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|PENANG IN A NUTSHELL ... OR A TRISHAW, AS THE CASE MAY BE|
|Written by Administrator II|
|Friday, 01 July 2011 02:11|
Article by HELEN ONG
Penang, or Pulau Pinang, “Betel Nut Island”, has been attracting tourists and visitors from all over the world since long before George Town was awarded the coveted United Nations World Heritage status. The blend of different races and cultures has resulted in an eclectic and interesting community which endures to the present day, and George Town’s rich and colourful past is something we can truthfully refer to as “living history”.
Just take a walk along the old part of town and you will see what I mean – we have myriad old temples and clan houses, shophouses and their shaded gor kha lor (five-foot ways); we have churches rubbing shoulders with mosques and temples. Delight in the intricate and delicate details painstakingly created by craftmen of yore, even as you revel in the everyday way of life which, despite modernity and the Internet, continues as it has for the past century or two.
If you are not used to this heat, there is a more civilised and fascinating way is to explore all this: in a trishaw! It’s rather like taking a gondola ride in Venice – a once-in-a-lifetime experience you shouldn’t miss. Your journey may originate from one of many different points, as these vehicles are usually strategically stationed outside hotel forecourts and tourist sites. It’s quite pleasant to slowly coast down the narrow streets of inner George Town, going from one historic site to another, although truth be told occasionally it can be a bit hair-raising but fear not; their experience shows as they negotiate traffic with surprising agility and speed.
Follow one of the many trails available, create your own, or leave it to the trishaw rider, as, being one of our best unofficial tour guides, he will have the low-down on many of the interesting places in town. An excursion can take 3-4 hours, which will allow you time to stop off at any place you may want a closer look at. Don’t forget a hat, bottle of water and your suntan lotion!
If you wish to concentrate on architecture, we have many historical buildings, quite a few of which have been lovingly restored. Of course the better known ones are Cheong Fatt Tze or The Blue Mansion, the Khoo Kongsi, the Pinang Peranakan Mansion and the Penang State Museum. Near the Esplanade (Jalan Padang Kota Lama) alone there are a fair few colonial administrative buildings. A fine example of Victorian architecture is the Penang Town Hall in Lebuh Light (Light Street) which was built in the 1880s, Fort Cornwallis, the War Memorial, and City Hall, built in the early 1900s.
In Lebuh Farquhar, just a stone’s throw away, stand the imposing High Court buildings, formerly the Supreme Court. Recently restored, the main structure was built in 1905 and is now gazetted as a historical building. Down Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai) are a host of interesting structures built to house banks, many still in use now.
We also have some amazing religious buildings, mainly built by settlers at the turn of the last century. Near Little India, the Masjid Kapitan Keling stands shoulder to shoulder with the Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) Temple; not far off is the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, and a short walk away you’ll be able to see the white columns of St George’s Church. They are literally concrete testaments of how our different religions have co-existed in harmony with each other.
Penang is also unique in that some of our local artisans continue to practise their crafts as they have been doing for the past few decades. Down some of the streets, you can still see some of the masters at work, creating their own particular speciality: the joss stick maker laboriously producing hand-made prayer paraphernalia; every morning, the popiah (spring roll) skin maker manipulates a large dollop of pliable dough over a hot iron griddle, so skilfully that one blink and you’ll miss it. With a quick flick of the wrist, he produces the finest crepe imaginable.
Master calligraphers and signboard engravers continue to bend over their plaques, pen or chisel in hand, as they have done since a young age. Witness them now before these dying crafts disappear for good, as they have in other parts of the country.
Finally, no visit to Penang is complete without that famous four-letter word which begins with an “f” – yes, FOOD (whatever else could you have been thinking of). Make it a point to follow a food trail, whether you prefer hawker which of course the island is most famous for – try our lobak, assam laksa or hokkien mee – restaurant food, or any of the other culinary delights from practically every corner of the world.
|Last Updated on Friday, 01 July 2011 02:23|