Pukka Penang

George Town is all about colonial history and so I trotted around a few of the sights for you this morning. Let me say it was hot. The whole of Malaysia is in the grips of an heatwave caused they say by a lack of winds to form cloud. Temperatures are 5-8C above normal.

The Portuguese were first here but only used the place to pick up water on their way to Indonesia. Then a few British privateers ( pirates) who used it as a base to plunder ships and finally The East India Company. Captain Charles Light hoisted the Union Jack on August 11th 1786 and built fort Cornwallis in the following years and that is still here

Fort Cornwallis

I am standing in the moat to take the photo .

To build the town Light needed to clear the area of jungle. He used the cannon you see in the photo to fire silver coins into the jungle. To find them the sepoys had to clear the area and so the job was achieved with little fuss. Light died of malaria  and is burried in the protestant cemetery along side hundreds of other Brits who came out here and died of the various tropical deceases. Whole families perished over a few years. These were hardship postings without a doubt.

In 1805 Penang was elevated to the status of Residency and Stamford Raffles arrived. Regulars will know we stayed at his hotel just recently !!

With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 Penang took off and being a duty free port it became a real crossroads for trade. With wealth came more traders and the place was a real hooch pot of nationalities. The street names today reflect that. Burma Road, Siam Road, Katz Street, Armenian Road  etc. The British running the place did well and as always built some impressive places from which to govern the place.

The town hall of course

Town Hall Geaorge Town Penang

The city hall , though quite why they needed both I have no idea but hey when the money is slushing around why not spend it. What is that line from Hello Dolly ”  Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.” City Hall George Town Penang

It is great to see that some of the other buildings are now being renovated rather than knocked down. This is a massive project

Renovation George Town Penang

would that the British government would be as caring when building stuff here. This is their contribution to the classic architecture of George Town

British Council Penang

Oh dear a glass and steel box. Well done H.M. Gov.

In 1897 to commemorate the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign millionaire businessman Cheah Chen Eok started to build a clock tower . Unfortunately by the time he had finished it in 1903 the dear old girl had popped her clogs and gone to that great palace in the sky. It is still  here and I got a shot of it

Clock Tower George Town Penang

Mind you it isn’t just the more recent British governments that can muck things up. For reasons best known to themselves the local council a few years ago decided to match the clock tower with what looks like an Easter egg on the roundabout

Clock Tower and Egg

Hmm,. The other shame has been that since 1975 when I first came here most of the old colonial houses have disappeared under the builders sledge hammers . Few are left and most are now offices

Old Colonial House George Town

40 years ago there were street after street of these lovely buildings but they had huge gardens as well and so were a natural for the hammer. The game was to buy one and then open it to the elements and let it almost fall down. Then have it designated as a danger and Bobs your uncle you could build your 45 story apartment block instead.  Clever these Chinese and the bribes were too good for the council I guess as well.

Anyway our history lesson is almost over. On Aug. 31st 1957 the party was over. Malaya became Malaysia and the Brits upped sticks and came home to a pleasant little Edwardian number in Cheltenham or Tunbridge Wells where they could then plague the Times or Telegraph letter columns with missives on why they were disgruntled until they too died out.

We move from The Traders Hotel, George Town to the very much less salubrious surroundings of the Copthorne in Tanjung Bungah some 12 kms outside. So tonight is our last free flow of booze. from tomorrow we start paying for it. so i must get my skates on. we have battles to fight as the Club floor has lost it’s 12 British school teachers here for a conference on how Malaysia could show the Brits how to run schools and they have been replaced by 15 German engineers here to build a power plant. Something wrong here I think. Wouldn’t it have been nicer to have 15 British engineers. But that’s another story I’ve got to get to the wine bottle .

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Penang, Pearl of the Orient

Flew up yesterday afternoon to the Island of Penang on Air Asia. We left from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal at K.L. Airport. There is a new one due to be opened in early May and just as well. The old terminal was appalling yesterday, packed with Chinese New Year travellers ( they celebrate it for 15 days here) and unable to cope. The new terminal is already well delayed and the reports in the paper yesterday said that 65% of it didn’t conform to the basic Fire and Safety regulations here. The Minister stated that they would open it and figure it out later. So don’t light a cigarette if you get to use it when it opens.

No one seems to know why Penang island is called the pearl of the orient but today  a more appropriate name might be the bubble in the developers balance sheet. They have built on almost all the spare land and at night these huge high rises have not a single light on and are clearly empty. It is the same around K.L. as you fly out of the airport. acres and acres of housing without a single resident. When it will burst who knows but surely it must.

We are in Traders Hotel in George Town for 4 nights to have a look around the actual town before heading our to the coast for the long stay part of the trip.

So the pool

Swimming Pool Traders Penang

This is also the view from the bed chair so you are saved that photo. However thank god it is Chinese New Year ‘cos off to the right of this photo is this

Construction by Traders

There are three cranes around it and another building behind it going up. This week it is almost quiet but next week all hell will break lose again. On check in the receptionist proudly said “ah a pool view” and we thought wow. The room looks straight across at the building and you feel you could almost touch it. So from next week city view or nothing.

Given the cost of booze I booked a Club room here. They have a club lounge and free flow drinks 6 p.m. till 8 p.m. The plan was to drink heartily till eightish and then go out to eat thirst well quenched.  Looking at the price of a normal room we had to consume about £15 a night to make it up. An easy task I thought given the high prices.

Traders Club Lounge

This is part of the club area.

However I hadn’t really thought through a couple of key points. 1) that a few other like minded souls might have had the same clever idea and 2) that the Club also does food at that time and places it cunningly almost in front of the self service bar area

Traders Club Loube Bar

The jockeying for pole position as the bewitching hour approached in the club lounge should have worried  me more. It was a little like a sailing race start where you have to cross the line just as the gun sounds or you are either disqualified or at the back of the pack. Clearly others had been practicing their technique and timed their run to the food and booze better. We weren’t disqualified but we were way behind the others.

When I started as a sales Representative with British Airways my mentor told me the most dangerous time in the job was if you accidentally got between a group of travel agents and the free bar and buffet. You would he said be trampled to death.

Last night was as close as I have come to those days. The Chinese and Malays focused on the food and a large group of Brits on the booze. I am sorry to say the Brits would have given the Russians in Vietnam a good run for their money both in quantity drunk and their  physical size. It quickly became clear that the enjoyable part of the evening was not going to be trying to compete which was impossible but more watching the amazing amount of stuff being consumed and the tactics used to complete the task. Bottles of wine were going in just 3 glassfuls and the game was to get the staff to bring more to you not to others. Charm tactics for some, aggressively bashing the empty bottle on the door on the staff kitchen door for others. Bottles of gin, bottles of whiskey went like lightening followed by beer chasers, vodka shots and plate after plate of food. It was a feeding and drinking frenzy . We sat clutching our small Tiger beers lest someone thought they were spare and took them and watched in awe.

At two minutes to eight there was almost fighting as the final minutes ticked down till 6 staff fought their way out and emptied the fridges and shelves of what little remained. By 8.10 the place was empty and snores could be heard from the nearby rooms.

We went out to some stalls nearby to eat. I will talk more about the food in Penang which is superb on another post, last night 12 satay sticks for £1 followed by 2 huge plates o my favourite Penang food Kway Teow  ( a shrimp, egg, rice noodle and onion dish) for £2 and a large plate of spicy chicken legs for £1.30 filled us to the brim. Beer at the stalls is £3 for a large 660cl bottle so cheaper than K.L.

Here’s how to make Kway Teow