Arriving the airport in Penang, I was rushing to get to immigration when a friendly voice called out “Sim Card Miss”! I got a sim card went through immigration and withdrew money while I waited for my suitcase, and I was off to my hotel. I love it when it is this easy. This is the first time I found the opportunity to buy a local sim card before immigration at the airport. Normally you have to go through immigration and customs first. I got an all included one-month free use of internet card at just under 20 USD.
Penang is an Island off the northwestern coast of peninsula Malaysia, connected to the mainland via bridges and ferries. It is a great Island to get some work done because there are not many interesting things dragging you away from the office. The office I am referring to in Penang is a co-working space called @CAT. The location is in a newly restored government building housing the Science cluster of Penang, in Georgetown.
As a nation with relatively limited resources, Malaysia must ensure the desired results and high rates of return on every investment. Malaysia`s vision to transform into a knowledge-driven economy has propelled them to invest in developing Science and Technology. Penang is one of five Regional science and technology centers to elevate Science and Technology awareness among the population. The shortage of S&T personnel is estimated to be between 20 to 30 percent across all levels of scientific, engineering and technical areas. Malaysia is, therefore, adopting a broad-based approach to human resource development. The regional Science centers are one approach for the government to share risk with the industries connected to the centers. The government also initiates techno-entrepreneurship courses to all science, technology, and engineering undergraduates. Sponsors techno-entrepreneurship competitions, angel investment funds and ventures capital fund and other incentives to encourage commercialisation of R&D output.
To incorporate a science and technology culture in the education system, the Malaysian government started programs to intensify creative thinking and problem-solving skills in primary education. Research grants to schools, Increasing the vocational and technical skills content in secondary schools and intensifying efforts to increase science and technology language competence to facilitate the flow of information. They also use mass media to heighten the public awareness, appreciation, and knowledge of science and technology, as well as Malaysia’s quality of journalism about Science and technology.
The month I stayed at @CAT in Penang I watched numerous school classes play their way to knowledge in the science lab. They hosted a TEDx about Women entrepreneurs and hosted a robot competition. They also made the best pizza in town in their in-house Cafè and had an especially healthy sourdough bread that the entire town came to purchase, developed in the food lab. Very tasty and often my breakfast, I might add.
Georgetown is where it happens in Penang. This city has more than Science and coworking spaces to offer. Art and graffiti is a hunting exercise you need to endure while visiting the city. To make the dull and run down facades of the old town more interesting and fun, the government hired the artist Ernest Zacharevic to give the streets of the old town a facelift. The Artist blended humor and historical facts to veld 52 metal sculptures portraying daily life in the early settlement days. Like voices from the past, the sculptures tell the stories of the landmarks they portray. The famous Love-lane, a street filled with pubs, music venues and hostels has a welded portray of an old Chinese climbing out the window. The text tells us that this is where the cheating husbands kept their mistresses, hence the name Love Lane. In addition, Zacharevic painted a series of murals and a combination of murals and gadgets attached, displaying everyday life in Penang today. Hunting for murals and sculptures around town, taking photos is a must do when in Penang.
Another fabulous art scene in George Town is its bakery’s with the most amazing cakes and really good cappuccino’s in cool interior decorated cafes. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the city to visit. If you only visit one bakery, try China House in Beach street. They offer a display of cakes like I never saw before. Both the size and the number of cakes was overwhelming. After all the cakes, you might want to go for a hike. If you are in the mood for a stroll and nice views you could visit Penang hill. Get on the Rapid Penang 204 bus from Komtar. The bus will stop at Penang Hill for the price of RM2,70. A Taxi would be RM35-40. The top is at 833 meters above sea level and you get up the steep hill by entering the funicular railway. This is the steepest funicular in the world so if you are scared of heights… or not, it is a scary ride, especially going down. At the top, you have gorgeous views of the city, the bridges to the mainland and the mountains and valleys to the south. Go for a walk in the mountains and enjoy the nice cool air up here.
If you want to be rewarded with a nice swim at the end of your walk, you could try the Worlds smallest National park. The park is a rainforest of about 25 square kilometers on the southwest tip of Penang, 45 minutes by bus from George town. Going through the Park to the lighthouse will take about 2 hours and you will find nice beaches on the way. Monkey beach is the last, and most picturesque beach before you go uphill to see the lighthouse. The beach got its name because the monkeys are known to visit the beach and raid the visitors for food. Go for a swim and look back at the beautiful beach lined with coconut trees and with a rainforest backdrop. The trail to the lighthouse starts at the end of the beach and takes you to 242 meters above sea level. You can climb the stairs of this beauty from 1883 that is still operational today, and view the strait of Malacca from the top.
Gurney Drive is a must try place to eat. This famous Hawker food place comes alive at night, giving you a variety of the best local food in the area. The place is divided into two sections. The part closest to the shopping malls is where you find mostly Chinese influenced Malaysian food. The other section only serves Muslim food. After eating low price great local food, you can walk 3 minutes to Gurney Plaza or Gurney Paragon. These two malls have a variety of bars and restaurants serving western food and happy hour drinks, beer, and wine. Inside you can shop western brands, check out the supermarket or food court in the basement, or watch a movie in the high-tech movie theater on the top floor.
Getting around Penang is cheap and easy using the bus. A bus ticket within 7 kilometers is RM2 or 50cents. The buses go all the time and everywhere so this is a great way of getting around seeing the sights. Most busses go through Komtar in George Town, so it is easy to get from A to B changing bus at Komtar. There is also a hop on hop off bus, but if you use it, it is better to pay for one destination instead of buying a day trip. I found the hop On-Off buses to be a lot of waiting and not much information was given on the tour, so you don’t really learn a lot. I used it to go to the National Park. Other than that, I found the local buses to be faster, cheaper, and with more departures.
Malaysia may not reach their vision and be a knowledge driven society by 2020, but This is a country that is doing ground-breaking changes initialised by the government. They are well on their way hustling future generations to get excited about science and technology, robotics, creativity, and art. They are building infrastructure, motivating the inhabitants, supporting technology-driven businesses and changing the school systems to be on the forefront in the technology-driven future. Malaysia is a country to watch in the future.