BK mentioned to me that eating too near to bedtime gives one headaches.
"But if I'm hungry I can't go to sleep," I replied.
"And you don't have nightmares!"
Actually I'm fairly confident that if it weren't for the fact that this place has great food that people are willing to have nightmares over, Penang would be a goner. The thing about small cities is that in the end you have to decide whether you're going to mark the report card thinking that the place is small - or a city. Something like a judge deciding whether the accused should remain in juvenile court or be pushed to the criminal docket.
Let's say the place is convincingly small. Then you have the charms of small town life, and the people who decide to settle down there have their pros and their cons. Literally, everyone's a local pro in their own designated field (everyone has the same plumber) and everyone knows who the cons are (did I mention that everyone knows the plumber?). You like the fact that everyone knows everyone else, mostly everyone accepts everyone else or at least gossips only behind their backs... or over well-pruned hedges. And there's a certain coolness in hanging out at the local coffeeshop with old Chinese furniture and three recently bald men playing mahjong in the corner.
That's what Penang used to be - unfortunately if you've ever been in Penang traffic, you'll realize that it's not a small place anymore. You've got the KL-level Prangin and Gurney malls, Starbucks every other corner, and the discos that pretend to close down every 6 months but get restarted under the same people with a different name. The problem is, as a city, Penang just doesn't cut it. First of all, we don't have IKEA. We don't have Burger King. A&W came and then ran outta here like a bat outta hell. And the plain and obvious reason for this is that Penang people are too stingy to afford them. Why do you think Sunshine Square survived? Goodness knows we really make our small mocha frappucinos last the better part of three hours.
And it's slowly losing the little quirks that make little towns special. You have to really take an effort to go and find a surviving old Chinese coffeeshop for your half-boiled eggs and toast, because - no offence - the mamak stalls just don't do them right. Mainly because they put kaya on the bread (which idiot taught that one up?) and they make me crack open the eggs myself. Now, what even bigger idiot looks at me and thinks I'm qualified to crack open freaking hot eggs? Do they think they teach us stuff at local unis that actually have some real-life application? Good gosh, we had to learn how to make mocha fraps last three hours from two decades of drinking Milo, man.
In the end, Penang's got to either work at retaining more of its Old World style or really graduate to a big city. Because before you know it, it's report card time and the two choices will be: 1. Stay 2. Leave. And somehow I sense that's where our neighbours to the South are. And even they've got Burger King.