Penang Digest

For anybody who likes to read the blog, but prefers not to follow the timeline, here’s how it went down in Penang this year. The three fortnights were dominated by the following obsessions. The text is just copied from the timeline — more pics from each report can be learnt by following the links. Also, all my pics from Malaysia have been sent to the Flickr page, and may be observed there as well.

Obsession The First…

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(June 13)

Me: [Beating a hasty path toward the Esplanade, freshly procured Durian in hand.] Park-Bench Sittah: So, you take Durian?
Me: Yeah!
Park-Bench Sittah: It’s good, eh?
Me: Yes! Number one!
Park-Bench Sittah: But I thought, uhhhh…Europeans don’t take Durian?
Me: I’m American. We take it!

In point of actual fact, I don’t guess that Americans are any more likely than are Europeans to “take” Durian. But, sometimes, it’s necessary to lie a little in order to get to the truth — ain’t that right?

At any rate, the season here is already in FULL swing. And if my initial forays are any indication, it is going to be a fucking barn-burner! Who wants to come join me here??? Raise your goddam hand up!

(June 16)

The year’s first venture to Bao Sheng Durian Farm: All the delights that Heaven allows (but say bye-bye to my flat tummy). Organic Penang Durian, freshly dropped, from sixty-year-old trees — accept no substitutes!

(June 22)

Listen up, party people! The goddam Penang Durians are of exceptional quality this year — just rolling strike after strike after strike after strike. (As much as I’d like to believe that my selection skillz have reached such rarefied heights, I think the reality is simply that it’s purt near impossible to pick out a bad one this year.)

If you’re a-reading these words, you’ve still time to get here and crest the wave — but don’t dilly-dally: there are only about five weeks remaining in the season. You don’t wanna look back and regret having missed out…do you?

I already regret not having at least asked the price of this fricking behemoth, here. Just look at the sumbitch dwarfing its neighbours — about the size of a basketball, it was. Hopefully, one of its siblings will turn up soon.

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(June 25)

My favourite grower from last year (apart from the almighty Bao Sheng, natch) was a little later than everybody else on the giddyup this season — only began trading in the Good Stuff at the middle part of last week. I’m able to report, however that as of to-day, they have officially hit their stride. For the next weeks, lo do I worship at their altar!

Though, they don’t necessarily know the power of their own produce: They were loathe to permit me to purchase a particular fruit this very morning on the grounds that it was, they told me, shite. I stuck to my guns, insisting that it smelt quite heavenly to me. Finally, they threw it in for free, along with an admonition to not come crying to them and cetera and cetera. Can’t deny having felt a little intimidated, being dressed down in front of a big crowd and all. But we Ang Mo aren’t quite as stoopid, Durianically speaking, as the Malaysians delight in believing us to be. It turned out to be one of the best Durians of this already-legendary season.

So there’s your Durian Tip o’ the day: When your nose is recording signals of deliciousity, don’t let an authority figure frighten you into believing otherwise. The nose knows! (This tip is much easier to follow, of course, when the fruit in question may be obtained free of charge…)

(July 7)

Just another day on the Island. First, the World Durian Team here spent the morning and afternoon powering through about five hundred and eleventy billion metric tonnes of Bao Sheng Durian Farm goodness. Later, I made it back to George Town in time to catch — as part of the city’s annual Heritage Days festivities celebrating its 2008 UNESCO listing — one of the more athletic Lion Dance performances to which I’ve ever made witness.

It’s Penang ass-kickery, 24/7

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(July 10)

Another great day on the Durian trail — this time courtesy Penang Green Acres.

As proprietors Kim and Eric explained, many of Penang’s oldest farms are finding themselves unable to turn a profit, and so are being sold off and the trees liquidated. Green Acres isn’t profitable, either, but it’s all organic, and they’re willing to subsidise the project in order to save the trees from the neighbouring farms’ trees’ fates. Plus which, their Durian-wood eco-home is a truly gorgeous sight to behold.

Put this on your very, very short-list of must-visit Durian locations. Listening to them tell the farm’s story whilst supping of their magnificent fruit (including my first-ever taste of the very rare Graveolens Durian) — truly an I’m-not-worthy experience.

Ten million thank-yous Eric and Kim — and big ups, as always, to the ever-intrepid Year of the Durian for the tip-off.

(July 12)

Three words (arrange ’em in any order you prefer): “Penang”, “Motherfucking”, “Durian”. Are you receiving me?

(July 14)

There is only Durian; there is only Penang. All else is illusion.

(July 16)

The year’s final visit to Bao Sheng Durian Farm; so sad. The season began late, and is wrapping up early — but for three or four weeks there, it was the most dazzling rush of flavour/texture/aroma I’ve ever experienced. May we one day see its like again…

(July 19)

It all crumbled away so quickly. The Kampung situation in George Town is now in such a sorry state that I hopped a bus to Balik Pulau, where…the situation is equally as dire. I did manage to scrounge up this little fuss-budget, at least. Though very tiny — I’m not even sure whether the dude charged me for it — it turned out to be one of the two or three most numbing Durians I’ve ever eaten. Incroyable!

