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MALAYSIA and SINGAPORE

BOOK REVIEW

Book Reviews on My Penang

myMalaysiabooks presents books reviews on myMalaysiabooks in Malaysia and Singapore. Read reviews published in the Star, New Straits Times, Today newspaper (Singapore) and Lifestyle Magazine (NTUC Singapore)

 

Book Reviews in Malaysia and Singapore Newspapers and magazines

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My Penang - NST

myPenang - theStar

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myPenang

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Review in Malaysia

New Straits Times, Malaysia (8 September, 2005)

Review PHILIP LIM

 

MY PENANG  

The Inside Guide To Where To Go And What To Eat
By Lim Bee Chin

Newspaper clipping here

Penang hokkien mee, local hawker food

SOMETIMES things take place fortuitously, like this book dropping on my lap just days before I embarked on a journey to that Pearl of the Orient. It had been about three years since I last stepped foot on the island.

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     Yes, it has been much too long. This little book of 168 pages has all the information that a visitor to the island would need. It has just enough historical data to form the right impressions and the right amount of geographical information to create the correct visual imagery of a beautiful island in the sun.
     The writer, even though she grew up in Sungai Petani, Kedah, has spent enough years on the island to give an authoritative account of present-day Penang. I believe Lim also has a large number of relatives who are still residing on the island to educate her on the little known facts about the island.
     This is probably the first time I have ever picked up a book and embarked on a journey to verify its facts. My five-day sojourn in Penang was an eye-opener of sorts even though I had been a resident of the island for a better part of eight years.
     A foreigner who has not experienced Penang would certainly be intrigued by the writer’s personal knowledge of a place she loves and impressed by the passion she feels for an island that has a long history with England.
     The many colourful pictures of major landmarks are well displayed throughout the book. The excellent write-up on the major races that form Penang’s population lends character and shine to the persona of the “Pearl”. Even though the dominant race is Chinese, other races like the Malays and Indians have had strong influences on the culture and traditions of Penang over the centuries.
     Lim has correctly pointed out that Penang Malays have Bugis, Acehnese, Javanese and Arabic origins. The Indians consist of two groups — Tamil Hindus and Indian Muslims. The other minor Indian groups are Indian Buddhists and Malayalees.

     From this rich mix of races, coupled with their special dishes originally from their homelands, sprung the now popular nasi kandar, from which Penang has earned a fine reputation on a nationwide basis.
     My journey to Penang was by road but there are other modes of transportation to reach the island. The bridge has long overtaken the ferries as the main route to the island. Those who work in certain parts of the island and mainland still use the ferry as a matter of choice and convenience. There are now fewer ferries plying the route compared with the past. 
     Trishaws, as mentioned in the book, are still around. However, the trishaw peddlers who are located mainly on Penang Road are frail and mostly on the wrong side of middle-age. There had been occasions when I have seen young foreign visitors riding the trishaws with the trishaw men as passengers. This was mostly done on a lark — something to tell the folks back home.
    The information on the What To See chapter is accurate. All the major attractions still exist in their heritage best but George Town is fast losing its sparkle, according to local residents.
After 6pm, the shutters begin coming down. A shop owner said this phenomenon started when the population started to expand on the outskirts of the city, in places like Bayan Baru, Thean Teik estate, Gelugor and on the mainland.
    Twenty or 30 years ago, George Town was very much alive, even at 9pm. These days, only specific areas come alive or are still awake at 10pm. One of these places is the junction of Penang Road where the Continental Hotel and Hotel Malaysia are located.
The row of brightly lit teh tarik stalls selling a variety of roti canai draws the crowds and the foreign visitors.
     The chapter on Where To Shop is a nugget of information for first-time visitors. Haggling is almost compulsory at most roadside stalls except for shopping complexes. At present, one of the more popular spots for night shopping is along Jalan Batu Ferringhi where the pasar malam or night market seems to have become the “happening place”.
One reason is because of the large number of foreigners staying at the beach hotels along that stretch.
     Personally, the crème de la crème in this book is the Where To Eat chapter. Lim, like most true Penangnites, knows her food. She has detailed all the places one can think of or has been to. I believe she has covered most food places of repute.
     It was because of this special chapter on food that I decided to check out the various places that I know of and other places that I have learned from this book. It was a wonderful experience, filled with laughter and gluttony of tolerable levels.
     It is suspected that Malaysians who couldn’t resist buying this book will read the chapter on food first. It is safe to say that almost all the stalls mentioned in the book are still around, whether or not they have “changed hands” is another matter.
     Readers should also take note of the treasure trove of details of where to stay — from five-star hotels to budget accommodation. Penang still has its fair share of backpackers. A number of these people were seen venturing into the nooks and crannies of the island during my stay there.
     Penang will not be Penang without its various celebrations and festivals. Writer Lim has again scored big on this aspect. She has given thumb-nail accounts of 14 festivals that have become very much part of the Penang mystique.

    Lim Bee Chin should be complimented on her splendid effort with this book. It is therefore not a surprise that the Penang Government and Penang Tourist Guides Association have congratulated her on her literary contribution.
     There are other books on Penang but this one in particular deserves a place on our bookshelves.

