Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I'm back from Penang!

The Georgetown Literary Festival was awesome, by the way. Lovely food, beautiful architecture, extraordinarily passionate people, almost all of them committed to activism in some way in their own countries. Turned out they liked my performance poetry style, too! Loads of new friends. Lots of photos if you click the link.

Penang itself is going through a remarkable moment in its history. Its heyday was the 1860s to 1920s - since then it's gone through a period of (relatively benign) neglect and decay. But in 2008, the city/state scored twice: it gained its coveted UNESCO Heritage Site status and elected DAP politician Lim Guan Eng as Chief Minister. Now, with the rise of the tourist trade and the economy and the arts, there's a wonderful sense of optimism rolling through the land, a feeling that KL-ites and Singaporeans both envy and identify with, 'cos we know it's happening too, quietly, on our own turf.

Lim was at the festival opening, btw, where he championed the arts and freedom of expression - even sat smiling throughout my expletive-riddled version of Sandra Cisneros's You Bring Out the Mexican in Me,  titled You Bring Out the Hokkien in Me.

His endorsement of the arts means that Georgetown is finding its feet as a new city for secular humanism for the whole of Malaysia. At ChinaHouse, where several of our events were held, there was a semi-political art exhibition from Sabah, of all places. Probably half of the festival attendees were KL-ites, eager to kick-start culture in this city (even though it's Malaysia's second-biggest city, there really is pitifully little nightlife as it is).

So we may be seeing more theatre performances, more music, more poetry, flowing up from Singapore and KL to that island to the northwest. Excited? I sure am. Can't wait to pig out on that laksa and nasi kandar again.

Oh, but I've another reason I'm uploading this now: I've decided that Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven simply cannot qualify as a North Korean text. So I'm reading something else, in the precious little time I have on this island before I fly off again. Stay tuned!

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