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Penang heritage city

Georgetown World Heritage city


The UNESCO has decided to ad Penang, or better, George Town on the world heritage list. Obviously, Penang Heritage City, as it from now on will be known had to celebrate it with a big party. The celebrations were hold on 25th, 26th and the 27th of July 2008. We from Pulau-Pangkor.com were present to see what was happening.

George Town World Heritage

All over the Georgetown city center activities were organized. Chinese temples had their door wide open and at some temples you could enjoy Chinese Opera and lion dances. In Little India, Indians performed some amazing sticks dancing on the rhythms of tablas and other instruments. In front of the Islamic Museum, a group of Malay musicians were performing mellow Malay songs in traditional style.

And I have to admit, it was quite a party. It will be even more interesting to live in Penang. Due to time pressure I have not been able to see everything there was to be seen but some things I would like to show on this page:

  • Sun Yat Sen's headquarters in Malaysia
  • The Islamic Museum
  • Nyonya dancing
  • Lion dance at the Yap Temple

Sun Yat Sen's Headquarter

I am not an expert on the Malaysian history, and I do only know a little about Penang. Sun Yat Sen is considered to be the father of modern China and played an important role in the collapse of the Qing Dynasty. Dr. Sun Yat Sen used the house in Penang as a headquarter to raise funds for the war in China. Much of that money came from overseas Chinese people.

The house is not always to be visited and if it is open, there's a RM 3 entry fee. But it IS a fascinating place. The caretaker told me an interesting little thing. The house was strategically chosen with an exit at the back of the house. In case of a raid, Sun Yat Sen would be able to escape.

Sun Yat Sens house Penang
Inside Sun Yat Sen's house, precious antique woodwork

Inside the house there's plenty of books, photos and excellent woodcraft to be seen. Special for the occasion, a selection of books about Sun Yat Sen and the history of Penang were displayed.

The house is located a few doors from the Islamic Museum in the heart of the Armenian Quarter (behind the Penang Heritage Center). Worth a visit.

The Islamic Museum

The Islamic Museum had in front of the main entrance a Malay band playing traditional Malay music. It sounded mellow and very good. The museum itself has a good collection of the Islamic heritage in Malaysian and Penang. The museum is a mansion build in 1860 by the famous spice trader Syed Al-Attas.

The museum has a good collection of Korans, Malay clothes, weaponry and other artifacts showing the life of the Malays through history. Particularly interesting is the market stall at the first floor. It could have taken from the live markets at Air Itam. Lion Dance Yap Temple

Close to the Islamic Museum is the Penang Heritage Center, a government organization active in the Malay heritage in Penang. See our Penang Heritage page for details.

Lion dance at the Yap Temple

Lion dances are often seen in Penang. With a big Chinese population it's not surprising. For the festivities, young kids were performing in front of the Yap Temple in the Armenian Quarter a few lion dances. Maybe not the best quality dances but good fun and an example of how Lion dancing is taught at young age.

Later in the evening more lion dancing continued in a procession to the Town Hall field. This time older people were performing and that was quite clear. That said, I have nothing but respect for ANYONE who performs with such a heavy mask (try to feel how heavy it is, the next time you are in Penang and see a lion dance).

Nyonya and Indian dancing

Nyonya DancingSunday afternoon was a good day to see what Penang does for it's tourist industry. At Little Penang Street, there were several performances of Nyonya and Indian dancing. Being a Dutch man, the Nyonya dancing reminded me of the traditional Indonesian dancing I had often witnessed in the Netherlands. The slow gracious moving of the ladies in traditional Nyonya dresses is an dying art.

A local performer sang some traditional Chinese and Malay songs before students of the art academy showed their talents in Indian dancing.

All this was set up basically for tourists, with stalls selling sweets, drinks and other local produced food. Little Penang Street is every Sunday open and offers a glimpse of Penang long and rich cultural background.

Wandering through Penang, especially the old Armenian Quarter is almost like a time machine. It's not for nothing with UNESCO has declared Penang Heritage City, here you can see some of the grandeur of Penangs past, the past of the 5 Chinese Clans and their temples, the grandeur of the Malay traders. What always fascinated me in Georgetown is Little India. It is indeed a Little India with it's typical Indian shops, Indian temples and hawkers with the sounds of Indian music and smells around you.

Malay musicians in front of the Islamic Museum
Malay musicians in front of the Islamic Museum

During the days of the official opening of Penang Heritage City, I enjoyed all of what I saw. And the Saturday was closed with an event at the field in front of Town Hall and closed with a big firework. Now it's time to preserve more of Penang's glorious history and rebuild/renovate the culture of Malaysia's most spectacular island.

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