Thaipusam or how hindus roll

Hinduism is a weird beast. Elephant-headed and blue-faced gods, kamasutra, cosmology compatible with modern science or this annual festival called thaipusam. Imagine a three-day extravaganza filled with coconut smashing, dancing and partying, head shaving, body painting, BDSM, colorful clothing, free vegetarian food and such. I tried reading background information on the festival, but was quickly lost in all those details of private lives of gods and goddesses. Something do with the good winning over the evil, anyway. Not that it really matters. What matters though, is that people gather together and have fun. From the looks of it, I would never guess that it was a religious festival. Forget boring Sunday church-like meeting, this is a full-blown partying for the whole family spanning over three days non-stop. Especially in the nighttime the festival atmosphere resembled a rave party than a religious gathering. And all that without alcohol, bhang or other intoxicants, just good old fashioned spiritual high and some self-inflicted physical pain.
Many participants show their devotion by piercing their cheeks and/or tongue with a spear, getting hooks attached to the skin on their torsos and hanging bells, coconuts and other random things on those hooks. The more, the merrier. To make things even more exciting, another person pulls the ropes attached to hooks, like pain caused by piercing would not be enough. I witnessed a piercing process (in a temple too!) and it was rather painful sight. During the process the poor guy shouted and his whole body shook either from pain or trance-like state from time to time. Hopefully it was well worth it.
Then there is a thing about smashing coconuts. On the first day of the festival coconuts are gathered along the procession path, which are then fiercely smashed against the ground just before the procession. And then the whole mess is promptly cleaned to make way for the procession. Why do they hate coconuts so much? The official explanation has something to do with purification or something along these lines. Personally I think it is just an elaborated way to get rid of the excessive supply coconuts thus keeping the price level artificially high. Or maybe not. Anyway, it is such a shame to see delicious coconuts going to waste. I guess I could sustain myself for the rest of my life with all those wasted coconuts. Sigh. On the other hand I must admit doing it myself was rather fun.
All in all, an interesting experience and well worth all the extra time spent in Penang. Really weird and rather sick at times, but well this is just how some people roll. Thumbs up.

Penang, the pearl of the orient

Penang reminds me of Malta. Both are islands formerly occupied by the British, which can be clearly seen in architecture, infrastructure and the language. However, whilst Malta is a complete disaster, Penang is rather nice with its excellent food, more than reasonable prices and beautiful nature thanks to hilly terrain (in contrast, there is no nature in Malta). Malta’s national park is a joke in form of a concrete paradise with some planted trees. While Penang’s national park is proper jungle with minimum infrastructure like occasional steps and bridges. Not as wild as the jungle on Ko Phangan, but enjohyable nonetheless. Both Malta and Penang are heavy on traffic and rather pedestrian unfriendly, but unlike Malta Penang does not feel polluted. All in all, Penang wins all over Malta.
After three weeks of isolated life on Hat Yuan, Penang feels like an indulgence paradise, especially when it comes to shopping and food. All Asian cuisines are represented here with an accent on seafood. No more Thai food from a standard menu for a while. As for shopping, got myself a pair of cheap Quicksilver slippers with funky colours, so hopefully these won’t get stolen/rotated as it happened with black flip-flops.
On a less pleasant note, I got bitten by bedbugs on my first night in Penang. The name of the culprit is Love Lane Inn. The manager’s response, when I confronted him about the matter? “We do not have bedbugs here, it is the guests who bring them”. Stupidly enough I paid for two nights and the manager did not want to refund the second night. Anyhow, room change and some DEET made a second night sleep bearable. A note to self, always google for “hostel name bedbugs” before checking in to a hostel.