Penang, Part 1: The heat

Three years ago in Thailand, on my first visit to Asia, I thought my skin would melt off. I like heat, but I’m accustomed to the Pacific Northwest variety, where in summer one can be comfortably hot in the sun, but kind of chilled in the shade. The vast bulk of my DNA likely originates from seafaring barbarians from above the 60th parallel who raped and pillaged their way down through Scotland, which accounts for my red beard. Of course, the Romans were there first, but even Caesar knew a thing or two about chilly winters. The point is, tolerance for extreme heat does not come to me naturally, genetically speaking. This time, at least, I knew what to expect and I was somewhat mentally prepared for it. I was pretty proud of myself in Singapore, for I wandered the city extensively and didn’t crumble into a cranky heap once.

Then I arrived in Penang.

I generally try to avoid air conditioning, for it’s a huge drain on energy, and there’s something sort of weird about sitting inside a refrigerator, and constantly moving from too cold to too hot can’t be healthy either. However, I find I have no hesitation about turning on the machine in our Penang hotel room every time I come in the front door. I also find plenty of excuses to wander through air conditioned shops that normally would have no appeal to me. (“Why yes, I think we should browse in this polyester track suit store.”)

Normally in this sort of heat, I would opt to wear the least amount of clothes possible, but since the majority of the population of Penang is Muslim, I feel an uncommon urge to dress more conservatively than I might otherwise. I’m making good use of my linen and seersucker shorts, and have abandoned underwear altogether as an unnecessary burden of superfluous insulation. Fertility specialists tell men who are trying to conceive to avoid hot showers and hot tubs, in an effort to prevent sperm degradation, but I wonder how useful that really is? After all, I’m not aware that the people who live here have extraordinary problems with fertility, and if the men of Penang have testicles half as roasted as mine and can still reproduce, perhaps heat is less a factor than we imagine. Is that too much information? Just be glad I’m not providing pictures.

Midweek, we decided to take a day trip out to Batu Ferrenghi. This particular section of the island isn’t a major draw, as it’s the primary destination for white western tourists (and I didn’t come to Malaysia to be immersed in my own culture) but it did have two things going for it. One was a spice garden, where we were able to wander trails through the jungle and look at a vast array of the plants from which many spices are obtained, as well as many other varieties of tropical flora. We had lunch in a gazebo and then swung on a large bench suspended by ropes over a stream while monkeys passed through the trees overhead.

Here are a few spice garden images:

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