Monday, February 23, 2009

Weekend trip to Penang, Malaysia


I did a sketch at the Singapore Changi Airport last weekend when I was on a short trip to Penang, Malaysia. I took a local bus from the hotel to World Heritage Site George Town after my very late breakfast. I followed the flower stalls along the road that led me to a beautiful temple.

Goddess of Mercy Temple is the oldest Chinese temple in Penang and was built in the 1800s by the early Chinese settlers. The temple is also called "Kuan Yin Teng" with a roof adorned with colourful dragons and flowers. The first thing that struck me was the smoke from the countless bundles of joss sticks and incense burning inside and outside the temple. I felt a little uncomfortable as I entered the temple as no way I was going to avoid inhaling the smoke. However, I was immediately distracted by the bustling and hustling atmosphere created by the faithful worshippers. The sizes of joss sticks varied from the usual size of 12" long skinny ones to 6' to 7' long, 4" diameter giant joss sticks which were placed on the granite-paved square outside the temple. Two huge burners on wheels were placed near the stone lion statues for worshipers to burn fake banknotes for wealth and fortune. Pigeons roamed freely to pick on scraps of food.

As I was sketching the beautiful decorative roof, people around me suddenly rushed towards the square to crowd around a man distributing lunch boxes from a big box. The crowd had morphed to an orderly queue for the free lunch. The same scene was repeated for the distribution of bottled water by another man who had arrived in a big car. I was touched by the simple gesture of giving and sharing that these few charitable men had displayed. Some of the men who received the food and water were also seen offering to share their food with those who came later. There was even one backpacker in the line and he told the Indian man next to him that he would be returning tomorrow. He had trendy dark glasses and left shortly after his meal. You can see the lunch box behind me in the photo above. People were milling around me and some stood to watch quietly. I managed to get a picture with these friendly folks and it was another satisfying sketching adventure for me.