Friday, December 28, 2007

Step into time

Morning light


Are you from OUG? No? I have a sister there – Rebecca.

Everytime he saw me – he would repeat the same question. Where are you from? KL? The question will then be followed with the same line. I think I answered the sweet old man at least 6 times, yet somehow he didn’t make my eyes roll. Probably because he asked with such sincerity I could only blame his short memory to the repeated questions.


The Cathay Hotel I was staying at the 103 year old Cathay Hotel on Leith Street in Penang. The old man was one of the few old men looking after the hotel. The Cathay hotel was an old colonial mansion that stands right in front of the more famous Cheong Fatt zhe mansion or better known as the blue mansion.


Up and away When I began looking for a place to stay in Penang, there were a few criterias to consider. Affordable, in Georgetown, clean and safe. Somehow the price and the place didn’t seem to match. Always a sucker for old mansions, I just had to check the place out. So I called them to check on the details and make my booking. Even after putting down the phone, I wasn’t so sure I was getting what I had been told. The little rooms in the restored mansion turned hotels in the area were going for triple the price they had quoted me.

I decided to check the rooms upon arrival before sealing my stay, after all I could always find another place to stay on the other more popular backpackers lane – Chulia Street.

Let me tell you a little secret, I’ve only taken the bus to an outstation location in Malaysia thrice. All three times, I was traveling with someone from that location and they handled the tickets and everything. This trip was my first trip alone on a bus to another state and I was wondering how would I figure out which bus company to travel with.


Hidden The rain did the deciding for me. it began raining the second I got into my local bus heading towards KL. I got down from the bus 45 minutes later into a semi heavy downpour and wrapped myself in a shawl and made my way towards Pudu bus station. I discover that KL pavements are meant for walking in the rain, there goes my romantic ideas of walking hand in hand in the rain. I’m sure no such dreams included slipping and holding on to dear life to the nearest pole.

As I reached the covered sidewalk towards Pudu, a man was bellowing – Penang! Butterworth! Penang! Butterworth! Penang! Butterworth!

Actually it sounded like JB at first but somehow my please-do-not-fall-look looked like I needed a bus to Penang as the guy stopped me and asked me if I wanted a seat to Penang. After checking the price and contemplating to continue walking, a thunder sounded from the skies and with that I whipped out my purse and handed him the money. Thankfully the bus looked good on the inside, and what do you know it was pretty comfortable too.

I settled into my chair and was already freezing from getting wet in the rain. Smsed my friend to tell her I was on my way to Penang and it was raining cats and dogs in KL.

“It’s the same over here” came back her reply.



Family Looks like someone was waiting for my arrival. I prefer the rain anyday, who wouldn’t want to walk in cold weather on cold roads, at least I wouldn’t die of dehydration. Rain all you want darling, I;m on a walking tour – were my thoughts before I snuggled into the chair.

Now how would a story written by me not have its buts?

Somewhere between the last tollgate on the highway towards Butterworth, the bus suddenly stops. As I was busy chatting on the phone, I gave no notice to the words the drivers assistant was mumbling. A few passengers seem to be getting down and though I was puzzled, I ignored it. A minute later I hear something about Penang and curious I asked the guy what the fuss was all about.

Sesiapa yang pergi Penang kena tukar basla cik adik!
The people heading to Penang have to change busses love!

I quickly cut the call and stuffed the book I had been reading into my bag and hurried out totally bewildered by the situation. Later I find out it’s a common practice by busses to shift their mainland passengers with the island passengers. How would I know?



White fortress Luckily the other bus was as comfortable but I was in for another surprise. I had assumed the bus will stop at Komtar, Georgetown. It seems Google lied. Buses now stop at the Nibong terminal. Now Nibong is on the other side of the town and the moment I got down, taxi drivers began warring their taxis at the most ridiculous prices. I told one guy I’d rather walk to Georgetown than pay RM 25.

City buses don’t seem to ply the route or they were having a siesta at 4 pm. I walked futher down the road to catch another taxi. The first one demanded another exorbitant price and when I asked him if he’ll use the meter he laughed at me. So I told him to take his laugh with him in different words.

I finally got a cab for RM 12. My friends were surprised to find out I had haggled.


Welcome Just off Penang road, Leith street was one of the few places I had never been on the island but it probably had the widest road. Later we find out the mansions belonging to 5 friends of Cheong Fatt Zhe were billed 45 degrees away from the streets for Feng Shui. Now that’s another story all together let me get back to the Cathay.

Walking into the Cathay’s parking lot was like walking into the past. The cars were new but everything else seemed to have stood time. An old fashioned fountain stood at the centre, with the magnificient Cathay as its backdrop.



Are you from OUG? I stepped into the lobby to be greeted by an old man sitting in a semi cylinder shaped reception area with a huge glass mirror right above it. I was slowly falling in love with the place but I made myself check the place first. Of we went up climbing the steep but magestic stairs. The house is pretty tall so you can imagine how tall the steps were.

It was like walking back into time. My room door was opened and I was surprised to see 2 double beds in a huge room again with high ceilings. Even the bathroom was spacious and most importantly clean. I walked down happy as a lark at having found this gem of a place and confirmed my stay.


old but not forgotten He opened this huge ledger and began to fill in my details. The ledger itself had stood its time, I don’t think they even make those books anymore.

My friend who arrived later, a fellow photographer and old mansion lover also squealed in delight at the place.

I probably shouldn’t have taken an aircond room though as I had to call them 2 nights to request for the aircond to be switched off as it was controlled by them -we just couldn’t take the cold!


Good morning The caretakers are pretty proud of the place. On our last morning there, we circled the place taking photos of every little detail that had caught our eyes. The mirrors placed all over the homes, the windows, the open courtyard in the centre of the mansion, the mirrors above the reception, its huge doors and stairs.










Reflected Shades of Brown The Cathay













Fond Memories Seeing our apparent interest in the place - we were clicking away, he shared a few stories with us.

“When I was younger, I used to think a giant lived here, as the doors were so tall.”







Keeping with traditions He showed us old photos from the snake temple, and answered our questions on the place. They have an interesting record system. Rooms are marked systematically with crosses and stars to denote the details of the room.




Still Ticking The clock, probably at least half the age of the place didn’t tick, rather the seconds arm glided smoothly around the perimeter of the clock powered by electricity.









Morning at the Cathay The Cathay was beyond my expectations. Thankfully I hadn’t picked one of the backpackers hotel on Chulia street. On my walks later, I discovered they were as shady as their appearance.

The Cathay - a simple hotel true to its old world charm.

2 comments:

Sujit said...

nice pictures and seems you had fun..:).. rain is good provided the temperature of the rain is atleast in twenties.. here its odd.. freezing cols so can't enjoy rain in india :(

visithra said...

sujit : welcome here - thanks - aww rain in some parts of india are still nice ;p