Real Romance is Clean Socks

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Southeast Asia 2023
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After a busy few days, we turned it down a notch today. We kicked things off with some nasi kandar and a trip to the laundromat. Nasi kandar is a “mix everything together and somehow it works” buffet and it didn’t disappoint – fried chicken, omelet, okra, and all kinds of gravies.

With clean clothes and full stomachs, we caught a Grab out to the Penang Tropical Fruit Farm. It’s on the other side of the island, past the national park, and getting there involves lots of steep winding roads. As our Grab driver dropped us off, he warned us that no Grab driver would actually come up there for a pickup. Ominous.

The tropical fruit farm is, as you might infer from the name, a farm which grows tropical fruit. One imagines, or perhaps hopes, that they’re better farmers than tour guides. Our guide quickly ran us through some of the fruits they grow, then dropped us back at the gift shop and fruit bar. Honestly, the fruit bar was the main reason we’d come – we knew not to expect a stunner of a tour. We each got a platter with samples of all the fruits currently in season – jackfruit, spadilla, rose apples, and many more. They’ve got a beautiful view with a cool breeze and plenty of shade. We snacked and chatted with a couple other members of the tour – GE employees from Germany working on power plants in southern Malaysia. It was fun to learn about their work and all the different places they’ve traveled to work on the various facilities using GE equipment – they definitely get a unique look into geopolitics and climate policy. Also, they had a car, and we were able to sweet-talk them into giving us a ride down the mountain. Bonus.

Our German friends dropped us at the Penang Batik Factory, about 15 minutes down the road. In addition to the “showroom,” there’s a space in back where people are producing batik fabrics which gets turned into clothing, housewares, and other decorations. We got a quick tour, and then I left Kat to shop and wandered up the road to grab some fried snacks and shade.

After getting a car back to town, we got dressed for our Big Night Out: we actually had reservations to a meal! After all, it’s Valentines Day! We went to “Communal Table by Gen” which was doing a special 7 course valentines meal. All of the food was perfectly pleasant, but the real highlight was the people watching. The space is a single long bar (hence the title) and we were, by a good margin, the oldest folks there. One couple seemed to be live streaming their whole meal with a fancy phone stabilizer gimbal. Another was taking elegant photos of each dish with a very high end Leica digital camera. Other than that, pretty much every couple mostly stayed quiet, looking at their phones. Meanwhile, as if to reinforce the age disparity, Kat and I discussed which type of flooring we’d like in an imagined kitchen renovation.

The restaurant sits directly across from a bunch of hawker stalls. My favorite part of the whole evening was watching one of the couples finish their meal, leave the restaurant, then walk over to the hawker stalls for second dinner (wearing rather elegant clothing). Malaysians.

2 thoughts on “Real Romance is Clean Socks

  • Susan McFadden February 14, 2023 at 3:19 pm Reply

    Your Valentine’s Day meal looks delicious (as does the fruit). I love batik — neat that you could visit the factory. Glad you met the Germans!

  • Deb February 14, 2023 at 4:37 pm Reply

    I love reading about your food and adventures! What was your favorite fruit?

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