Thursday, April 30, 2009

Official Opening of World Heritage Office by Mr Lim Guan Eng Penang Chief Minister.

Today is an auspicious day for Penang heritage enclave when the former Penang Heritage Center is now officially declared as World Heritage Office. Despite pouring rain, the ceremony ran smoothly as scheduled.

As one of the guests, I was happy to see quite a few familiar faces there. Mr. Lim Guan Eng, our Chief Minister started the ceremony by giving a speech. In his speech, he touched on the fact that despite the status of George Town as a UNESCO historic city, Penang is number four from bottom out of all the states in Malaysia in terms of funding received for approved restoration plans.

This is a pretty sad thing, we are hoping that the federal government will see the undying spirit of the people of Penang in preserving our heritage and thus increase the funding in due course.

After the ribbon cutting ceremony, we witnessed the CM signing the plague officiating the opening.

The center was nicely decorated with a lot of new exhibits on display, including classic tiles used for roofing and also flooring for the shop houses. Those surely attracted my attention very much. We were also told that RM20K was allocated to buy books and other journals to add to the archive at the center.

There were also slide shows and some videos published especially to promote this World Heritage City Program. Other places under this program are Borobudur in Bali and Lijang in China. Hopefully one day Penang will stand as tall as these famous places too.

See the full page about World Heritage Office in Penang

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kokeshi Dolls at Penang Museum

This exhibition has been going since 27th February 09 but only today I got the time to visit it. Its last day will be tomorrow, so.. who knows when we will have the opportunity to see these dolls from Japan again.

Hmm, almost the whole of first floor is dedicated to this show. Here you get the information about the dolls, history, the artisans, the process of making them.

There are 11 distinct regional variations of the dolls on top of many types of toys which are made out of wood in Japan. Then, these are divided into traditional style and also modern style.

I learned quite a lot from this exhibition. It is always a delight to see fine work of art.

Kokeshi dolls are wooden dolls which are created especially in the Northern Island of Honshu. They have been around since the Edo period. Modern version which are more complex are now created by Japanese artists as pieces of arts. The traditional wooden dolls are however very simple, streamlined and always depict a feminine feature, with just the head and the body.

The dolls have three basic shapes which tell you how the neck and the body are joined: either gooseneck jointed dolls, stub jointed dolls or one-piece doll.
These basic shapes of course have their regional variations too.

The dolls are always bought by visitors as reminders of their visit to the resort spa villages where they are made, in Northern Honshu. A simple art form which started as leisure activity by Kijiya (woodmakers) in Japan is now part of their rich Japanese heritage.

Visit Penang State Museum

Silambam Training at Youth Park

I told you last week, I attended a silambam training at Taman Tun Sardon. Since Master Anban wanted to create more awareness about this art, we arranged for a full costume training at Youth Park (Taman Belia) yesterday afternoon.

Taman Belia has always been my favorite place since childhood. It has a lot of recreational option to the public. When I was a young girl, it was a place where people went to exercise and played the roller skates. Now, there are several pools for children and also a big arena for extreme roller-blading sports too.

The Youth Park also is a good example of how good Penang is at creating a truly wonderful park right next to the city center. It is beautiful with nice landscape and exotic tropical flowering shrubs.

Anyway, with four silambam experts showing off their skills, I was truly impressed to see them in action. All of these were recorded in many photos and some videos.

I have to take some time to edit them and also write a full story. Will keep you posted.

Penang Heritage Center is now World Heritage Office

Well, I have been meaning to visit this center for over a week now and finally I found the time to do so. As I was wondering about the new signboard outside the building, I asked Mr. Osman. According to Mr. Osman (a member of the staff there), since George Town is now a designated UNESCO Historic City, it is compulsory for the city to have a center to co-ordinate programs, disseminate information and also being the base for everyone to converge regarding heritage issues.

Not that Penang Heritage Center or Penang Heritage Trust has not been doing most of the above but this new center title is a UNESCO requirement. However, the daily business of this office is still 100% controlled by the local people.

Tomorrow, there is an official opening scheduled by the Chief Minister and I was invited to attend the ceremony. I will report the event to you in due course.

Oh yes, I was glad also to hear that Mr. Osman told me many people called the center from the information they obtained from my Heritage City Website. They got the phone number from the page I made a few months back. They also specifically asked for Mr. Osman by name. This shows that the Penang Heritage City web site is a really effective one in promoting heritage issues in Penang.

