Thursday, December 8
Our day in Penang was a Stumble Upon Adventure day. The ship docked just a few minutes’ walk from the Georgetown Historic Town Centre, so we decided to take some maps and strike out on our own.
There were lots of points of interest on the maps, so we just had to get ourselves oriented on the streets and we’d be fine except…. A lot of the points of interest were vaguely indicated (they could be on one street or on the next one), and the maps differed in what points of interest were named.
Our first item of interest was the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower in the centre of a roundabout. We carefully crossed over several roads leading off the roundabout (reminding ourselves to look right first, then left!) and headed confidently down a main road beside a park.
Several taxi drivers offered their services and we politely declined. When we paused for a few minutes to consult the map, a taxi driver offered to drive us around for a couple of hours for a reasonable price. We were starting to feel the heat and humidity, but we still insisted that we wanted to be on foot. We bumped into some friends from the ship and decided to tour together. From that point on, no drivers bothered us.
We encountered a number of groups of school kids – some racing around on foot, some on bicycles, and others on a pedal machine that 4 people operate. These vehicles would be a challenge on the rough, narrow road surfaces where you have to dodge other vehicles and people! On foot was definitely the easiest way to get around!
We walked past the British era administration buildings (still in use) and then stumbled upon some Buddhist temples, mosques, Hindu temples in Little India, a Chinese clan house, a gold museum (which we didn’t visit), a batik museum (which we did visit), and a restaurant that served authentic Peranakan food (Peranakan means it’s from the Straits of Malacca area).
The Chinese clan house (“Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi”), was established by Chinese immigrants in the early 1800s. It was built by and for the Khoo clanspeople who had travelled from the Hokkien province of China to Penang as labourers and traders.
The complex consists of 4 rows of townhouses which form a square inside of which are the large multi-roomed clanhouse, a courtyard and an opera stage. The clanhouse and the opera stage are elaborately carved and painted. In addition to rooms that were probably used for social purposes, the clanhouse has several rooms on the upper floor with shrines to ancestors and tablets of ancestral records. The clanhouse was intended to provide a feeling of ‘home’ for the Khoo clanspeople but in the early part of the 20th century, things got a little shady, so they were disbanded by the 1950’s. This site received a UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2008.
Penang seems to have more than a dozen of these Chinese clan associations, each of which maintains a clan temple for worshipping their ancestors. Because of these records, some clans can clearly trace their lineage back 48 generations!!!
The Batik Painting Museum displayed a number of batik paintings in different styles. When we hear of batiks, we usually think of fabric designs. This museum focuses on the work of Teng, Dato’ and other Malaysian artists who tapped into the traditional batik techniques and then applied innovations to create wonderful pieces of art.
The final site we stumbled upon is referred to as the “Clan Jetties”. In the 1800’s, Chinese traders, fishermen and dock workers built houses on stilts over the water in the dock area, with wooden walkways joining the homes. Today, some of these jetties have shops at the front of the homes. A number of elderly people living in these homes were sitting in front of their homes to catch a cooling breeze. Lyle splurged in this market area and bought me two things: a stylish evening purse and an extremely light fabric hat that collapses like a Japanese fan! It’s much cooler than the Tilley type hat I have been wearing!!
Today, we realized that we could explore a city on our own. We really enjoyed being able to go through the museums and sites at our own pace and had fun darting around, spontaneously choosing to explore whatever tickled our fancy.