My first week in Penang

For the first blog of the year, I decided to use the same question I posted in my latest exhibition, Physical Meditation, to reflect on my first week in Penang.

In a world saturated by social media networks and selfie posts, how does an artist make sense of her journey in self-discovery and process the world around her?

Just when I was meticulously scheduling posts to promote the artwork from my exhibitions, I received news of natural disasters one after the other from the other side of the globe where I spend most of the year in. “Paradise on earth” is what many would call Santa Barbara, California, for the impeccable beaches and bright orange sunsets. Paradise had experienced drought, wild-fire and now mud slides with fatalities involved. Just two months ago, I was observing the flood in Penang from Paradise. None of us, however hard we try to control our Facebook Timeline and Instagram posts can escape this sinking feeling upon seeing natural disasters unfold in the place we call home.

Yet, here I am, in spite of the feeling, have to continue living the life as a temporary resident in a town that embraces the community of creatives, café cultures and hidden bars. An average day is spent wandering around seeking for yet another delicious street food joint with a friend or two, discussing the current affairs and public taste for art. I would walk into impromptu conversations at Hin Bus Depot, where my paintings are housed this month, whether it is defining the term Meditation or telling stories of my art pilgrimages to a fellow Malaysian or traveler, switching between Mandarin and English.

The modern tech era has introduced ride-sharing and home-sharing technologies to the world, and I am experiencing first-hand the impact services like Uber and Airbnb have within the UNESCO heritage sites of Georgetown. We are interacting with strangers and newcomers to the city every other minute, and whether we are at our Sunday best, we are the ones leaving the impressions to new visitors. It is no longer just the hotelier’s job to welcome guests. Visitors come from as near as Chiang Mai or as far as Quebec to do visa runs or escape the harsh winter will brush shoulders with me, a visual artist whose daily rituals most of the year entails only art-making, watching online streaming services, going to a dance class or preparing a hearty meal for two.

I am enjoying this ride, cautiously engaging with the increasingly familiar faces around me, while learning the tools one needs to excel in an exciting place like Penang. Before arriving here, my dad asked me, “Do you know the art market in Penang?” I came with an open heart and I have met very warm people. Whether I will find the answer to that question at the end of my stay, I am enjoying my night strolls to Little India, Tan jetty, whispering my prayers at the 200-year-old Guan Yin Temple, listening to live bands at China House, sipping a cup of Long Black at Ome, and maybe, just maybe, checking out Love Lane.