 

The Star  publications, Malaysia  (26 June 2005)

Penang – the adjective for food       (actual news clipping here)

Review by AUGUSTINE WONG

PENANG is justifiably famous for its food. Even as Penang food stalls are mushrooming across food courts in the country, native Penangites will tell you that it’s just not the same as the food at home. 

They are right. 

Penang cuisine is best savoured where it is served – from the hawker stalls of Gurney Drive to the humble noodle shops in old George Town . Lim Bee Chin’s myPenang (www.mymalaysiabooks.com) is a slim guidebook that tells you what to eat and where to find it. Between your five meals a day, you may even find time to build an appetite exploring Penang ’s many other attractions. 

  Cuisine is the result of culture, and this is where Lim begins the tour. A potted history takes us from Penang’s origins as province of Kedah through British colonialism and the developments of the 20th century. An important, and lasting, influence came from the Chinese Peranakans. Also known as babas and nyonyas, these predominantly-Hokkien immigrants have assimilated many Malay elements into their speech, dress and cuisine. The result is a singularly-recognisable culture that has left its stamp on the communities along the Straits of Malacca.  

Streets of Penang     The early Chinese immigrants introduced the clan or “kongsi” system, with their spectacular clan buildings such as Penang ’s Khoo Kongsi. The clan system translated the Confucian values of familial responsibility into practical measures, such as scholarships, financial aid and community support. 

Lim guides us with a historian’s eye, from the charming streets of colonial George Town to the breathtaking Kek Lok Si temple in Air Itam, to the newer tourist sights at Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang. 

     The “What To See” section is loosely organised according to neighbourhood and complemented with a set of clearly-marked maps. With notable exceptions for especially significant landmarks (such as Fort Cornwallis , the first British settlement in Malaysia ), Lim's descriptions are light on detail. A perfunctory bibliography will hardly satisfy the curiosity of history and culture buffs about these sights. 

     Fortunately, the guidebook is filled with numerous engaging photos that convey the charm and detail of each attraction. MyPenang is one of the best-illustrated guidebooks that I’ve used, surpassing many better-known ones in bringing to life the immediacy and local colour of the island. Some pictures capture such intricacy of detail that they would not be out of place in a coffee-table book. Others have the warmth of vacation snapshots. 

The photos are particularly effective in representing the various culinary treats of the hawker stalls. Foreign tourists will find them exceedingly helpful in identifying the aromatic mysteries encountered on the streets. 

During a recent trip, I lent myPenang to a fellow hotel guest from Tanzania . The old gentleman, who had allergic reactions to certain ingredients, was delighted with Lim’s photos and descriptions of local dishes. He took copious food notes from the guidebook, and experienced an epiphany about the contents of pesembur and otak-otak. 

     Even if you can tell the difference between your mee jawa and mee rebus, Lim will tell you where to get them. A Kedahan who lived in Penang for years, she provides an insider’s list of places to satisfy one’s gluttony. Some of the establishments that she mentions have fed happy customers for generations. 

     For example, the sisters at 185, Macalister Road are renowned their for tasty char kuey teow. Their secret lies not simply in quality ingredients (such as crab meat) but their mastery of wok hei or the powerful heat of the wok to produce a deliriously fragrant dish. At the other end of the spectrum, the refreshing ice kacang at Swatow Lane adds fruit and ice cream topping to this traditional shaved-ice dish.  

The book’s numerous maps are invaluable for uncovering these delights.  

     As unfortunate travellers know, eating one bad plate of rojak can ruin an otherwise wonderful vacation. Given its emphasis on food – especially hawker food – myPenang could have included some hygiene tips. Often, the tastiest dishes are not the cleanest, but by following some basic guidelines, a tourist of reasonable constitution should be protected from an excruciating session at the porcelain bowl.  

     Another local danger that’s not apparent (until too late) is the prevalence of snatch thieves. Most Malaysians are sufficiently alert to this menace, but first-time visitors should be forewarned. 

     Lim shows her bias for authentic street food with a cursory list of upmarket restaurants; there is also little discussion about Penang ’s nightlife. Partly due to their transitory nature, popular nightclubs are not listed and backpackers won’t find help navigating the seedy bars of Burma Road . However, golf courses and other outdoor recreations are represented in the guide, as are nearby attractions in Langkawi and Kedah. A survey of Penang ’s colourful festivals rounds off a truly engaging tour. 

     For many Malaysians, Penang is more than a place, it’s an adjective: Penang laksa, Penang kuey teow, Penang loh bak. With culinary flair, Lim has cooked up a concise, attractive and useful guide to the eating capital of the north.  

     Augustine Wong is working in New York . 

 

Review in Singapore

 Lifestyle Magazine Review (Singapore NTUC publications)

  page one                     page two

                                      

or check out by subscribing to NTUC Lifestyle magazine  

 

 Today news, Mediacorp press (Singapore)

 About Author May16 2006  -  Selling Penang (May 16 2005) by Sharon Vasoo,

About Penang May16 2006 -  Arousing a sleeping beauty   page 1  .  page 2

.........Limited edition of my Penang is available here (for FREE delivery to Singapore)

 

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