Tag Archives: shopping

Happy Birthday, Brandy!

Wednesday, which was the exact middle of Brandy’s Malaysian adventure, was also her birthday.  She and I spent the day together and wow, it was a whirlwind.  We (Brandy, Penelope, and I) started off with breakfast at a swanky coffee shop that looks every part of a hipster shop in the U.S.  It’s called Macallum Connoisseurs and I only happened to know about it from happening past it while Ubering around town.  It ticks off all the boxes for the hipster coffee shop: and old converted warehouse space with high ceilings and an industrial feel; the interior is painted all black with industrial accents; a coffee menu with source notes and tasting profiles.  We ordered breakfast, and it was nice to have a big, western-style breakfast.  I also ordered one of the most expensive drinks on the menu, the chai latte, with freshly grated spices.  It was good–in the U.S. I’d say it was excellent–but with our proximity to Little India, my chai tea standards have raised dramatically.

 

Macallum Connoisseurs
 
From breakfast, erm, brunch/lunch… With the lovely A/C, we lingered a bit…we sent shopping.  We visited Sam’s Batik, which is supposed to be one of the best (and certainly biggest) local shops to buy batiks, silks, and other lovely clothing.  We ended up selecting a few Indian embroidered tops for ourselves and as souvenirs for Brandy’s family.  The staff were quite attentive…it’s quite common for salespeople to hover over customers here in Penang, which can be off-putting to us Americans who are used to shopping in peace and anonymity.  But the staff here were actually quite helpful.  They offered us bottled water and tea.  When it came time for me to try on some shirts, a female staff member was flagged over to be a baby holder for the duration.  Later, when it was time for Penelope to nurse, they set us up in a nice, private dressing room.  

After we left Sam’s, it was time for Part 2 of our batiking adventure.  A few of the Gusties have been taking batik lessons at a local shop called Rozana’s.  She’s a really lovely lady who offers walk-in classes at a very reasonable price.  We met the students, Lily and Annika, as well as Joel, for a hands-on batik lesson.  Each of us selected or drew an image, which we then traced onto a framed cloth.  Then Rozana helped us apply hot wax to the traced outline.  After the wax set, we used dyes–essentially very dilute water colors–to paint the fabric.  I think I mentioned this in my last blog post, but Gusties really are a talented, artistic group of people!  It was a lot of fun and I definitely got the hang of the technique about halfway through my piece.  I’m quite tempted to go back and give it another go, as I understand the coloring process much better now.

 

First you draw your design.
   
Next, Rozana helped us trace over the design with a hot wax pen.
 
  
After the wax is set, you can fill in each segment with paint.
  
So talented.
  
You can use water to blur and blend the colors.

 
My design, start and finish.
  

  

Strangely, Rozana offers another service in her shop: a fish spa.  Basically, you dip your feet in an aquarium full of fish that like to nibble on dead skin cells, but won’t bite living flesh.  Yes, it’s weird, but it’s quite popular in Asian tourist destinations.  Rozana treated Brandy to a free fish spa session because it was her birthday and I joined her.  The sensation was somewhere in between a tickle and a pinch.  To be perfectly honest, I found it really uncomfortable.  It wasn’t painful, just…weird.  

   

Fish eating my feet.
   
Everyone in our party had a go in the foot spa.  And being a good sport, Joel even wore the accompanying flip-flop clogs.

   
 
Whew, you’d think that was enough, but our day wasn’t over yet!  We still wanted to go out to dinner.  It was Brandy’s choice, and of course, she chose Korean food.  Once again, our restaurant choice was guided by a former Uber driver.  (Sometimes I make polite small talk with Uber drivers.  Other times, I drill them for good restaurant suggestions–and I take notes on my phone!)  While driving through Tanjung Tokong one time, I mentioned to the driver that there seemed to be a lot of Korean restaurants in the area.  He agreed and started to rattle off some of his favorites.  And so it was that we made it to KO B.B.Q.  It is, as the name implies, a Korean barbecue.  We just handed the menu to Brandy and let her coordinate the dishes.  We ended up ordering a lot of food, and worrying about having too much.  But when the food’s that good–well, we ate it all.  We walked out stuffed, but very happy.

