Friday, March 23, 2012


With restorations hot in Penang, a number of small hotels have grown throughout the city. With the UNESCO project taking its force in Malacca and Penang especially, many have joined the bandwagon to hit the tourism trail, expecting more foreign tourists to flow into the country.

 The island have for a long time been attractive to the backpackers. Move along Chulia Street for example you will find small budget hotels catering to the demand of this group. Their expectation is a clean room and a reasonable seasonal rate since many would  stay for a while before they move to the next destination.They do not expect deluxe class or a good restaurant. Ease of transportation, communication via internet especially and money changing facilities in the area are added bonuses.

 It is good to see that house owners have started to convert their old buildings into home stays or hotel rooms with a difference. No more unfavoured frontage or interior but buildings that welcome residents to choose and stay. Only last week I came across such a building. A stretch of four former shop lots have taken a fresh look and hope to welcome their new guests when it open for business. Situated in the enclaves of Penang Historical Centre they would be a good choice for many. It would only be a walking distance to the number of UNESCO recognized sites in the area.    

For its attractiveness and commercial assets, these  hotels, smaller in size to the already established and well known hotel chain in the country, they take a  new term i.e 'boutique' representing " small but exclusive property that caters to the affluent clientele with an exceptional level of service at premium prices'.

We had the opportunity to stay in a 'boutique' hotel in Singapore a few years back and admired the concept and planning that ushered in the style.Boutique hotels grew out of old established buildings, renovated with charms of their own  but retaining parts of the old traditions and architectural splendour. You marvel at the ingenuity and skill shown to bring about a face-lift as well as fitting the interior. One thing for sure the owner must himself craved for the 'old' things.    

The whole excitement comes from the comfort, hospitality and charm of staying in an aged building restored with the artistic grandeur of past-years. Notice the original two buildings by its side in their original design with low roof lines. 

My liking for old tradition saw me visiting Penang again and this time enabling me to call at several buildings to see them at close range. Foremost I am most happy to know that a Malay owner himself is amongst the few entrepreneurs who have committed to go into the 'boutique' business. It is no mean investment because it calls for the unique and the traditions. His at No. 23 Love Lane Penang will no doubt claim a new group of clientele, not backpackers but tourists or visitors who want comfort, feel of home and true hospitality.

The tile flooring makes the difference

At Cambell Road, once a busy shopping zone in the 1950's, now a corner shop lots have been turned into a 'boutique' hotel.

 A row of old terrace buildings along Muntri Road, a corner of the heritage trail. Found here the 'Muntri Mews'

Tourist and visitors alike find such quiet corners relaxing for their cups of tea or coffee.

At Clove Lane I caught hold of this damaged masonry fencing,workmanship of construction hard to come by now.  Notice the colorful tiles on the right bench which thankfully have not been removed.I meant bench because we found such 'a tembok'  a good resting place in the evening when friends congregate. Now homes do not have such construction and therefore the neighbourhood group don't gather here anymore.

 Parents did not have to worry. Their children won't be far from the 'tembok'. Sorry not now.

Behind the old gate stood this mansion amongst many but uncared. Restored it would be another treasure piece.

The following are pictures taken at No. 23 Love Lane Penang

                          A bedroom for the guests , notice the two wooden chairs

           Drain pipe with a large earthenware container to collect the rain water.

   In the foreground, the old well in the compound is blocked less someone may fall in. A reminder that such homes depended on a well when pipe water was not available.


An old grinding stone,  reminds you of the former technology. It is such collectibles that are kept and displayed helping to link the present with the past. Lovers of antiquities appreciate these.

                         The owner's collections of antique's furniture fills the foyer

 Some modern additions for comfort

Blocked of sandstone pavements guided you into the home. Another ingenuity at decorating or furnishing with local crafts or products.

We thanked the manager in charge of the hotel for allowing us to have a look around and  as we stood at the gate, realized that the two lanterns at the entrance actually gave an international flavour to the home not restricting to one community alone. Beauty is the essence of living.

