An earlier version of this essay appeared on the blog Where Is Your Toothbrush?


My favorite pastime in George Town, Malaysia, on Penang island, aside from wandering the narrow streets lined with crumbling shophouses in the colonial core, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; eating delicious, inexpensive street food at hawker stalls and food courts as well as hole-in-the-wall restaurants; and hunting down the famous and more recent specimens of fabulous street art, was figuring out the human maze: George Town is home to residents of Malay, Chinese, and Indian heritage and, correspondingly, of Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths. More than anything, I enjoyed people-watching. A dozen faces have stuck with me.