These Island Lives

[dc]G[/dc]ot the bus, of the Friday AM, down to Balik Pulau and placed a call to my connection (name of “Leong”). He came to get me and took me back to his house to sign in.

Quite one of the most entertaining characters I’ve yet encountered. He was an odd duck — manic and distracted, always asking new questions and proposing new suggestions. His accent was difficult to decipher. Friendly yet gruff, he charged me more than I’d been told he would, and then offered me a Durian. He gave me a bike to use – but I declined, as he hadn’t a lock, and yet warned me that if it got stolen, I’d be on the hook.

Not only was his home not on a farm, but I wouldn’t, turned out, be staying in his home. He bade me ride on the back of his moto with him; which I done: my first dance, since arriving to Asia, with the devil incarnate. No principles, mang.

The home was an emptied-out duplex which, I’m guessing, he’s attempting to either rent or sell.



About five minutes’ walk from the bus station, and with a decent enough view…


…I couldn’t really complain. Had the place all to myself on this night; though there were two other rooms.

Mr. Leong gave me his leave, and I hain’t never seen him since. Me, I went to visit 808 Durian stall, ‘cause it was then sporting a large number of guests. They’re all numbered in Balik Pulau, so’s you can remember where you found the best ones.


“Can I help you?” asked the Durian Porter skeptically. I think he thought I was lost.

“Uhhh…you got any Durian?”

Everybody in the place laughed at my little joke, and I took a seat. I told the porter to bring me a good one, and ended up with a wonderful Ling Phun Chao.

Next, asked for a Capri, at which the Durian Master smiled wide and hurried over to his secondary pile to pick one out – the Porter now busily wiping off my table and delivering a bottle of cane juice. You ever wanna get a Penang Durian-seller to worship your dimpled ass, just begin ordering up the expensive varieties. Works every time.

Alas, the Capri and the Ang Bak Kia which followed were each just okay. I think I ate my Durian in the incorrect order on this day. Live and learn.

Here’s the Durian Master’s wife making Durian Cake.


Now it was time to hike up into the hills. Past the largest Watermelons ever have I seen…


…past the church…


…and up through the gorgeous scenery I trod.


It was a little one-lane paved path. Every minute or so, I had to grit my teeth and curse my own hypocrisy as I deferred to motorcycle after motorcycle. For it was these very same what were dutifully ferrying the freshly harvested Durian from farm to market. Why, here’s one even now.


After hiking up in through for an hour or so, I stopped at a conveniently placed farmside bench to sit and enjoy the surroundings. And, not so far from me, I was privileged to witness my very first Durian-fall! Crack-a-lacked over to pick it up; but it looked not terribly healthy.

When the farmer came down to harvest in the area, I showed him the fallen fruit. He concurred that it wasn’t good, and tossed it aside. Phoo.

On the way back down into town, dude tossed a Rambutan to me from the back of his ride (filled up with them).


I sheepishly returned it to him, explaining that they’re not my cup of tea. Tell you this much, though: those sons of bitches are everywhere. It’s been my experience both throughout Southeast Asia and on Hawaii The Big Island that Rambutan seem to grow in shocking abundance, and the season seems endless. In a future age (not so far distant, mind), when we’ll be eating only what we’ve managed to’ve foraged, Rambutan may be the very staple.

[dc]S[/dc]o, Saturday, back in George Town, was kind of the showcase day of the month-long George Town Festival, putting upon stage the town’s unique and special cultural heritage and blah blah.

The afternoon was given to, like, kids’ activities around town; as well as historical exhibitions, and food, and a few performances and whatnot.

Here’s a particularly good ditty from down Acheen Street. (Apologies, by the way, for having cut the clips so short – needed to save the battery’s juice.)

And this gentleman, rocking the fuck here out of a…Chinese Zither, I guess?

The photos exhibitions were really great, and the curators quite learned and friendly. Spoke to one gentleman whose family has been living in the very same row-house for now four generations.