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Back in George Town, I swallowed my pride and went cruising the stalls out on Jalan Macalister; where, taking into account Commander Eric Rosales‘ proddings, I ordered up a representative of the XO variety. Gotta say, it was quite delicious — though at twenty Ringgit the kilo, decidedly out of my price range. But being it’s the end of the season and all…

Two good shots to go out with. And now, one is left to ponder the imponderable: Is there life after Penang Durian season-ending?

Obsession The Second…

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(June 17)

The George Town Helmet Project is back in thee saddle! Oh, gawd, how I do love this town. For more info, check out my report from last year.

(June 18)

Yet more helmets. How I fucking love this town! I do feel bad for the poor Penangites, though — they already think me satanic for my barefoot; my shaking of the picturetaker at them all over town can’t but add to their distress. But the results…oh, the freakin’ results! (And I’ve tried to transplant the project to other cities — but it only works in Penang.

(July 14)

I’m still shooting motorcycle helmets like a madman. Have now compiled about 8,500 pics in all — and I estimate that I delete about 50%, so I’ve actually *taken* about 17,000. Crazy. To think that I sometimes get pissed off at my poor, mistreated camera when it doesn’t do exactly what I want it to. That thing should be awarded the fuckin’ medal!

Anyhow, I sometimes wonder, “Okay, you’ve probably got enough pictures, now, innit?” But then, each new day, the results are just so fantastic — every George Town motorcycle helmet is a beautiful snowflake — that I can’t bring myself to stop. I think I’ve found my life’s calling, in fact. Whenever I am in George Town, the helmet-photographin’ mania will and must ensue.

And — just ever once in a while — I manage to capture a shot so (if I may humbly submit) epic, so culturally defining, so completely on-the-nose, that it belongs in the goddam time-capsule. Here, from just yesterday, is such a one. (If anybody needs me, I’ll be sitting here, ever so patiently, waiting for the time-capsule people to call…)

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(July 23)

Stir in a few more helmet pics, along with a small selection of amusing signs, and Penang is a wrap. Oh, where does the time go?

Obsession The Third…

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(June 14)

It’s kid-in-a-candy-store time when I arrive in Penang. I’m like, “Oh, snap! I wanna go to The Esplanade! I wanna go to Little India! I wanna go get some Durian! I wanna go to Batu Ferringhi! I wanna see what’s new at the galleries and museums! I wanna drink another Coconut! I wanna go listen to the prayer call! I wanna go befriend weirdos! I wanna go take pictures of motorcycle helmets! I wanna go look at the street art! I wanna see a Shadow Puppet performance!” And on and on.

Here only two days, though, and I can already feel the gravitational tug of time’s ineluctable whirlpool. This month is gonna fly by faster than a bat outta Hell. But while it does last…

(July 2)

The ocean was in top form to-day — in ways the camera will never know (not that that’ll stop us from trying). Ten thousand shades of stunning; beginning with the roiling, wind-blown daytime greens then giving way to the sinfully gorgeous evening blues. It all added up to the best maritime performance I’ve seen since I left Bau-Bau.

And these god damned ravens…first of all, they filched a piece of Durian from me the other day when I weren’t looking. Not a very big piece — but certainly one that I was looking forward to devouring. Anyhow, to-day, they kept plucking fish out of the sea, carrying them toward the shore a ways, then dropping them back in. What was that all about? Must be the full Moon, or some shit.

(July 9)

George Town takin’ it easy for all us sinners.

(July 13)

It’s a G-Town git-down.

Not An Obsession – More Like An Enthusiasm…

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(June 24)

They’re still putting new street art — keeps the repeat visitor all up on his/her toes.

(July 3)

Some more G-Town street art-istry.

(July 22)

Anybody in George Town wishing to see some cool shit, head over to the Fergana Art space at the Whiteways Arcade. Current show features some great collage pieces from artist Samsudin Wahab.

(July 23)

Last batch of murals from George Town (dig the SAMO reference in the second pic).

In addition to all the motorcycle pics, I did also manage to capture a few shots of people on bicycle or foot. Not as many as in years past, but they’re still looking very stylish indeed whilst employing these human-powered modes of transport.

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Just as in Big India, George Town’s Little India’s citizens’ penchant for requesting to have their photos taken is all too charming. Gotta give ‘em their day in the sun!

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And finally, a couple of clips. The first one proving, yet again, that no matter how corny it sounds, mother nature’s artistry is the most beautiful and compelling of all. The second, a quintessentially Asian experience: A morning stroll through George Town’s Chowrasta Market, the ultimate Lynchian fever-dream for the masses.

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