside the hostel I was staying at, I noticed a picture of Stepan Bandera on the wall; he was a controversial Ukrainian figure who tried unsuccessfully to ally with Nazi Germany in order to fight the USSR for the cause of an independent Ukraine, then in 1959 he was assassinated by the KGB; many nationalists in Ukraine hold him up as a hero, which is why Putin is always comparing them to fascists. I now know which side of the current conflict the Ukrainian managers of this hostel are on. I then surfed the internet for a while before finally going to sleep.