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March 31, 2006

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THERESA WONG

Dear Alex,

I was amused to hear of your strange encounters in Penang!

If you recall, I grew up in Penang where my family lives. Later I studied and worked in Singapore, its neighbouring country.

I visit Penang about twice a year, and it is a small, quiet island with a slower pace of life, amidst the sandy beaches that are popular with Western tourists. There are some interesting things to see or do, but it is better for your local friend there to orientate you to the island life. Recently, due to the country's economic slowdown, there have been increasing street crimes and con-men particularly in the Georgetown area, and petty thef like hand-bag snatchers. However, there is an unique aspect of the rich Peranakan culture (Straits-born Chinese/Malay) that differs somewhat fro that of Singapore or Malacca (influenced by Thai culture), where such communities are found. Besides, Penang Hill, Goddess of Mercy pagoda, and snake temple, I recommend taking a taxi ride to 'End-of-the-world' where local Malay fishing villages built on wooden stilts are found ('Kelong), and you can have lunch there and later enjoy some cheap water-sports along the beach-front hotels.

How I wish I were there to show you the place...especially the street-food that makes the mouth of many locals & Singaporeans water at the thought! Penang food is as popular as Thai, and you should sample the wide variety especially the nonya-desserts!

If you visit Panang while I am there, I can take you to my family home - a beautiful colonial-styled house (up for sale) built before World War 2. It was occupied by some Engish and Scottish families, a Catholic seminary, and has a fascinating history - its occupant - a powerful Japanese general who lived there with his Chinese wife ( who used to be a servant girl to a rich local family - a member of the family knows my mom and told her about it). We used to joke that perhaps he might have some valuable treasure stored away somewhere in the house/garden, as he left the country in a hurry when Japan lost the war.

Ok, I wish you an enjoyable stay there in the meantime. Don't forget to try the favourite local stinky fruit called 'Durian'. It is as pungent as blue cheese, but once u acquired the taste, you would say it tastes like wonderful ice-cream (Tip: eat it after storing in the fridge). Bon vovage!

PS: I am currently in Shanghai - somewhere in limbo-land now!

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