I enjoyed the free shuttle bus ride. In order to go to this office, take the MPPP Free CAT bus from KOMTAR and stop at Carnarvon Street bus stop. Cross the road, you will see the building.

Penang Heritage Center is now World Heritage Office

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Penang beaches

Today being Sunday, I decided to leave my cellphone and my computer for half a day. We went to the beach by bus. Took 101 RapidPenang bus from KOMTAR to Batu Ferringhi at only RM2.00/adult. Actually you can get a good view from the bus as it is higher up than most vehicles on the road. The winding road shows off the horizon beautifully.

What I did not like to see was some parts of the hills were being cut off drastically to build high-end real estate. Now, the rule is that no one can develop anything above 200 feet above sea level. However, money talks, greasing the palms of some officials can take you quite far.

The kids had a good time as always at the beach. They spent hours swimming, playing around, collecting shells and just being children. We are lucky to live where we can easily go to the beach for a swim at anytime we want.

It had been raining for the last few days and there was a lot of debris in the water. This did not dampen the fun in the least. I have a lot of experience with handling young children while traveling. You can read my story here when we went to Pangkor three years back.

Other than Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah and also Teluk Bahang are the famous beaches in Penang. These beaches have a big concentration of touristy hotels as well as high end property. A lot of expatriates make these beaches their homes.

There are a few other beaches which are rarely mentioned: those at Penang National Park in the area of Teluk Bahang. Pantai Kerachut and Pantai Ai Ling are some of the better beaches here.

These Penang beaches are not that far from George Town, they are part of Nature Heritage of the island.

Now that you know about them, why not go and take a day off to discover these hidden gems?

Have fun in the sun at Penang beaches.

Penang National Park
Pangkor vacation with children
Retire in Penang by owning real estate here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shop Houses in Penang

There are over 2000 units of shophouses in George Town alone. The style ranges from early shophouses to modern. My favorite style is easily "art deco", which was all the rage in the 1920's up to the 1950's.

Features of an art deco building includes: clean vertical lines, a flag pole, free of clutter of any elaborate stucco work like eclectic style of the previous era. It is easy to clean and maintain. Some have Shanghai plaster finish on the exterior wall instead of painted plaster finish. Colored glass windows are dominant.

Shop houses in Penang are being used as private homes, shops and also restaurants. Some are very well maintained and such a delight to look at. Shop houses have air wells, which are indoor courtyards to let air flow naturally. This helped to disperse heat build up before air-conditioning was invented.

A lot of these shophouses are sadly in such a bad state and need extensive repair. Since most of them are privately owned, the local council cannot do much to enforce the owner from leaving their property in ruin. On the other hand, there are also council's property which are not properly managed as it involves a lot of politics to get anything done quickly.

Shop houses in Penang
Glossary of shop houses features

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Silambam stick fighting martial art in Penang

What do I know about silambam stick fighting martial art? Basically nothing except that it is an art form using a stick for self defense. I am so ignorant that I first thought that "Kolattam", which is a performance using sticks and drum and guided by a leader with whistle is actually a form of Silambam.

Kolattam is a dance performance during special festivals, we see it a lot during street festivals and also at Indian temples during special ceremonies.

All these confusion was dispelled when I attended a Silambam Nilaikalakki training at Taman Tun Sardon in Gelugor tonight. Master Anbananthan explained to me in brief what actually silambam is. It is not to be confused with other martial arts, it is pure in itself and very original. It is an art, not a sport.

I will make time to study this art in more details by observing more sessions like this.

A good web site about Silambam Nilaikalakki
done by a student of Master Anbananthan

More about street festivals in Penang

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Events at PISA and around Penang

PISA (Penang International Sports Arena) is a venue for holdings events in Penang; be it concerts, food expo, PC Fair, political rally. It has a separate Water Sports Complex too; an Olympic standard lap pool and also a diving pool.

Last weekend,PISA played host for the quarterly PC Fair organized by PIKOM. The crowd was maddening. I braved through it to look if I could get a better deal from another ISP.

It was like a crazy auction house, too many "special offers", too many promoters, too many people jostling for the best deals. Some booths even have girls wearing skimpy anime style costume to attract customers.

It was sheer madness. I do not think I will go for another PC Fair again.

By the way, last month's International Food fair by FoodEx was another experience. It was quite pleasant. A lot of variety of food, from around the states in Malaysia and also neighboring countries like Thailand. Tables were scattered under the shades of the trees in the compound. It was a nice event.

