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December 1992

The boat we were on had recently been purchased by the Regency Line from Greece and renamed the Regent Spirit. I think it was their initial cruise as some things were not ready and there appeared to be a lot of staff training and minor problems. The boat was about 20 years old. I found out while we were on board that the Regency Line lost a ship in this area in August, 1992 when it collided with a trawler and sank with six people lost.

The cruise social director had events planned for all day and late into the night - Bingo, question contests, Cha Cha contests, ping pong contests, karaoke, etc. We managed to avoid most of this and spent a lot of time on deck reading and relaxing. There was a casino on board with a number of blackjack tables, two roulette tables and lots of slot machines. The casino was the most popular area and activity and it was quite busy all the time. The slots were S$1 & .50 and whole families would play, even the young kids taking a machine. I went through $10 in about ten minutes and had enough of it.

There was lots of food at meal times although it was never hot enough for my likings. It was usually a buffet with a combination of salads, Chinese and some western dishes.

The only thing that we had to pay for on board was drinks and they were quite expensive - juice S$4, beer S$4.90 & pop S$2.40. They had some liquor for sale in a small duty free shop but I doubt if they sold any as a bottle of  scotch was S130 and Smirnoff vodka S$100 (Can$75) etc.

December 24 – Penang Shore Tour
The ship docked at about 12:30pm (the scheduled arrival was 10:00am). It was 2:00pm before we were allowed to leave the boat because Customs & Immigration had to “clear” the boat and all the passengers.
Reclining Buddhareclining_buddha
We visited several small temples and shrines in one area, the largest of which housed a Buddha lying on his side. This is apparently the third largest reclining Buddha in the world and is why it is popular for tourists. There were a number of larger than life Buddha’s positioned around the reclining Buddha and each had an offering box and a different blessing (i.e. riches, long life, happiness.) There were four large dragons and a number of other statues outside the main temple.

Botanical Gardens
monkey_with_babyA nice place to visit but it was very hot in the afternoon sun. There were monkeys roaming around but they were somewhat wary of people. I managed to get a fairly close picture of a mother holding a baby. There were numerous signs advising of a $500 fine for feeding the monkeys. We saw a lot of interesting flowers and trees.

We took a walk along a path through a jungle area. It had very dense undergrowth, vines hanging from the trees, huge roots (Iron tree), butterflies (one type was very large with a wing span between 4 & 5 inches, silver gray with black spots and very delicate looking.) The jungle area was very noisy with a very high pitched and most unusual whining sound which varied in volume. It was insects or birds and occasional noises from other animals. The sounds and sights made this part of the walk quite fascinating.
Snake Temple
snake_temple_POST_CARDThis temple is dedicated to the worship of snakes. There are wood stands on and around the altar which have snakes (vipers?) resting on them. Most of the snakes were about a foot to 18" long and all were dulled to sleep by the incense. The "guide" said that at night they become quite active. This place was very commercial and bordering on a rip off - you are asked to sign a guest book after which you are told a donation must accompany the entry. In an adjoining room they had some more snakes and I was going to take a photo. Ina was at the other end of the room as I had been busy changing some money outside and making the required donation. The "guide" handed me a snake and put one on my shoulder. Before I could get Ina over to take a picture the pro was all lined up to take one. I barely had time to ask how much it would cost and it was taken (M$10). The guide changed around the snakes and a second picture was taken before I realized it. 15 or 20 seconds and M$20 was gone. Learned to be more on guard as some of these guys are real hustlers. The above picture is a post card I brought, not my photo - my turn to rip them off

Outside the temple there are a number of hawker stands so I bought a map and several post cards. (post cards are M$.30 - about Can$.15). I also purchased a Rolex watch for S$20 (Can$15). The asking price was M$35 so I actually managed to haggle a few bucks out of the guy.

Pagoda Temple (Kek Lok Si)
This is many different shrines within one temple area which consists of several connected buildings. It is quite a commercial setup with gift stores and a restaurant. A new temple building was nearly completed. It is very large compared to the other buildings and will be spectacular when completed. Paintings and relief work on the upper walls and ceiling were very colorful and it had hundreds of small Buddha’s on the walls, several large multi tiered alters made of wood with mother of pearl inlay work, marble columns, carved stone railing on the steps etc. It was not finished but was all new which was a large contrast to the other shrines and temples we visited as all buildings in the region seem to deteriorate quite rapidly.

I need to check on the meaning of the swastika in Buddhism as it seems to appear in most temples, on Buddha’s, buildings and various other places. We saw one building with a large sign "Red Swastika Society".

Driving and traffic seem quite civilized compared to Singapore & Bangkok although some streets are very narrow and it was difficult to pass oncoming traffic.

There were many old British style mansions, some in very nice shape and some vacant and rotting away. There is one very tall building in Georgetown (65 stories). Apparently this is the tallest building in Malaysia and it towers above everything else around as all other buildings are only about 12 to 15 stories in the down town area of Georgetown.

At the exit from the disembarkation area we were accosted by half a dozen or so cab drivers offering tours and special trips. They very quickly worked their way into the restricted area to get at the passengers as soon as they could.

The port area is very active with many fishing boats and other small craft. There was little security or show of immigration etc. We walked through a large hall with people, control gates, tables etc. which looked like it could handle lots of incoming. There were no officials, only a few signs saying which way to go. On our return to the ship later in the day it was the same type of security in that we walked straight through with no one questioning us.

Penang - December 25, 1992
The next day as we left the ship to take a walk there were lots of people coming in to board a ferry or something. The officials were in full force checking documents etc. with at least two check points to pass through. Because we were going out we were waved through but expected to get checked on our return. We obviously timed it right because the place was empty when we came back and we walked through.

We took a short walk around the city area close to the docks on the morning of Decembstreet_vendorser 25. It was a holiday and everything was closed down. We passed a number of trickshaws (combination rickshaw & bicycle) with the operators asleep in the front seat. It looked as though some of them might have spent the night that way. We walked through a hawker center that was closed up and there were a few people sleeping in the stalls and other people sleeping on the ground. We walked by an area where a number of the movable hawker stands were parked. They were all closed up but in one I noticed a foot sticking out so the guy must live in it. (This was a stainless steel cart on wheels that would be set up anywhere and used to sell food etc. so the guy would have been sleeping on the cooking area or the food prep counter. Most of these stands are about 5 to 6 feet long and 2 to 3 feet wide and are pushed around.)

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