 

Each table feature a vacuum with a long copper hose to suck up smoke from the. barbecue. They retracted towards the ceiling and Simon thought the hoses were really cool.
  
   
We were really exhausted by this point, but as we headed home, I managed to pick up a tiny little birthday cake from one of the shops on the ground floor of our mall.  The shopkeeper even included candles; too bad I forgot we don’t have any matches!  So we sang the birthday song and Simon helped Brandy blow out the imaginary flames.  It was a long, full day.  Happy Birthday, Brandy!

Pretend candles.
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Shaxi’s Friday Market

The internet resources on Shaxi travel—and there aren’t many—all agree that the Friday market is the coolest thing to do in town. I’m not going to lie. I think the coolest thing in town was sitting still at a coffee shop and drinking a fancy-pants coffee drink, the likes of which can otherwise best be procured in the U.S. or Europe.

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“Cheers!”

But the market was pretty cool, too.

We started out at the livestock market, on the edge of town along the Heihui River.

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Most cattle were walked to the market and tied to the fence.
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Take a look at the full-size Holstein on the left. Then compare to the water buffalo for sale on the right. Look at his hind legs. That thing is HUGE! And solid. It was simply a massive animal when you got up close.
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Observing cows from a safe perspective.
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Geronimo!
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Oh, little donkey! Run…hide! Don’t you know what they do to donkeys around here?
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This little piggy went to market, and this little piggy cried “wee wee wee” all the way home.
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View of the Heihui River from the outskirt of town.

From the livestock market, we walked into town, which featured both a wet market (for produce and meat) and a household market.

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Prepared foods for sale, deli-style.
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These eggs were beautiful. Can anyone explain why the yolks were so big?

It was really amazing to watch women set up their stands for market day.  Most of the sellers had driven in from the surrounding region and had to unload huge quantities of produce from the back of trucks.  This was almost exclusively the occupation of women, and the accompanying men stood by while women lugged these huge baskets.  It was such an unusual division of labor.

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The bag is filled with eggplant. Imagine how heavy it must be. Also, note that she steadies the basket with the strap wrapped around her forehead, a very common practice in the area.

I was also struck by the atmosphere.  Despite the intensity of the work, the mood was almost festive.  The women were chatting, laughing, and seemed generally happy to be there.  The chatter would pause periodically as they’d center a load on one woman’s back or discuss where to place a table of produce.  But otherwise, it was a very social, happy environment.  To be honest, I felt a twinge of jealousy that these women could be so happy while doing such back-breaking labor.

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More eggplant.
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Think for a moment about how heavy carrots are.

Shoppers, for their part, carried their purchased  goods in smaller baskets, which are very typical of the region.

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These woven bamboo baskets are, I suspect, the traditional style. I especially like the little feet to keep them off the ground.
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Equally popular were modern versions made from vinyl or other plastics. I really liked these and was sorely tempted to buy one, even though it’s entirely impractical for my life.
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If you’re in a bind, you carry most anything in a basket, I suppose.

Some of the foods at the market looked familiar, others less so.

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Mmm, a lovely, fresh carrot salad with… omg are those chicken feet?!?!
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Stacks of tofu for sale at the wet market.
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Red onions.
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Ginger.
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Bitter gourd.

The household market was also full of cool gear.

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Old rubber tires have been converted into buckets. What an ingenious design!
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Pig feed, for all your pig needs.
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“Hey, buddy, got a light?”
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Brooms.
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This booth sold pest-control products. I don’t mean to judge, really. But if you’ve got a rhino infestation in your kitchen, just don’t invite me to dinner.

We came upon a booth selling dried animal products for medicinal purposes.  At first, the woman said it was OK for us to take pictures, but we must have overstayed our welcome because she soon shushed us away and asked us to put down the camera.  Oh well.

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Dried pipefish, a relative of seahorses.
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Unidentified turtle shell.
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There was a tray full of coiled snakes that had been filleted and dried.

Many of the region’s ethnic minorities come to Shaxi’s Friday market, either to buy or sell goods.  The ethnicities I thought I recognized included Bai, Lisu, Yi, and Naxi.  While most of the men have adopted a more modern style of dress, the women often still wear traditional outfits.  The textiles were amazing.  Beadwork, embroidery, and delicately woven clothes and accessories enlivened the sea of shoppers.

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