Speaking of events, on 25th April this Saturday night from 6-11 pm, do not miss Vasakhi festival at Fort Cornwallis. It is a Sikh religious festivals. There will be ethnic Sikh food and also traditional entertainment.

See you there!

Calendar of Events in Penang 2009
Religious Festivals in Penang

Monday, April 20, 2009

World Heritage Office at Carnarvon Street

A few days ago I mentioned that Penang Heritage Center signboard had been taken down. Today I saw a new sign at the building. It now says: "World Heritage Office" -- Pejabat Warisan Dunia.

I made a mental note to actually visit the place myself to see what the new title means, who are working there, etc, etc. The center is located at the corner between Acheen Street and Carnarvon Street.

Carnarvon Street is a busy place. This is where you will find old stationery and book stores, art supply shops, baking supply shops, nice kopi tiams and even shops to prepare for a traditional Chinese funeral.

A few weeks before Ching Ming, the rows of shops here sell many items for prayers made of paper. A majority of Chinese here are Taoists, and according to their religion, during the ten days of Ching Ming period, ancestor worships have to be properly carried out. They will visit the graves, cleaning them and offering many items such as food and also mock worldly goods made of paper. The date is set on 5th April annually but the worshipers have the option to make the trip within 10 days of the actual date.

Anyway, Johanna is going to have some extra activities at school and I will have the time to visit the former PHC tomorrow. Will keep you posted.

Public transportation in Penang

Public transportation in Penang now has improved quite a lot since the introduction of RapidPenang bus in middle 2007. It is a local bus service that covers almost the whole island and also part of Seberang Prai.

I am a regular user of this service. Since I live very near to Sungai Nibong bus terminal, I have the advantage of being in the main route from the airport to George Town. I prefer to take 401A (Airport-Jetty-Airport) and 401 (Balik Pulau-Jetty-Balik Pulau).

It is also affordable, only RM1.50 for an adult from the Jetty to Sungai Nibong bus terminal but sometimes they charge RM2.00 for foreigners. Compare that to RM25.00 that a taxi would charge you for the same distance.

The buses are usually in good condition and the drivers are mostly pretty safe drivers (there are some exceptions though). Trust me, since I use these buses on weekdays to fetch my daughter from school daily. I know.

The other alternative for the bus is Milan (also runs in the same routes), the yellow rickety buses. I cannot say that the service is 100% bad because there are some decent drivers here too. Especially the older ones who are more responsible and run the buses more or less on schedule. If RapidPenang is not available, I will take Milan, but only those with open air windows. The closed ones have almost non-existence air-conditioning and you would be cooked raw in our hot Penang air.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Street of Harmony

It is no longer a secret that when UNESCO sent its representatives to see whether George Town deserves the Historic City title, beside the old buildings and architecture, the delegates loved the Street of Harmony.

What is the Street of Harmony? Basically it is Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, a stretch of about 2 km that starts from Kapitan Keling Mosque to St George's Church. In this street, four major religions have their houses of worship practically next door to each other in harmony. All the more so, it is one of the oldest streets in Penang and has been the venue for many street processions.

I recently got an email from a reader of my web site: Why there is no extensive report yet about Sri Maha Mariamman temple in that street? So I answered: the web site is still a work in progress. I am in the process of collecting enough information to build the pages relating to this historic building.

By the way, I participated in Thaipusam procession this year for two days. I saw so many things that I had never seen before. The report is also still being compiled, together with tonnes of photos.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pulau Jerejak as a heritage site?

This island on the east side of Penang is the longest island around the area. It is shaped like a tear drop and is only about one nautical mile from the east beach of Penang near Queensbay. It got its name from a convicts' jail and a leper colony which were housed there (at different locations).

Jerejak literally means "iron grille".

Despite its not so glorious past, you should be thankful that after the last convict and leper being shipped out, the island was left as it was for many years. Tropical jungle and wild animals, especially sea eagles and birds flourish.

Now, however, it is sad to see that even from Penang, one can see that the northern hill slope of the island is being denuded. I heard that they are building a water reservoir at the peak.

Why is this necessary? It is pretty near to Penang itself. Wouldn't across-the-channel piping be sufficient enough to supply the island with water? What kind of asylum this time that the authorities are planning to build?

