Making my way south from Thailand, I knew the one spot in Malaysia I wanted to visit was George Town. The largest town on the island of Penang, George Town is a mix of Chinese, Indian, and Malay. The result is a smorgasbord of delicious food that you can lose yourself in for days. While food usually reigns supreme in my travels, the real reason I wanted to spend time around George Town was for the street art.
In 2012, the Penang’s George Town Festival commissioned Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic to paint several murals around the city. The paintings were a huge success bringing life to old city walls and making George Town a prime destination for domestic and international tourists. Since 2012, many other artists have gathered in George Town and have begun adding their own art to the walls. Exploring the city looking for artwork was a great way to spend a couple of days, even in the scorching sun. Enjoy a look at some of my favorite pieces:
It was so cool walking around and checking out the street art, exploring areas trying to find artwork that was not on any map or guide. Besides the paintings, there are iron wrought sculptures all around the city that contain little bits of history about Penang. Between the street art and informational sculptures, George Town is a wonderful place to explore on foot, bicycle, or local trishaw.
I arrived in Penang on November 19th and decided to stick around for at least one week in order to find people to spend Thanksgiving with. I had a great Couchsurfing host and went to my first Couchsurfing meeting ever in hopes of finding people to celebrate with. Before the night had ended I had found a group of people to celebrate Thanksgiving with and made plans for the special day.
Using one wok, one rice cooker, two pans, and a bread toaster we cooked up a basic yet delicious combination of mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, stuffing, string beans with garlic, and roasted chicken. Frozen turkeys were very expensive in the Malay shopping centers and I wasn’t able to find an oven anywhere. The roasted chicken was a good substitute, but I will admit that something felt a bit off. Nonetheless, my Thanksgiving was a delightful day of cooking, eating, drinking, and lounging in a swimming pool. From my last Thanksgiving in Israel to the one in Malaysia, I am thankful for so much, but mainly for all the people in my life (old & new, near & far).
A New Project
The longer you spend in a place the more likely you’ll have a good story to tell for it. I came to Penang to eat a diverse amount of food and snap pictures of cool street art around the city. As I am writing this I am still here– rare for one of my posts as I am usually on the move. During my first ten days in Penang I got given the chance to take a risk financially and I took it. I know it wasn't the wisest decision ever, but I am excited to see how it turns out. Either way, success or failure, it will be a great story to tell.
So what the hell am I talking about?
I am opening a hostel in the heart of George Town’s UNESCO Heritage Site. The building is beautiful 100-year old colonial building that recently underwent a few renovations on the inside.
I met two fellow travelers, one American and one Malaysian, who were opening up a hostel in George Town and needed one additional partner for the project. I asked question after question in order to better understand the business plan, why they thought it would be successful in a place already filled with hostels, and what it would take to get it started.
Even with a full-proof plan, I think there was a small lack of common sense in deciding to open a business with two people I had only met a week earlier. However, the combination of having no idea where I wanted to go next and being interested in starting my own business left me considering that fact that it may be a perfect time to take a risk. I want to gain experience now on how to run a business and I don’t mind failing when I have no one depending on me besides myself.
The positive side to starting a business abroad is that it costs far less than it would back in the United States. For the same amount of money I wouldn’t be able to do very much back home. As a traveler, it is wonderful because I now have a home base in South East Asia. The negative side to starting a business abroad is having a very small grasp on how the system works here and what could go wrong.
In a previous post, I mentioned how I prefer to be a guest at a hostel than work behind the desk and it is still true. Even though I am starting a hostel, I won’t be running it full time. My number one goal remains returning home to live my life with friends and family midway through 2016. I have been spending my time working on the hostel, overseeing renovations, cleaning, navigating Malay bureaucracy, and doing all the little things that are necessary to run a business smoothly. New things pop up every day and I often find myself shaking my head wondering how I could have overlooked something so simple. Navigating Malaysia's bureaucracy is an adventure on its own. I will never understand why simple paperwork filings can take weeks or how workers can show up with five minutes notice and help with the installation of something.
After only three weeks of having the building, we were ready to welcome guests to hang out at the bar and have slowly opened up a few rooms. Luckily, my Malaysian business partner, Alex, has run a hostel before and his experience has been invaluable to covering all the bases. My other partner, Aaron the American, is a budding finance and accounting wizard. Between the three of us we have made a good team and I am excited to see how everything unfolds.