Our neighbourhood around China Tiger is totally fascinating and there is something to see each time you step out the door. Not only are we in the core zone of the UNESCO World heritage site but there is the bonus of being in Little India. This is a thriving busy local neighbourhood where people are working, setting up business and coming in throughout the day to eat at the restaurants, or to work and run errands in the business district down on Beach Street.
China Street is a main vein, like an ancient lei line. Throughout the year we see festivals make their way down our street. At the top of the street we have the Chinese Kuan Yin Temple, and nearby, the Indian Mariammam Temple, and the Kapitan Kling Mosque. In between there are plenty of smaller temples and kongsi's, shrines and mosques to walk by or take time to visit. Depending on when you visit you may see a Chinese Opera, the Chariot being pulled down by the great temple bulls, dancing hoards, a hundred fantastic floats or metallic papers scattered around on the streets.
Just on our street there is enough to keep you busy for a couple of days. The Spice Grinding Mill across from us is worth a visit- locals take all their grains or spices there in bulk- and keep an eye out for all the colourfully attired visitors to the Chettiar Hostel opposite us. On the junction with Penang Street we have a fabulous range of restaurants, sari shops and wonderful Indian paraphernalia stores. In the Book Shop Vetrivel, diagonally opposite us they have a wonderful stock of posters of all the gorgeous Indian Gods. Take them home with you and frame them up to create an exotic interior accent. Even the long established Farmesi Mewah is worth a peak- they always have something in there to boost your health and longevity!
At the Penang Street junction is our local sundry store, Ramanie Stores and they are stocked with truck loads of stainless steel Indian kitchenware, dried lentils, curry powders, incense galore and best of all, the Himalayan Herbal brand of herbal ayurvedic medications. This brand is Indian and they have the best antiseptic cream on the planet. Scrap your leg, get a spot, stick a dab and it heals you so well. I also love their herbal toothpaste, their Cold Relief Balm and their Pain Balm(for aches and pains).
I always love and buy fabrics, and as a visitor it is so tempting to want to buy the wonderful saris. With Seng Hup on Church Street, you can now convert the wonderful sari cloths into gorgeous cushion covers, table cloths and napkins. If you are in a rush, they will get them ready for you to take away in your luggage. Seng Hup are amazing upholstery wizards and the whole of China Tiger's cushions, curtains, chair pillows have all been done by them. Businesses like this really allow you to be creative and go home with things that are very individual and special.
And ladies, a visit to the 'threader' to shape your eyebrows before you leave is a must do! You can also get the most exotic henna designs painted on your hands, or your feet, if want to be more discreet.
Market Street is where all the spice is found. Spice businesses established long ago still thrive and the various sundry shops and small grocery stores supply all the raw ingredients to the local restaurants surrounding us. Everywhere you go you will encounter trollies of food, potatoes, tomatoes, onions and floor being pushed to one restaurant or another. Another supplier to look out for is the 'fresh milk man'. He delivers on his motorbike, plastic bags full of fresh cow's milk for all the Madras coffee drinks served in the Indian restaurants. He also supply's pannier and yogurt.
Between Market Street, Penang Street, China Street and King Street you have a whole emporium of shops for sari's, fabrics, tailors, bangles, indian jewelry and Bollywood DVD's. This area is a real bazaar and it is great fun to investigate all the stores and search for a special treasure, whether the perfect cotton kurta, or a wonderful tiara for a dress up party. Indian kitchenware is a special favourite of mine and I totally love the stacked stainless steel tiffin carriers in all sizes. The street food in the area, especially at teatime is wonderful- curry puffs, samosa's, puttu mayam. You name it, you have to try it!
Also great are the whole sale shops, my favourite being CAA Trading up the road from us. When you first walk in to see the 'boss' sitting cross legged on the floor surrounded by people and merchandise, it is hard to focus on what he has to sell in there. But, this place is a treasure trove and great for kids to go with RM10 bucks and come out with handful of bits that only they can appreciate. Stock up for kids party hand outs here! During local school holidays, his son is on duty. Only 12 years old, this lad is a real testament to the idea that kids should be allowed to help with the family business. The speed of his calculations and his salesmanship is totally mind boggling and leaves me feeling inadequate.
Beach Street is also well worth exploring especially if you hang left at the end of China Street and go down past the fire station. This is the street of wholesalers selling anything from plastic bags, Chinese Tea, Steamer baskets, brooms, kitchen supplies, household supplies, office supplies and fishing tackle. Also down here is the wonderful rotan basket weaver. He has honest, 'Shaker style' beautiful, baskets that are totally covetable and well worth the money.
Beach Street, turning left off China Street takes you down towards the elegant large corporate buildings and banks. Many of these are now restored awaiting tenants and the street is now really being returned to it's former glory. Whiteways looks magnificent after its restoration and this stretch looks more and more like the old photos taken in the early party of the 1900's. This is good news for all of us in George Town.
Take a late afternoon stroll down towards Weld Quay and the ferry terminal. Here you will find QE11 where you can have a cold beer and the kids can feast on a great pizza. Old Hai Nan Town is also a good restaurant for nyona style food and a view of the marina and the ferries coming in and out. Also in this direction are gorgeous buildings- The George Town Dispensery, Bangunan UAB, Wisma Kastam with its clock tower(easily seen from China Tiger), and the lovely Wisma Yeap Chor Ee.
Walk across Chulia Street and make your way to Armenian Street. Visit the majestic Khoo Kongsi but also take time to look at the rows of lovely little houses in the area. these are occupied by local families and keep an eye out for the wonderful bicycle repair shops, and the perm parlours. They take you back to a time when things moved at a slower pace. Do the loop around and do get a meal at Edelweiss- it's German sausages and beer make a good change after days of the flavours of Indian, Nyona and Chinese food.
Carnavon Street, takes you across to Kimberly Street and Campbell Street. A must visit on Kimberly Street are the row of pink heritage houses that make up a large temple and religious paraphernalia emporium. lanterns, lights, statues, beautifully packaged incense, teapots are all here, as well as wonderful paper products that can be used as material for any kind of new artwork. Also in the area, the early morning markets are well worth a visit and allows you to see all the local produce. Weekend markets are especially packed full of goods. The morning market on Cintra Street between Kimberly and Campbell Streets are especially vibrant. You can then make your way up to Penang Road(not the same as our Penang Street) where you can go into Chowrasta market and check out the bung full book shop upstairs. This is a very local area to shop. Cheap and cheerful are the key works here. Novelty items, also. Mydine, is a cheap local supermarket, a bit like a local Woolworths's. I love the odd rummage here because again, you can really fine the odd treasure and total bargain. And I have to say, I'm a real sucker for looking at colourful plastic stuff. In abundance it manages to actually look like an art installation.