Old Penang: Magazine Circus (updated)

Old Penang: Magazine Circus (updated)

This was a unique roundabout in Penang, the intersection of six different roads – one of the ‘happening’ areas of old George Town.

Magazine Road tram
The Magazine Circus area with a view of probably Gladstone Road and Magazine Road in the background before 1930 (click to enlarge) - Photograph from Ric Francis, also published in his book Penang Trams, Trolleybuses and Railways

Magazine Station
The trams at Magazine Station circa 1908 (click to enlarge) - Photograph from Ric Francis, also published in his book Penang Trams, Trolleybuses and Railways

By the way, congrats to Ric for his book being selected among the “50 Best Malaysian Titles for International Rights 2011”. (See the Yusof Gajah Literary Agency website for the full list. Two other books on the heritage of Penang – ‘Heritage Trees of Penang’ and ‘Penang Through Gilded Doors’ – are also among the 50.)

The coffee-stall at the junction of Dato Keramat Road and Macalister Road before 1930 - Photograph from Ric Francis, also published in his book Penang Trams, Trolleybuses and Railways

Old Magazine Circus
A 360-degree view of old Magazine Circus in the 1960s (click to enlarge and then scroll from left to right) - Sketch: tunglang

Tunglang writes:

This is a 360-degree landscape view of Goh Pha Teng from the centre of the roundabout. Again this is my mind-recall illustration based on intimate experiences of my childhood days during the 1960s at Macalister Road.

The old Magazine Circus - Sketch: tunglang

Thanks to tunglang for these brilliant sketches (click on sketch for full-screen view). Here’s where Penang Road, Gladstone Road (disappeared under Komtar), Magazine Road, Brick Kiln Road, Dato Kramat Road and Macalister Road once met and whirled around in a delightful real-life merry-go-round, as ordinary people gathered and revelled in the evening air.

Unfortunately, the colourful character of the place was destroyed when the monstrosity Komtar was built in the 1970s to fulfil some people’s fantasies of what an “international city” should look like.

Tunglang has also jotted down his recollections of the place:

As much as I would like to recall in greater, authentic details, I decided to make it without do of any picture reference or visual aid. If anyone can produce a picture of Goh Pha Teng, I would love to see how accurate my mental projection of the past is.

In the illustration, can you spot? –
Tan Tong Tong,
Sunday Indian Cowboy on bicycle,
Alleycat Arumugam,
Hatari’s mobile movie advertisement,
Ban Eng Hong Coffee Powder Peddler on tricycle,
Philip’s ‘Saluting Robot’ Ad on rooftop,
Food triangle sandwiched between Gladstone Rd (now under Komtar) and Magazine Rd,
Canto-Chinese Sifu/Medicine Man with stunt display at open-air parade ‘square’,
Night-time Waterhole/Open Air Cafe catering to ‘Ang Mohs’ and local beer guzzlers,
Magazine Road’s Best Street Hawker Endless Stalls venue,
and of course Craven A with its best selling Singapore Bee Hoon.

The huge roundabout. The inside was filled with well maintained evergreen grass which was my favourite evening playground and the outer ring was circled with an iron chain to protect the greenery and grasshoppers. The night ambience was illuminated by a ball-shaped lamp on top of a centre column much like Trafalgar Square’s Lord Nelson’s column but this one was only about eight feet high.

The Penang, Penang Lang Lah blog adds:

The Chinese also called Magazine Circus, Go-pha-teng(五葩燈)or go-kha-teng, which literally means 5 arms gaslamps, located at the Magazine Circus. It also called it Chhèng-ioh-keng(銃藥間), “cheng” means gun, “i-oh” means powdery substance, “keng” means an enclosed room in the building; chheng-ioh-keng means Gunpowder store or armory. I suspected the gunpowder depot was located at the place where Magazine Circus stood. This was the area where there was convict prisoners and warden presence, and their daily food were met by the Indian Muslim food sellers, which resulted in the origination of Penang famous Nasi Kandar. Magazine depot – convict prisoners – Nasi Kandar; an early food history for Nasi Kandar….

I have been trying to locate an old photo of this roundabout. If anyone has one, we would love to see it. Do send it in by clicking ‘Submit photos’ at the menu on top.

41 COMMENTS

  1. Anil, something fantastic was built in front of Air Itam Anti War Memorial. Go and have a look. It is a sculpture in cast iron, I supposed, as I caught a glimpse of it this evening while driving by.
    This revives my interest for cast iron sculptures of old world charm lifestyle in inner city George Town. Imagine having a sculpture of bullock cart transporting water in front of Rex Theatre, Burmah Road, reminiscing the name Chia Chui Lor for water cart transportation in the old days.

     
  2. Star paper now follows Anil’s inclination towards glorious past heritage accounts by articles on Campbell Street yesterday & today.

    Sources told me next article probably on Old Tram in inner penang.

