Top Social

Weekends Etcetera

Image Slider

Bunking In at a Boutique Hostel

N and I had been rather at odds when it comes to accommodation. Somehow N made a habit of always booking a hotel. Perhaps this is also partly because of his job in tourism and the fact that he gets good discounts from hotel chains often. He’s also the kind who prefers comfortable bed sheets and don’t-you-dare-forget-it full breakfast served in the mornings. While I do appreciate the comforts of staying in at the conventional hotel, I’m also fairly curious when it comes to couch surfing or the average backpackers’ hostels. And mind you, George Town houses many boutique hostels that are furnished out of the colonial pre-war buildings. Riding the trishaw around town made me yearn to see what it’s like inside those aged-old shophouses and wonder what life was like way back when. So to satisfy this curiosity, I booked a room at House of Journey on Sek Chuan Street during our vacation and boy, did it really change my perspective of travel lodging. 
Pardon me if I wax poetic for a moment but my heart swelled when I found out how cheap it was for a clean, decent place to stay in. Even N, who was initially miffed about not staying in at a hotel, eventually appreciated the frugality aspect of hostel-living. The architecture bore palpable Chinese-Peranakan influences with such narrow interior. The best part was how the main hallway would lead us to an open courtyard within the building itself. This was the place where families would dry their clothes without showing their peg lines to neighbors. Brilliant idea, don’t you think? The bathroom overlooked the beautiful Kapitan Keling Mosque and dare I say it? The rain shower was divine. It mattered to us less that we had to share the bathroom with other guests. The place had the best shower you could ever ask for, especially after a long day of touring the isle underneath the scorching sun. And if ever anybody asks the highlight of this hostel, I’d confidently say, “Rain shower, people.” Now who says budget traveling can’t be enjoyable? 

Getting Spooked At the 'Haunted' War Museum

One thing that needs to be known about us Malaysians is that we can be downright superstitious. Our tourism, in fact, partly concentrates on the mystical aspects of certain historical sites. The infamous Penang War Museum, as an example, is lauded as a haunted spotlight due to its dark past. The museum is carved out of the actual British fortress built on top of the Batu Maung hill in the outskirts of the island that would later fall into the hands of the Japanese army during WWII. What used to be a place of protection became a concentration camp of sorts that now testifies a series of tortures imposed on the British supporters and army. Locals have been shunning the place since the end of the war for fear of the unrest spirits and for that reason, it makes for a haunting attraction that mixes historical facts with, I dare say, a slight dash of folklore. 
Similar to the Northam Road Cemetery, the place had been on my go-to list in Penang for ages. It’s partly morbid curiosity, I reckon. And the thirst for history, as always. I needed the right party to go with and almost signed up for the haunted night tour but my sister M adamantly refused for the fear of safety. The three of us climbed the hill on one rainy afternoon instead and boy, was that a better choice. The place felt heavy in the midst of that monsoon rain, even during the day. The grounds were mostly empty, save for a few tourists roaming through the abandoned barracks. There were deep tunnels that lead into hundreds of feet underground and artillery shelters that were eaten up by age and mold. We huddled together as we go through a passage that was pitch-black and seemed like it went on forever without sufficient air to breathe in. The light shining from our camera phones did nothing to help the situation. The passage led us straight into the belly of the fortress where rifles, bayonets, ammunition and bombshells were secretly hidden. 
We ventured into the communications control rooms that stood in the far end of the camp grounds and once again, the air felt thick. The yellowed walls were graced with photographs of the British soldiers who perished during the fight with the Japanese. M and I were instantly fascinated by a portrait of a young, fairly good-looking army officer in his early 20s when all of sudden, we felt the chill on the back of our necks. I shook off the feeling by snapping a photograph of the soldier’s portrait. Lo and behold, the camera immediately whirred into an unsuspecting noise and stopped rolling. Its fully-charged battery in my camera drained itself to an early death. Nobody could explain what happened as I tried my best to revive my camera. N chalked it down to the messing of energies around us; M was just disturbed by the uncanniness of it all and urged we move to the other bunkers-turned-prisons and leave once the rain stops. 
All in all, I thought the place was well-preserved with leftovers of war paraphernalia and personal belongings of the soldiers who served Malaya till their very deaths. Unfortunately, its rich history wasn’t emphasized enough compared to the myths of the roaming ghouls and the supposedly menacing figures by the name of Colonel Suzuki and General Yamashita, who both vested interest in decapitating the British-Malayan army. That’s a shame because it could very well be an astounding testament to past atrocities yet the museum was nowhere as good as the others I’d been to, such as Tuol Sleng in Cambodia and Vietnam’s War Remnants Museum. The ghosts of our past are long behind us and if anything should be left would be the historical imprint of inhumanity. 

Toying Around the Toy Museum

Would you just look at all these toys from the turn of the century? These were the playmates that— once upon a time—had accompanied children during tea time or while they have their forty winks at nights. Since George Town is filled to the brim with vintage knick knacks in every corner, to find Ben’s Vintage Toy Museum tucked in between the row of shophouses on the narrow Acheen Street was hardly surprising. The place houses everything old timey from toy cars to even golly wogs! I had never seen one in the flesh except for the few drawings from the pages of Enid Blyton’s books. N had a go at the pinball machine from the 1950s; the thing worked exceptionally fine despite its age. One of the rocking horses was made in the Victorian era— just imagine that! As we moved on to marvel at all the thingamajigs, we couldn’t help but to wonder why on earth would anyone thought of carving nightmares for the children to play with? Sure, most of these toys were adorable but truth be told, some took on a terrifying appearance. Check out the coin-eating hat-wearing black man and the lifelike baby doll sleeping in her cradle above. The doll even weighed just like a real cherub would. The uncanniness spooked us a little. Nonetheless, we had a great time gawking at every single toy that had been part of many children’s happiness in the last few decades (you’ve got to appreciate them; remember the Toy Story series?). It was definitely a remarkable way to learn history and that is through the eyes of the innocents and their desires.