I feel really disappointed. After all, having lived here almost my life, the island has been very special. it is big, solid and beautiful. Old pre-war buildings left behind sadly were being looted for precious scrap metals. Erosion caused by the construction of the new water reservoir results in untold damage to the jungle and also marine life.

This island should be gazetted as a National Park as part of our heritage. If the people who are in charge think about the future, instead of their own pocket, we can hope that the fate of Pulau Jerejak will not fall victim again so that only selected few can have their golf courses or their marina there.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Roti benggali and Mamak roti

People in Penang are familiar with the scenario of an Indian bread man peddling his bread and homemade kaya for as long as we can remember. This is another reason why food in Penang is so unique.

They usually come out about 5 p.m. till 7.30 p.m. announcing their arrival with the sound of "ting ting" made with knocking a piece of metal against a makeshift inverted metal bell.

This is where you get roti benggali, white bread with thick brown crust. The inside of the bread is pure white and fluffy like cotton. We eat it by dipping it in thick spicy soup, chicken curry or using a spread mix of butter and kaya.

Reputedly, there are only two traditional style Indian bakeries still doing it this way; one is at Transfer Road (Victor's Bakery)and the other one is at the junction near Dato' Keramat Police station.

All mamak rotis get their roti benggali supply from these two places. If you find it difficult to get it, a visit to a Pelita Nasi Kandar chain in later afternoon will not disappoint you. Roti benggali is served there with many kinds of thick spicy soup.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Heritage Trail in George Town, Penang by bus.

Starting from 1st Feb 09, there is a new shuttle bus service that runs through major attractions in the city center. It is run by MPPP City Council and the local bus RapidPenang.

The route takes about 25 minutes to complete and two main stations are at Weld Quay ferry terminal and KOMTAR.

How do you know if the bus stop is part of the route? Simply look for the signboard installed and also on the tarmac marked as "SHUTTLE"

Locals as well as tourists take advantage of this service. It is enjoyable besides being free.

Along the way, you will be able to see the Esplanade, the Court House, the Museum,
Street of Harmony and also Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower.

So, look for the bus marked with MPPP Free CAT. CAT means Central Area Transit, and Hop on for Free!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Malay customs and culture in Malaysia.

In Malaysia, the Malays are the majority race. In each of 13 states, the customs somewhat differ from place to place. However, some of them have common grounds; like shaving baby's head ceremony and circumcision ceremony.

In Negeri Sembilan for example, a lot of rituals are influenced by Minang customs, the Minangkabau clan who came from Sumatra dominate this state. In Penang instead, some practise are mixed with Hindu beliefs because of inter-racial marriages that occur within the people here.

Malay customs in the northern part of Kedah and Perak, for example, have a lot of Thai influence.

So you can say that there is no one true Malay customs to be followed. It is up to the individual to practice it the way that he finds most convenient, depending on the location and also surrounding people.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Penang Heritage Center moved?

Everyday, I pass through Carnarvon Street to pick up my daughter from school. This week I notice the sign board for Penang Heritage Center has been taken down. I have to go and investigate what is going on.

Now there is a small sign saying Penang Tourism Information Center instead.

Hmm.. I know that the building that houses the center does not belong to the government but instead being given to the public for use by the owner.

I will let you know soon. Hopefully tomorrow I can find out the details.

Wedding photography contest

What could be more romantic than getting married or later on having your honeymoon in a historic city? Think Venice and Paris, and most brides would go oooh and aah!

What about George Town? The romance of the place beckons.

Last weekend (April 11-12 09), a photography competition was held at a few places at the city center including Beach Street and also at Fort Cornwallis. The subjects were brides in wedding dresses, with the historical landmarks in the background.

I am sure the event is a good platform for many amateur photographers to sharpen their skills.

Initially, heavy downpour over last week made many people anxious, alas, Saturday and Sunday mornings were bright and sunny that everything went smoothly as planned.

Here is a result of the shooting session done by Jeff Ooi, Jelutong MP at Fort Cornwallis.

Preservation of heritage buildings.

If you look at Cheong Fatt Tze mansion, you will see a very fine example of preservation effort. The team which did the work tried very hard to emulate building techniques that were used 100 years ago.

Old materials were recycled, authentic organic paint was sourced out and even some of the artisans were imported from China to rebuild the Blue Mansion ruin.

This resulted in first grade restoration which won numerous awards. The building is now part boutique hotel, part museum and also a perfect venue to hold theme events for a small group of people.

Spend some time to see a bit of history about this mansion.