Ha ha! I guess the grumpy old man in the last picture there is fixing to be a lot happier in about two minutes’ five seconds’ time!

Plenty of art on display throughout the city, both in the streets, and in special exhibitions in many of the galleries. I later saw a girl adding to this piece.


Come evening, it was time to party; with simultaneous performances going off around town flavouring the visitor in the Folkish ways of the Malay, Chinese, Muslim, and Hindu communities (plus some others besides.)

It all began, as it must, with the Lion- and Dragon-dances.









The performances, in a word: exuberant.





Uh, don’t you dare tell anybody I said this… Many’s the time I’ve rhapsodised the musics here in town; but after the evening’s festivities, I may, should need ever arise, be heard to acknowledge that George Town’s music scene is possibly even more compelling that its Durian scene. Did I truly just type that line? Perhaps it was the daemon…

Got the ball rolling with a little bit of taiko (Chinese use a different word, probably?).

But it was over in the Indian block in which the evening’s tone (viz., dimpled asses being bumped) was firmly set.

Shortly after that, the lady with the twirling umbrella invited me to join in. When will this world ever learn? This barefoot farang will never resist an invitation to shake his dimpled ass out in the streets. Glad I don’t have to be one to witness the unholy sight. She even gave me the umbrella to use as a prop. Lotsa people were taking pics; so poke around, maybe you’ll find one.

Down near the Malay Mosque, the folks were gathered ‘round, and it was announced that the performance would begin directly. Then it was announced that it had been delayed five minutes, so as not to conflict with the prayer call. Fifteen minutes later, we were promised that it would begin soon. Fuckin’ religion, man; making me wait.

But the wait turned out to be worth every second, as this performance was probably the evening’s most unhinged. Welcome to the jungle, baby!





Walking between venues, I couldn’t believe my eyes, them having reported of having noticed a stout-looking local smartly adorned in well-maintained UW Tee.

“Huskies!!” I screeched, smacking the latter upside the shoulder.

“What?” he turned to me, looking as though I’d landed from Planet Moon wondering, “Paper or Plastic?”

After taking a closer look to make sure I’d not misread, I again cried out, pointing excitedly, “That’s my fuckin’ team, man!!”

“Oh, really?” Sheesh! I guess he just picked the shirt up in a bin somewheres; and doesn’t know “Washington Huskies” from “Adam’s Apple”; ‘cause had I not requested of him to strike a pose, his next moment would have been Narcoleptic Stupor — such was his excitement for my fuckin’ team, man.


Anywho, next up: shadow-puppetry, kicking the ass and taking the names.


Back over to the Indian stage, a little post-performance jam-dance for shits and giggles.

And one is thinking, “Wow, that’s one hell of a great night, la?” And no sooner is one thinking, “Wow, that’s one hell of a great night, la?” that up pops the Muslim performance to dispense with one’s very preconceptions and to rock one’s very being.

Okay, beautifully plaintive vocals, that’s one thing. But…Muslims know how to groove? Well these ones sure enough do (though one wouldn’t have figured it to judge by the hands-sitting audience members)!

The Malay performance may have been the evening’s wildest, and the Indian the most fun. But this Muslim action was far the most impressive. Homies put not one, not five, but twelve whippings right down on the llama’s ass. Twelve!

[dc]S[/dc]unday was rather low-key on the festival front. I seen this strange image. Is it an advertisement for Jakfruit, or…?


And another Penanger handy with the chisel.


The “living museum” exhibitions were still in effect down on Armenian street; the long-time residents of a handful of addresses even holding court in a few instances.

Looked for a time like kids’ day on Acheen street. This young lad is apparently performing only ’cause of the possibility of a Scooby Snack or two. Still, voice of an angel.

He was followed up by a little Ani-DiFranco-in-waiting.

That’s some talent! Don’t sell out, kiddo.

