One of Penang’s best-kept secrets, the southwestern part of the island offers Loong Wai Ting a ride through quiet little towns as well as visits to an animal farm and a ‘bedak sejuk’ factory
THE sun is out and shining brightly. I am waiting for my friend Melissa at her home near Air Itam in Penang to be ready. Our plan is to drive to Balik Pulau in the southwest part of the island famous for durian, nutmeg and clove orchards, and get a bicycle and cycle along the winding hill road.
Five minutes later, I hop into her car where K-pop music is blasting from the portable loudspeaker attached to the car power outlet.
The picture-perfect scenes of Penang’s countryside unfold before my eyes. Rolling hills and sprawling paddy fields emerge from behind the clouds in the distance. It’s no wonder that Balik Pulau, which means “the back of the island”, is one of Penang’s best-kept secrets.
A sleepy fishing village, Kampung Pulau Betong lies in the south of the town where the island’s best beach, Pantai Pasir Panjang, is also located. Towards the north, you’ll find Sungai Pinang, a hilly area where Penang’s famous durians are grown.
Locals converge on the kopitiam (coffee shop) in the morning and late evening to trade gossip over a cup of steaming kopi o (black coffee) or slurp a bowl of asam laksa, the tangy fish broth noodle soup that has put Penang on the world map.
ON TWO WHEELS
After a scenic 40-minute drive, we finally arrive at the town centre, known as “kongsi” (share). Even in the late morning, Balik Pulau remains a languid, delightful timeless place that feels like nowhere else.
Charming old shophouses line both sides of the road and locals walk leisurely from place to place, stopping once in a while to catch up with friends. The traffic seems to slow down in this area too!
After passing the town, we arrive at Audi Dream Farm to pick up our bikes. While some of the bikes have seen better times, we are offered newer bikes since there aren’t many visitors.
We pay RM7 rental for a bike each and set out to explore Balik Pulau on our own. With Google Maps as navigator, we cycle along quaint villages, passing by a fishing village and making occasional stops to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
A wave of excitement washes over us when we come across a shop by the sidewalk selling all sorts of snacks from our childhood days and other daily necessities. We park our bikes on a small patch of grass and walk into the small shop.
While paying for our drinks, the store owner, a woman in her early 40s, eyes us up and down. “I take it you girls are not from around here?” she asks in Hokkien.
“She’s from Air Itam,” I say, glancing in Melissa’s direction.
I explain that I am from KL and am here for a story. Hearing this, she recommends a visit to the Saanen Dairy Goat Farm in Sungai Pinang, 20 minutes by bike from her store. She gives us directions to the farm by drawing the routes in the air.
We thank her, grab our drinks and hop onto our bikes for our next stop. From the store, we cycle with the flow of the traffic and stop every now and then for pictures. What I love about cycling in Balik Pulau is that I can cycle at my own pace while enjoying the scenery. Throughout our cycling, we meet many friendly locals who greet us with a hello and even pose for photographs. Our mini adventure takes us through a small Malay village, where the men are converging at the mosque for prayers.
Careful not to make any noise, we push our bikes forward and pass along a small but well-trodden path. Clear water flows lazily in a stream to my left and the grass here reaches up to my waist.
A huge banyan tree with long, dangling roots stands in our path. To get to the other side, we have to cycle around the shady tree.
After 30 minutes of cycling, we finally reach Saanen Dairy Goat Farm. To get into the farm, we cycle past a durian orchard and some old wooden houses. Most of the doors are shut and the occupants are out.
By now, both Melissa and I are drenched in perspiration from the morning heat. We are looking forward to rest our tired feet and perhaps play with the animals at the farm. The owner, a man probably in his early 50s, gets up to greet us as we push our bikes on the steep road that leads to his farm.
He tells us to make ourselves at home and spend as much time as we want here. Curious, I ask about the entrance fee to his well-maintained farm. Shaking his head, he says he opens his farm to the public to learn about the animals and for people to get in touch with nature.
If you’re travelling in a group of more than 20 people, the owner offers a guided tour for a small fee. The tour includes a (goat) milking demonstration, feeding grass to the animals and a cup of goat’s milk ice cream for each participant.
Smaller animals such as chicken, dog and cat roam the farm. Bigger ones like the ostrich are in a large enclosure.
Just beside the ostrich enclosure is a large pen where the goats are kept. There are probably five to six kids roaming around the pen; their small size makes it easy for them to squeeze past the wooden door meant to keep the large ones inside.
One comes forward to nibble on the hem of my pants and shoelaces. Their white, fluffy fur smells like fresh milk, and I can’t help but carry one in my arms like a small child. Melissa jokes that I probably should sneak one home. Oh, if only it were small enough to fit into my backpack, I would!
Leaving the cute kids behind, Melissa and I head back to the counter near the main entrance for goat’s milk ice-cream. There are a few flavoured ice-creams but I opt for the original one.
I love the creamy taste and its subtle hint of sweetness. It doesn’t have the gamey scent that I expected. Before continuing on our journey, we buy goat’s milk as gifts for family and friends.
From the goat farm, there is quite a distance to cycle to Perniagaan Beduk Sejuk Lean Seng factory in Kampung Jalan Baru. So, our plan is to cycle back to Audi Dream Farm, ditch the bike and hop into our car for the short drive to the factory.
The smell of fermented rice and animal droppings assault our noses the moment we step out of our car. The scent is so overpowering that we wonder if we’ve come to the right place. As we linger around, one of the Yeoh brothers, Seong Chin, comes out to greet us.
According to Seong Chin, the youngest of the three brothers, their father started the
bedak sejuk (a cooling powder used traditionally as a facial mask) business in the 1970s. After their father’s death, the business was handed down to the sons Seong Huat, Seong Heng and Seong Chin.
Although churning out a 95g bottle of the traditional powder takes a very long time, the brothers take pride in the tradition and still make theirs the old way: soaking the rice in water for a period of time (the water needs to be changed every week), and then pounding the soft rice into a paste-like texture and leaving it to dry under the sun. The brothers have been doing this tedious work for more than 40 years!
Rain or shine, the factory produces a good amount of bedak sejuk to meet demand. On a good day (with hot weather) it produces up to 300kg of bedak sejuk a month. Meanwhile, during the wet season, production slows down significantly as the bedak sejuk needs to dry under the sun.
It’s fun to watch the brothers at work: Banter is exchanged and they welcome visitors to try their hand at making the powder beads. For me, bedak sejuk carries sentimental value. My grandmother used to make them the traditional way, just like how the brothers make them today.
As it requires a lot of work, my grandmother has stopped making them. Growing up, my mother would slap a considerable amount of the bedak sejuk mixed with water onto my face after my shower. The powder has a cooling effect, perfect for our hot weather. Not only that, the powder is said to make skin feel smooth and look fair.
Before heading back, I buy a few bottles of the bedak sejuk for my grandmother.
Pictures by Loong Wai Ting
PERNIAGAAN BEDAK SEJUK LEAN SENG
Kampung Jalan Baru,
Balik Pulau, Penang.
SAANEN DAIRY GOAT FARM
Kampung Batu Putih, Balik Pulau,
AUDI DREAM FARM
145, MK B, Sungai Rusa,
Balik Pulau, Pulau Pinang.