Actually this essay or observation that took me to discover several 'boutique' hotels in Penang was prompted by the Friday summon or  'Khutbah' read  at our mosque last week. It is not often that the Imam would read a 'Khutbah' with definite meaning, provoking you to realize its inner depth.

He said " Sidang jumaah yang dihormati Allah ....... Salah satu sifat semula jadi atau naluri yang disematkan Allah SWT kedalam jiwa manusia ialah, " Sukakan Kecantikan", walaupun diri atau hak kepunyaan tidak cantik. Cantik ada dua jenis. Pertama cantik semula jadi, kedua cantik yang dihiasi dengan perhiasan. Bentuk kecantikan pula terbahagi kepada dua: pertama cantik luaran dan kedua cantik dalaman; yang tak dapat dilihat dengan mata kasar, tetapi kadang-kadang terpancar juga diwajah tuan tubuhnya. Mimbar bagaimana pun membuat huraian khusus terhadap cantik luaran.

Mimbar seterusnya antara lain menyarankan ..." rumah tangga juga perlu dihiasi serta dibersihkan supaya kelihatan cantik. Ia tempat rehat manusia selepas penat bekerja. Kecantikan rumah tangga adalah ditinjau dari kebersihan dan atur susun peralatannya yang rapi, bersih hingga dapat kita dirikan solat dibahagian mana juga dalam rumah."

With quotes from the Koran and hadith the Imam went on to explain the issue farther and I fell it struck the jumaah with a strong sense of commitment realizing that they returned home with a strong force. I fell glad that day. The 'khutbah' was exemplary and Friday's 'khutbah' need to talk of issues that wake the gatherings rather than lull them away.One short fall however, the content should also be heard by the women at home, partake they understood too the responsibility of keeping clean and being beautiful in all respects. ( I make a point to borrow the 'khutbah' paper from the Imam thus allowing others to know about it)

Much as many attempt to keep their homes clean, tidy and welcoming they must get opportunities to see the 'world' outside: how things are done, what are used and with less cost as far as possible. The man's home is his castle so says a saying and naturally all must be done to assure that he stays there and not linger away. I am pretty sure yours is at its best.  

Thank you for joining me on the heritage trail. Be assured our own back doors have treasures to be preserved and shown to the world and not necessarily await acclaim from UNESCO. The truth is our own house is a boutique itself, having all the comforts, beauty and hospitality that you will never get outside. Less we forget it has to be reminded.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


The subject may of course direct you to think of the palace scene where soldiers performed the ceremonial attractions which pulled visitors and tourists by the hundreds.

      This was at Istana Negara Kuala Lumpur

   While this was at Athens

However this is a different 'changing of the guard' but I assure you it is a half an hour of pure commitment on the part of the participants. It takes place in Penang where of course there is no such royal performance like the one in the two pictures above. Instead as reported below.

We have been visiting Penang several times in March especially and an opportunity came our way late on Friday night. There we were a half hour before 10.00 pm at the corner of Kapitan Kling Mosque with other like minded souls. They too have gathered at the place. Of course many have heard of this place but being here and seeing things is another story of a kind.

                                                                       21.58 hrs

 It was a breezy night and the lights of the tall Kapitan Kling minaret twenty yards away caught the images of people lining up as if waiting and watching for something. The time marked it as being 21.58 hrs.But mind you we have been here much earlier expecting the unexpected.  

                                                               time 21.37 hrs

It has to be another half an hour at least before the actions begin yet as you see above there are already the die hard standing on line. You notice the aluminium shelves, for storing food and dishes. Well the trader is about to finish business and fold up for the day. It has been a long day for him and 10.00 pm is his dateline. So what are we entertained to for that half hour? If ever you want to see how a  food stall is folded up for the day then come to this place. You will never discover any other place in the world. Added to that just like the night changing into day, you will be enthralled by the opening of another business. All in pure actions by the number of 'actors' ( workers) taking part. All impervious to the crowd that has slowly grown as the minutes ticked by.

