Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Hunger Games 2: Penang is Catching Fire

Dear Mr./Ms. Movie Location Scout,
I'm sure you were excited when the producers and director of Hunger Games approached you to scout out locations for the movie sequel.  (Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire spoiler alert) Why did you head to Hawaii? It's so "been there, done that... yawn." You should have come to Penang to film the Third Quarter Quell Arena scenes for Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire. Why? Let me tell you.

[Haven't read the book or seen the movies? Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future where teens are drafted from each district to engage in a battle to the death.]

1. You need an island, open water, and jungle.

Ta-da! Penang has all three. Every day when I look outside my window, I see a vast expanse of water with the hilly mainland in the distance. The jungle is everywhere. The national park on the northern tip of the island is perfect for all your running through the jungle scenes. We even have a big hill you can use.

You can't see the Cornucopia because it's behind me.
Finnick just rescued Peeta from the podium on the left.

Come on tributes. Let's form an alliance.

2. There's no need for the actors to pretend that they're hot and sweaty.

They'll already be that way. No makeup or method acting needed. Katniss's description of the heat and humidity in the Arena syncs perfectly with the constant stickiness I feel in Penang.

3. We already have evil monkeys.

At first, you think, "How cute! Those monkeys are just running around in the wild." Next thing you know, they are literally emptying out your friend's wallet and grabbing her car keys, threatening to run up into the trees with them. Penang also has a popular spot called Monkey Beach. Need I say more?

Thieving ruffians disguised as monkeys.

4. It storms like clockwork here.

I'm not talking about a gentle pitter-patter rain. I'm talking about a full-on, take cover now thunderstorm. You can see it sweep across the island, bracing yourself for when it hits. I've even heard someone say after school, "Here comes the 4 o'clock rain."

3:59 p.m. The sky is clear.

4:00 p.m. Watch the storm race towards you.

5. We have dangerous flying insects.

You think the mosquitos are just a minor nuisance, like the ones in Texas, until you hear all the ads on the radio warning about mosquito-borne Dengue Fever. After my debilitating bout with Chikugunya, I no longer open my windows for a breeze. Mosquitoes are why I was at my son's baseball game, contemplating the possibility that I'm contracting a disease while just cheering on the team.

6. Watch out for the fog.

Don't want to bother with special effects for the paralyzing fog spreading through the trees? Just wait for the haze that floats over whenever Indonesian or mainland Malaysian farmers decide to clear their land via fire. Visibility goes down while eye and lung irritation goes up.

Run away! Run away while you can! Here comes the deadly fog.

7. We have our share of scary monsters.

When I first visited Penang on my exploratory trip, I saw a very large — maybe 4-foot-long — reptile wandering on the beach. It was a monitor lizard. Then it sidled into the ocean, and I watched it undulate across the waves. I pray to God I never encounter it up close. I would send photos, but they have an unintentional Loch Ness monster feel to them.

And of course, there's the monstrously long reticulated python all the school kids petted until they realized it was still alive. It was just sleeping, not dead. The picture the teacher emailed parents shows about the 1st grade class lined up side-by-side along the length of the snake. My goodness, it was big! Plus, it had an interesting lump where it had swallowed a goose.

When my girl said, "Come and see the snake," I was expecting something much smaller.

It just looks dead but it's not
(until the next day when it ended up on the High School dissection table).

8. We've experienced tidal waves.

This one is actually rather sad. The same 2004 tsunami that devastated Thailand and Southeast Asia claimed 52 lives in Penang. Had I lived here at the time, I could have watched it roll in from my home's windows. The kids have had tsunami drills at school, and I praise the teachers for their preparedness. This is basically one of those worries that I compartmentalize and shut away in my brain.

9. All that Arena Food grows here.

No need to import large nuts, rats or shellfish. Penang has them in abundance.

10. Planes sometimes appear out of nowhere.

Granted, they don't just materialize out of thin air. But one fighter jet has flown by so close to the ground that I could look in its windows for just a second before it zipped away.

11. You'll just have to fake the blood raining down from the sky.

I really can't think of a parallel for this torture. Good for Penangites but bad for you, Movie Location Scout. Let's give those CGI people something to do.

Perhaps you want to film other key scenes here. I'm sure that if you spruce up some of the old British colonial mansions, they could stand in for the Victor's Village. The newly built Gurney Paragon mall could stand in for the Capitol.

Are you worried that diva-esque actors(or their celebrity pop princess girlfriends) will rebel at shooting in such a rustic location? Never fear. Penang is peppered with luxury resorts and eclectic boutique hotels where they can stay. Plus, the spa treatments here are so cheap that even the guy who holds the cue cards can afford to pamper himself. Everyone will thank you.

You should have filmed Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire right here in Penang.

With warmest regards,

I have yet to watch the movie, but I enjoyed the book. I swear that the entire time I was reading the Arena scenes in Catching Fire, I felt like author Suzanne Collins was describing Penang. Except, you know, she added in all the angst over someone being out to kill you. So all you Hunger Games fans, come out and give us a visit. See what living in the Third Quarter Quell Arena is really like.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox. Check it out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. Now I guess I need to read the books!

    1. Clear your calendar because once you start reading, you won't be able to stop.

  2. I love it. Great, great post. I laughed, I sighed :)

    1. Doesn't this just make you want to convince your hubby to run a marathon here? : )

  3. You are too funny! I would not be a big fan of your dangerously flying insects or the scary monsters. I just finished reading the second book in the Hunger Game series so I got all of your references this time :)

    1. I think the 3rd book was my favorite. You have a good read ahead of you.

  4. Haven't seen any of these series so I have nothing to compare to but I love all the visuals and Penang is a beautiful island to visit and filled with gorgeous vistas

  5. HaHa...sounds like the perfect venue. Probably would have been much cheaper than Hawaii too!

  6. I too am guilty of not having seen any of these but you did such an effective job on this post you've got me thinking that it is time to change all that! Great post!

  7. What a creative post - maybe you should be a script writer - at the very least a location scout :)

  8. Ha Ha, loved what you've created! I always saw Penang as a bit of an earthly paradise - not any more! Yes, definitely you should be a location scout as Jan says!

  9. I have read the books so I have an even better visual of where you live. It sounds like a beautiful but sometimes very hard place to live. I'd have a hard time with the omnipresent humidity.How many years do you plan to live there?

    1. By the time we leave this June/July, it will have been 3 years.

  10. Love this post, Michelle! Very creative. I have not read the book but you gave me some good picture of it and also of Penang. I hope you got the attention of the movie's production company; they'll probably hire you to be their next location scout or screenwriter.

  11. I really enjoy reading this post - simple hilarious, and I agree with you!


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