Blade Runner chee cheong fun — Georgie Peh
MAY 9 — I had just finished dinner. It had been raining rather relentlessly since late afternoon. There was still a heavy drizzle soaking the roads. Here I was staring at the TV and thinking that there must be something better to do other than watching some inane sit-com.
So this is Penang, my once-again hometown. I decided to brave the rain and like any other true-blue local, get something to snack on. Fast food? That’s for the “don’t-know-any-betters.”
For me it was going to be chee cheong fun street style. Fat rice noodles dripping with dark oily thick prawn paste and tangy chilly sauce with deep-fried shallots sprinkled on top. Epicurean bliss on a plastic plate.
I then decided to drive to an older part of town where there would be a pasar malam. I found it, parked (probably illegally), followed a casual crowd and sauntered happily into the muggy night air looking for my apres-dinner fix.
One approaches a local night market rather casually but nonchalantly expecting to be visually and aurally assaulted. However I had a mission and it was the hard-core food fest. Then the camaraderie of a wet evening at the location hits you. The noise, the smells, the tinted dingy and gritty atmosphere that only an old inner city street can offer. Nothing glitzy or trendy here that’s for sure.
You walk through the puddles nimbly dodging all sorts of obstacles. Giggling teenagers out on a “cheap date”, assorted vendors blithely tossing their things your way. Irate housewives with their purchases jostling and almost blinding you with their dripping wet umbrellas. Apologies are most certainly not offered here.
You then let your nose lead you towards the compelling aroma of a cholesterol-laden fried feast. As you approach it starts to get to you.
Everyone is seating or standing next to their chosen food fix. Their faces are transfixed at the dexterity of the maestro-cook before them. One cannot help but take it all in. All else doesn’t matter except to eventually savour the chosen snack.
The dripping plastic roofing-sheets, the flickering fluorescent lights casually hung, dangerously connected, all precariously dangling above a make-shift noodle stall.
Portable generators are noisily belching out diesel fumes into the night air.
Then something inexplicitly insidious slowly creeps into the subconscious mind. I am subtly transported into this almost peculiarly post-Apocalyptic scenario.
Picture this. The encroaching dampness, the artificiality of neon, dark shadows flitting everywhere and the shuffling anonymous humanity.
I thought that I was on the set of “Blade Runner.” That intrusive but abstract alternative reality. I walked on expecting an epic moment. All that was needed was a Vangelis soundtrack.
A truly surreal experience.
I half expected in my peripheral vision a young Harrison Ford to come dashing around the corner, through the crowds, shooting at and chasing a replicant. Imagine the screaming manic crowd scattering, clutching their little packets of char koay teow or satay sticks, overturning everything and shoving everyone.
Bedlam at the pasar malam.
That would just have been comically absurd.
After my food fix, I ambled towards my car, stomach satiated and senses intact. In my private thoughts, I dwelled on my all too brief bemusedly mental escapist episode of food and temporary insanity.
So this is for everyone outside of Penang. I cannot help but laughingly and smugly ask, “Where else can one get a touch of retro-Hollywood for the price of a simple plate of chee cheong fun on a tropical rainy night?”
So you may wonder if I love my island home? I most certainly do.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.