                                        21.39 hrs
Actually we were on the way home to Alor Setar, but the thoughts of stopping at this place put a halt to that plan for a while. Now what would you likely be doing at this time of the night? Well it could be supper time and realizing that we have not had our dinner then this was an opportune time. But why here? 

                                                                    21.54 hrs

Almost completed, the shelving has been washed and cleaned. It will be pushed aside for storage until tomorrow morning. Now how delighted we are to realize that they are stall keepers and hawkers that take pain to clean their equipments and place before closing time. Now who would not want to frequent this eating place again. Yes even the floor was washed to make way for the other partner to begin his business.

These were the actions that unfolded in front of our eyes. Surely more exciting than witnessing the changing of the guard in front of the istana. This then is the 'changing of the guard' for NASI KANDAR BERATUR to come into action.

Established in 1943, way back before the Malayan Union of 1946 and just after the 2nd World War, Penang residents have been accustomed to Nasi Kandar and this being NASI KANDAR BERATUR. Its extraordinary difference being that all customers must 'beratur' ( queue) to order their choices. Don't worry. It's done fast and there is orderliness when it comes to food. NOW WHERE HAVE YOU SEEN SUCH APPLICATIONS AND ADHERED TO .Now qualm and no complain especially in Malaysia.

The action continues to unfold since the hour is not there yet. Nevertheless the 'beratur' has seen more people in the line as the hour ticked by.

22.00 hrs the line has become longer and any minute now the customers will be served. Notice the two big umbrella, folded up; they are several around the courtyard. They have taken precaution in case of rain for the customers to take shelter. Below a helper is seen arranging the dinner plates on the counter.


 22.05 hr A few minutes behind time. Not to worry no noise forthcoming. They have awaited and what's there between minutes ? Already some of the dishes are on the triple decker counters. Notice that this is a new counter as the old one has been kept aside. This was part of the changing of the guard.The switch was done within a few minutes.

While the guests were standing on lines my wife had the opportunity to take a look at the array of dishes that would be on display soon and a big choice for expected customers. They were placed in the proper trays or containers before being displayed on the shelves. Mouth watering to say the least. Fresh , hot and appetizing. 

 Beef, mutton , chicken, fish, prawn,squids etc are ready for the waiting customers

Try these pieces of green chillies and you will feel the 'heat'

 Wow! 'udang' or prawns of various sizes

          Now what about a few pieces of sotong?  Sedap tu!

  'Ladies Fingers' liken by many.  

 Have a look and tell me if you are not tempted to call at NASI KANDAR BERATUR in the soonest future. Don't forget to give me a call and we can be there together. Here goes. I leave it to you to identify them.      

Having had a sneak preview of what would be offered, it was an easy choice to decide. However I believe the long stretch of customers would be hard to decide what they would put on their plates. Good though since the queue is long, people would try to be faster in their choices.

The half an hour of waiting was gainful because we picked up many pointers to running a food stall especially a Nasi Kandar. Extraordinarily we came to know a few new  friends, not only from Penang but also from other parts of the country who like us found the adventure an excitement  and rewarding. Of course I would not include a picture of ourselves consuming the delicious Nasi Kandar Beratur but suffice that we show members of our staff who were with us that evening. By the way a good plate of rice with the choices dishes would not cost you more than a cup of coffee and a piece of cake at Starbucks for example.

                                              by 22.20 hrs customers had their choices

 As we make our way to the parking bay, we noticed the lines have grown longer and possibly as the night crossed the midnight hour more would invade this eating hole, it being one of the famous locality in Penang at the moment with the flavor of its own.

Much as I enjoyed penning down this special experience of the 'change of guard' I do hope you will notice other strange and interesting happenings around your area, all helping to make our experiences lively and specific to our country endearing it to our hearts.  

p.s with good wishes esp to a friend in Toronto who I am sure will jump at the sights of the dishes . You have missed Penang..