Thursday, August 02, 2018

Young Old Penang

Our family just spent several very enjoyable days in Penang, Malaysia.  We have heard that Georgetown, the largest city in Penang was built by the British, and that Penang has a large Chinese population among Malays and Indians.  We are still pleasantly surprised by how well the heritage has been preserved. 

Georgetown was built by the British in 1786 to control the trade through the Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Sumatra of Indonesia.  So it is only 200+ years old, relatively young by world history standards.  Unlike cities like Hong Kong, however, it does try hard to preserve and revitalise the historical character of the city.  

We stay at a hotel converted from a row of shop houses.  It has very high ceilings and pleasant heritage furnishings.  Very comfortable and right at the edge of the old city.  

Opposite from the hotel is an old cinema with a familiar name, which seems to be used as a venue for parties these days.  

We took our first meal at a popular restaurant covered from an old gold jewellery shop. 

There are many temples, worshipping gods that we are familiar with.  

Apparently the Chinese have been coming to Malaysia, Penang specifically, for hundreds of years.  

They brought with them food, clothing, customs and gods.  

There are many ancestral halls worshipping the ancestors who have contributed to the prosperity of the clans.  

Just like those in Hong Kong and China. 

There are clan halls for gathering and accommodation of members of the clan who come to this part of the world to work, trade, … from China.  

There are schools for the education of the children of the clan, no doubt in the study of Chinese classics.  

There is another hotel converted from an old medicine shop.

I understand 70% of the population has Chinese heritage.  Many people speak Mandarin, Hokien, Hakka, Cantonese, etc.  

Penang is not very old.  Yet it preserves its heritage very well.  All these gives Penang a very distinctive and interesting character.  

There are, of course, also sizeable and distinct communities of Malays and Indians.  I understand that at other cities and states, there are similar communities with different sizes and proportions.  I keep wondering what is the meaning of a nation (and nationalism) with such multi-cultural compositions.  

1 comment:

YTSL said...

Hi Stephen --

I'm glad you had a pleasant time visiting my old hometown!

With regards to your musings about how people can have a sense of nationhood and nationalism in a multi-cultural society: I admit that things can get complicated -- and especially when you consider that there are intra-ethnicities within the larger "Chinese", "Malay" and "Indians" groupings (e.g., Hokkien, Baba Nonya, Cantonese, Hakka, Khek, Tamils, Bengalis, Sikhs, Indian Muslims, Sumatrans, Javanese, Mandaling, etc.). But if you grow up in a multi-cultural millieu not super dominated numerically by one group, I think it may actually be easier for everyone to feel like they belong...