Posted: 21 Nov 2013 08:10 PM PST
Lina suggested that we visit a popular laksa place in Balik Pualu - a promise of laksa is a sure way to get me to agree to anything. Armed with the Penang Heritage Trails brochure "Discover Balik Puala: The Other Side of the Island" we set out to explore the town. The brochure lists 39 sites. Ten can be covered in a short walk in the town center; others require a bicycle or as in our case, car.
The attractive map was primarily conceptual It wasn't to scale and it did not include all crossroads. To get from here to there required patience, a sense of humor, and a willingness to ask locals for directions. We thoroughly explored Balik Pulau as we drove through the same area more than once.Before heading into Balik Pulau we stopped at Anjung Indah, a rest area on Jalan Tun Sardon, for a panoramic view of the town. In 2008 I stopped at Anjung Indah, but didn't see much then because of the haze and smoke from Sumatra.
As soon as we reached town we stopped at the market. Lina, who had worked on a project in Balik Pulau, said that it had moved from its central location and was far less busy (a source of concern). It had stalls selling dry goods and typical displays of produce, although one stall had large bags of cloves for RM10 (< USD3), which tempted Lina. In our travels we have seen busy central markets with much social interaction as buying and selling. In Taiping, for example, the food stalls adjacent to the market are filled with retirees, local business owners, shoppers, and families (on weekends). In KL we walk to a weekly night market early to beat the crowds. On the other hand in Kuching the market which has moved out of center city was almost deserted.
In the town center on Jalan Besar (big road or Main Street) we walked by rows of shop houses. It reminded me of Malaysian towns that I had visited in the 70s & 80s - small stores selling useful things. No boutiques. No row of cafes. A big breakfast and rain kept us from wandering, snacking or taking pictures. We decided to head out of town to find a shop selling kuih bahulu (kuih is Malaysian for cake). We assumed if it sold cakes it might also serve drinks. Kuih bahulu are cakes cooked in a small mold. The brochure describes them as a vanilla-flavored sponge cake.They tasted like a softer version of addictive Stella D'or's products. The shop was open, but it doesn't on Saturday or serve drinks on any day.
In our search for coffee we stopped at a small fishing village. Boats were gathered in the harbor - no sign of fishing on Saturday. The cafe was small and non-descript, but oh the smells. I am not sure what soup/stew was cooking, perhaps it was a laksa. In any case the smells were tantalizing. I didn'torder a bowl, since we planned on a late lunch at Laksa Janggus. I regret the decision, but I will be back.
At Pantai Pasir Panjang (Long Beach) we had a chance to enjoy the beach - rocks to sit on and few other people.As we headed toward Laksa Janggus we saw a sign for a nutmeg factory. Beyond the sign was a steep hill going down. We debated whether the factory was open and if not, how hard it would be to turn around and get back up. With nothing to lose we headed down. We were relieved to see a row of parked cars and people walking around or sitting in the small cafe. We were at Ghee Hup Nutmeg Factory. The factory owners are a family who trace its Malaysian roots back to 1888. We were greeted by the owner/founder and his son. His daughter took us in hand and explained the production of different nutmeg products. We learned that if a female seed is planted the tree produces nutmegs. If a male seed is planted no nutmegs. The factory buys its nutmegs from local farmers. When the factory needs temporary laborers it brings in former employees. Many of these workers are retirees and from they may ask to work at times when view favorite television programs as they work. Before we left a group of young people whom we had met at the beach arrived. We asked them if their stop at the goat farm was worthwhile. Their enthusiastic "yes" encouraged to again delay our laksa lunch. The goat farm was the highlight of a day of small delights. Finding the farm was a bit of a challenge - by carefully looking for signs we found one that directed us to "visitor parking." Beside the parking lot was a long hill. We walked up the hill and asked at a guard house how to get to the goat farm - the guard told us we continue walking up the hill (a long walk) or drive up the hill and keep to until we reached the farm. At Saanen Goat farm we were met by a personable, well informed young woman (finishing secondary school) who is the daughter of the owner; she served as our guide.
The goat pens seemed less oppressive than the dairy farm stalls I had seen in Sri Lanka; being smallish and cute has its advantages. When we arrived the farmer/owner was talking to school children about the goats and giving each child a chance to try his/her hand at milking The children then walked over to the pens and were given stalks of grass to feed the goats. Adults also get grass stalks - you don't have to be child to enjoy feeding a goat. Currently the farm produces milk and a yogurt drink that are only sold in Penang. If they add products it will most likely be mozzarella; I hope that goat milk cheese comes along as well.
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