After the childrens stepped aside, it was time for the real fireworks to begin.

Shit, how gorgeous is that? I asked what type of music it’s called? Shadow-Puppet music, they say. So there you go.


Later, went to see a talk concerning Chinese Secret Societies (i.e., gangs) in 19th Century Penang. Just as it was getting going, the deranged Indian gent walked in, noticed me, smiled ecstatically, and came to sit down. I didn’t even have time to wonder how long it would be before he started talking.

“Why isn’t he standing up? You can’t see him! He needs to go up on the stage.” People began looking angrily in his direction. He lowered his voice some, but continued on: “You should say something. You are from the U.S., they’ll listen to you.” I’d been laughing before that; but now I was dying laughing (though attempting to not make of myself a damned spectacle).

He called over an official photographer to make his case; to no avail. “Like talking to a brick wall,” he lamented as the Proctor came over to shut him up, informing him that there would be a slide presentation on the screen, obviating the need of the speaker making himself visible.

He made me save his seat whilst he attended the shitter; then upon his return announced that he was not interested in this presentation, and made for the exit. That is one entertaining motherfucker!

But the best finest news of the week was this. Apart from all the free-of-charge ‘round-town goings-on, the Festival also offers feature concert-hall performances each evening. The one I really wanted to see, from reading the descriptions, was in the final day of its three-day run.


The inventive Indian director Roysten Abel, introduces GTF2012 audiences to the world-famous The Manganiyar Seduction, a unique confluence of traditional Rajasthani music and striking contemporary theatre. The formerly nomadic Manganiyar minstrels once performed for Rajasthani kings and worshipped Muslim saints as well as Hindu goddesses. Imagine a dark stage coming slowly to life as the conductor gestures and one by one the curtain-lined stacked boxes on stage light up to reveal white-robed musicians. The musical refrain slowly builds as more boxes and more musicians (forty-two altogether) begin singing, playing lutes, percussion, and reed instruments in an increasingly frenzied symphony. An unmissable experience!

I mean, gotta check this shit out, ain’t we? But I had been expressing to somebody or other my interest in the performance, to be told that all of the cheap seats were long-gone. And, see, my budget is in fucking tatters right now, owing to these (well) so-seductive Penang Durian. Didn’t think it could be in the cards, even after a coupla dormmates had, having seen the Friday performance, sung its praises high and far.

But then!


And they were even the more expensive seats, but offered at the cut-rate price. Sometimes, life kicks ass. Come to find out, it happened that another coupla dormmates had snagged free tix for Saturday’s show via some or other website! But also…they didn’t get to see the amazing Saturday street performances. (The Malays are so cute, too: they always add that “only” at the end when giving even the slightest discount; to make sure you know how good you’re getting it. Even the Durian sellers, you ask? Especially the Durian sellers. “Nine million and five Ringgit. But I sell to you nine million only!”)

And so…wow. The performance couldn’t possibly have outshone more its already delectable hype. This was a spectacle rivaling even Bangkok’s wondrous Chinese New Year festivities. So many times, beginning even the very first week in Bangkok, have I regretted not having brought to Asia my fancy-pants music recorder. But never more than now.

Twisting and turning deftly between shockingly gorgeous quieter vocal passages, joyously engaging frenetic percussive dervish, and suspenseful and even outright terrifying (not kidding!) full-on bombast; this is, to put it mildly, a signal experience. My heart was in my throat throughout the entirety of the triumphant finale; and when it had done, I was left in shock. I imagine we all were. Uh, yeah: I guess I know which band I wanna follow on tour next.

Did manage to close tight my jaw a time or two and actually take some multimedia. If it turned out okay, I’ll share it under separate cover. For now, we’ll just whet the appetite with a few photos.





Some friendly advice: this production arrives in your town, you get your dimpled ass down to the venue to see it! Mortgage your god damn dog, if you need to. Just make sure to be there, la.

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