Pulau Pinang, Malaysia – The Pearl of the Orient, an Introduction

Reblogging this from my other blog The Heartlander Tourist.
Originally posted: 16 Dec 2013
Original content on this blog returns: 2 April 2018

I screwed up the reblogging so I’m just putting the text and pictures here with some updated videos, youtube has exploded since this post first came up and the number of high quality videos should be shown.

Food, Jimmy Choo, Street Art, Penang Bridge…

More food…

If Singapore is a food hub for variety then Penang is the food capital for quality. The island state in Malaysia is teeming with authentic and sincere local hawkers hawking their wares by the roadside.

The hallmark of a really great food culture is when even average stalls sell amazing food. Penang has that.

Penang is a charming place, where tradition melds with modernity and the pace of living is leisurely and calm. It is a city that has not yet been overtaken by the hustle and bustle that so commonly masquerades as life.

Like Singapore, Penang is a confluence 0f British, Chinese, Malay, and Indian influences. The former is a megacity trying to cling to the last vestiges of its heritage, the latter is a growing city still holding proudly its heritage.

Penang was originally a part of the state of Kedah until 1786, when it was leased to Captain Francis Light (representing the British government) after hammering out a deal for the British to protect the Sultan of Kedah from other princes. The first governoner, Charles Cornwallis did not agree to the deal, a fact Light conveniently forgot to mention. When the Sultans began to fight, the British soldiers, under Cornwallis refused to help. In 1790, an infuriated Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah sent an army to recapture to island but was rebuffed. That began the British colonialisation of the Malayan region that was to last until 1957 (The Malayan Federation became Malaysia in 1963, but UK was not part of the Federation by then, they were in Singapore, Saban and Sarawak till 1963).

In 2008 the capital of Penang, Georgetown (together with Melaka in Malacca state), were declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Since then, it has become an even more attractive tourist spot.

Pinang is the name of the areca/betel nut. The island is popular for the many areca nut trees, called Bing Lang (槟榔) in mandarin. While the British tried to change the name to Prince of Wales Island the nomenclature never caught on.

Penang is the only Chinese majority state in Malaysia and is one of the few that is run by the opposition, a fact that the proud residents never seem to let you forget. Politics seem woven into the fabric of daily life, with news stalls selling broadsheets that argue for almost every political party except the neutral non-partisan ground. Various political party offices can be spotted all round the town. In Malaysia the Chinese came mostly after British colonialisation to engage in trade while the Indians came over as government officials. Most of these peoples therefore reside in the urban centres, there are a higher proportion of Malays and other Indigenous peoples who stay in the kampongs.

With its semblance to Singapore, it is impossible to resist comparison.

While Singapore is infrastructurally more modern, Penang has so many beautiful lessons that we can learn from. In my book its all about heart. These people are proud of their state and very happy to give you hints and tips to explore the state on their local terms. Almost every local I met would strongly recommend that I visit some particular place (a Singaporean on the other hand might tell you that there is nothing to see on this island) or some particular tall. Some would go out of their way to help. Despite becoming in a city, the average Penangnite is very friendly and very much examples of the “gotong royong” and “kampung spirit”.

There is a charm to this island and its people that you will fall in love with.

Over the next few days, I will cover some of this beautiful island that the people call the Pearl of the Orient.

Cover Image Source


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