Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Park 'Em If You Got 'Em

Who doesn't like international picto-signs? Here's a parking sign in Penang that struck our fancy for the little list they crammed on the sign, all in nice graphics only.

The lovely details. And it seems the signs are well read, respected and used properly. The triumph of industrial graphic design!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Really Made In China

Sure, a lot of what we buy is made in China, but you wouldn't necessarily know it. A razor looks like a razor, a T-shirt from the Gap is neutral. In Penang, we ran across several stores selling Chinese goods.  How did we know? Take a look.

The stores seemed to be a cross between a cultural repository and Party City.  They're stuffed with things that could be used as general home decoration, icons or social club theme room fodder.  One thing the items weren't is subtle.

A typical store entrance, screaming for us to check the place out. Enticing figures.

A stuffed store of stuff. Whoa! How much space do you think we have in our house? And we were planning on not checking bags on the way back home...

Monday, 28 November 2011

Going To Market In Penang

The street markets in Penang look similar to the many markets we've visited in India and other parts of Asia. Some tables, umbrellas, stuff for sale and the usual mix of customers and hawkers. The one thing you can always count on is that whatever is for sale, it's local. We have yet to see a Sara Lee pound cake at a street market.

Fruit from Jurassic Park? Not seen in India -- at least not in Chennai -- hanging dried meat.

Seeing the shrimp man. Pick a tray, any tray, the sorting is all done for you. A wonderful rainbow of insanely bright candied fruit. The presentation is winning.

Piles of interesting ingredients. They looked like the contents of an old apothecary cabinet. And finally, we just can't seem to get enough of them, Angry Birds (hanging with angry fish, no doubt).

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Windshield Madness

For some reason, motorists in Penang are in an arms race to plaster various ads on their car windshields.  It's as if the bumper stick migrated. Corporations must be pleased with the free ad space.

Throw enough on your vehicle and people might think you have a NASCAR-like sponsorship. Are the Slurpee folks going to finance college? We doubt it. Is a car windshield a not-so-subtle modern dating outlet?

There must be more to these Drive-Thru stickers than just blind fan affiliation. A little research uncovered a vague free monthly offer or something, provided a minimum is spent. Are some fries worth turning your car into a rolling sandwich board advertisement?

So....why are you driving a car with this sticker on it? Finally, still sweeping Malaysia, Angry Birds.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

A Really Fancy Clubhouse

In Penang, the city of Georgetown is dotted with interesting Chinese clan houses or Kongsi. These temple-like structures are headquarters for Chinese families who share a common dialect and interests. The purpose of a Kongsi is to manage the affairs of their community: offer financial assistance, protection, settle disputes, keep traditions alive.

The complexes are impressive. Here's the one for the Cheah Kongsi.

The entrance leading to the courtyard that holds the clan house. Inside the worship hall.

The architectural details are impressive. The fancy roofline. Sarah, wearing the right color and hanging out with a couple of friends.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Shophouses Of Penang

We took a little holiday recently to the city of Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia. One of the reasons we chose that spot was to see the area that's predominantly filled with old buildings known as shophouses. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this section of Georgetown has a sort of South Beach mixed with French Quarter feel to it, albeit its own unique style.

Shophouses developed in the 18th century and have several iconic features. As their title implies, the buildings are used for both commerce and home. The shop is out front, facing the street with private quarters behind and above. They're narrow, but deep and feature an inner courtyard for letting light in and collecting water. There's a covered walkway in front for rain and sun protection.

Here's a nice section of mostly restored shophouses.

Some nice features of the shophouses include a wide variety of upper window designs and an array of pastel colors, similar to Key West, Florida. A cutaway model of a shophouse's typical layout.

Dr Sun Yat Sen, the Chinese nationalist revolutionary, spent time in Georgetown and here's the shophouse where he worked and organized conferences and uprisings. Shophouses come in different sizes, depending on prosperity. Here's a set of smaller shophouses, still very much in current use (and disrepair).

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Chennai Consulate Thanksgiving

The U.S. Consulate in Chennai does holidays -- both Indian and American -- really well. Thanksgiving is no exception. Turkey isn't exactly plentiful or cheap, if you can find it around here, but we had turkey, chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes and plenty of Indian dishes, too. All of this for a pre-Thanksgiving lunch yesterday.

Consul General Jennifer McIntyre greets the staff and says a few words about Thanksgiving next to the guest of honor, the turkey.

And then the guest gets carved.  The spread, the throng, the pending indigestion.

A nod to local festivities, literally shovelfuls of biryani, a rice-based delicacy. Just like back home, filling one's plate during a holiday is serious business.

Sarah making her selections. Finally, the usual colorful result. Next year some cranberry for a little snap?

To all family, friends and loyal readers, Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Kidding around for Thanksgiving

Just because we're overseas doesn't mean we ignore U.S. holidays. Quite the opposite, as traditions from home become important connections to a culture left behind. We seem to overcompensate for the lack of Party City stores and Christmas tree farms, carting piles of decorations to post or ordering them weeks in advance. You saw how we did a good job re-creating Halloween in Chennai.

The consulate does community outreach typically done at holiday time, too. Last weekend, a number of Foreign Service Officers and local Indian staff helped out at a Chennai church that hosted 100 local orphaned children for a South Indian version of a Thanksgiving meal.

The event was a chance for consulate families to entertain and play games with the kids and then serve them a hearty lunch. Fun was had by all.

Some of the guests of honor, in their school uniform best. Adorable.

There was face painting and a juggling demo. The (art) pen is mightier than the sword?

Good girls and a bad boy. Hamming for the camera is a universal gift. Playing a little hide and seek.

Filling goody bags. After all the fun and running around, time for the cross-cultural Thanksgiving lunch.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Pen Is A Mighty Store

Most specialty shops look like someone's over-stuffed attic. Every item they sell crammed into every space possible. It's all about maximizing square meterage (is that a word?).  This pen store is no exception, but the uniformity of the blue boxes makes the store stick out in a sea of fighting products.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Pink Elephants

As we've mentioned, Hindu temples and shrines are everywhere and come in all sizes, from tiny wall shrines to huge complexes. If you lined up a sampling, you'd have a veritable Russian Matryoshka doll.

Since Hindu temples are self-financed affairs, there's a wide variety of designs that seem to be the result of the whims of the owner(s).

Here's a typical example of a neighborhood temple. Someone thought pink was the way to go.

It's all in the presentation and showmanship (and creative cropping). Here's what the room looks like. Rather nondescript or maybe the outrageousness of the stage makes anything pale in comparison.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Hay Market

In the middle of downtown Chennai? Why not? All those oxen and cows, when they're not eating trash -- need to eat something. Between all the typically urban electrical and lace shops, why not a stall that's a big mound of hay?

The goods and delivery truck. "Fill 'er up with grade A mid-August high protein harvest, please."

It looked to be a self-service enterprise: Bale and Carry?