    Ric Francis & tunglang can jump into the bandwagon ahead of The Star by a follow-up story …..

    also no one has written about the Italian who venture into Campbell St to set up the so-called most authentic Italian dish in Penang …. about time Anil explore this interesting story on how Mat Salleh can treasure heritage Penang more than the locals ……

     
  3. Tunglang, The middle Station is still in tact, With a old train stationed at the platform. Another is stationed on the old loop up the Hill. But sad to say the top station has all gone to scrap ( Bl..DY same )
    Hope fully that my book on Hill Railway History will be out in the neer future
    I have worked hard to record all I could find.
    Ric

     
  4. My experience was as a young Australian soldier in late 50s spending time on R& R was at a few well known places like the dances and taxi girls we danced with the Boston oh what a place Craven A for food Hong Kong bar for a drink or two to many
    Now you say thats why I had to write a number of books on Penang.
    My latest still to hit the street from the press Penang Hill
    More photo soon
    Ric

     
    • Ric, I just loved your Pg Trams, Trolley Buses & Railways book which I bought a few years ago.
      Wondering what has happened to the Pg Hill Railway’s cable-pulling machineries made in England. Wished something has been done to prevent this tin can fridge (proned to strays dogs) from being forced-installed replacing the earlier iconic train.
      How about an R & R pictorial social lifestyle memoir of 50’s & 60’s Penang for us Penangites?

       
    • What a great song fitting to my cherished dream of running an old folks home at seaside Tanjung Bungah called the Shake Legs Home! Here, old folks can cherish old memories while gazing out to sea comes sunrise or sunset while shaking one of their legs sipping tea or coffee.

       
  5. I am 54 now. I spent the first 45 years of my life around this area.
    My house was at Prangin Road. Had to move out because of the repeal of the Rent Control Act. How I love the neighbourhood. If I remember correctly , there was a pet shop at the corner of Gladstone Road. That was about all I remember of Gladstone Road. My ole memory is failing me. I would greatly appreciate it if anyone has any old photos of that area. Thanks

     
    • Yes, there was a pet shop at the end of Gladstone Road (Magazine Circus end) along with the other hawkers stalls and on the opposite side was about 4 shoplots, one of which was a popular clinic which my parents used to take me there when I was sick.

       
    • Actually, there were 2 pet shops, one at each end of Gladstone Road.
      The earlier one was next to the food court facing the Goh Pha Teng roundabout. It was from this pet shop of aquarium fishes that ‘supplied’ free Peacock fishes (which managed to escape) into the monsoon drains. That’s how I loved to ‘fish’ for these colorful fishes in the drain (during high tides) in front of my father’s shophouse using a dust pan.
      The other pet shop of birds and fishes at the other end facing Sia Boay was a favorite betting spot for Siamese fighting fishes. Here, hobbyists could get loser fighting fishes for less than a dollar each!
      To me Gladstone Road was a safe shortcut road to Sia Boay and Carnarvon Street. And a quiet and less traffic road to enjoy.
      During the 60’s racial clashes and election fever, Gladstone Road was a direct view (for Macalister Road residents) to the ‘hot’ happenings of election flags (on the Sia Boay roundabout) and clashes with FRUs during broad daylight and curfews.
      Goh Pha Teng roundabout though decked with election flags was a ‘tame’ place without much incident except for the firing of a gun flare in front of Craven A by a dissident which started a curfew the next day (To us playful kids, curfews meant automatic holidays from dreaded school!)

       
  6. Today 17 oct 2011 The Star on its northern supplement carries a story on the the fading glory of Campbell Street of Penang.

    Look like The Star is learning from Anil to capitalize on old nosltagic place to sell story?

     
    • mainstream press should learn from bloggers to write honest and truthful news, not government propaganda. Otherwise their sales will continue to nosedive. Anil Netto can be a consultant for The Star or NST.

       
  7. In the 1960s – some where hidden in my memory, is a huge electric signboard. I recall a man hammering something. It was a Labour Brand Cooking Oil advertisement.
    Always thought that it was somewhere around this Simpang Enam. Anyone recall this Signboard?

     
  8. This junction holds a lot of memories for me as true-blue Macalister Road kid of the 60’s & 70’s. Ric Francis’ picture shows some buildings still in existence till today. The row of 4 double-storey buildings to the left along Dato Kramat (after Craven A) held a kambing abattoir, a Malay bookshop and a clock repair shop. Immediately after, they built a 3-4 storey block replacing the fenced up bungalow?
    The row of shophouses to the right along Macalister Road held a coffee powder shop (Ban Eng Hong), Indian barber shop (later a dhobi shop), Nyonya wedding gown rental shop, mamak kopitiam, Chuan Lok Hooi chinese restaurant, sundry shop, kopitiam, Indian roti bakery and a roadside sundry and tikam stall.
    Night time was quiet except for the occasional blaring of Indian classic music from the kambing abattoir’s kulis quarters (from India) some of whom worked in Craven A. From the back room of my father’s shophouse, I could see the multi-layers of towels and sarongs hanging upstairs from the high ceiling. Their noisy ‘habits’ reminded me of the typical Indian Bollywood of the early 70’s and the spitting of red chewings on walls and monsoon drains with random ‘P-tui’ firing.

     
  9. Thanks for rekindling my fond memory of Penang, with Magazine Circus where I spent a better part of my childhood. Though I am far from Penang now, the postings did a wonderful nostalgic refresh of scenes and things that I did in those innocent years.

     
  10. I remember in 1965 at the roundabout there was a demonstration organized by th Labour Party near the roundabout over the estb of the US R & R center in the International Hotel in Pg road.

    I was on a bus stucked at the roundabout & got a taste oratear gas that wafted into the bus. I was just a 11 year old kid going to afternoon school.

     
  11. I do recall the Penang Road magazine Road junction. Yes there were a couple of names like WingLi, Ngee Fah Gramaphone and then the Fire Station.
    Somewhere from Magazine Road to Prangin Road market, I recall Salted fish being dried in the open, (hated the smell, that’s why still in my memory) but I can’t put my finger on the exact spot

     
  12. Sigh… somebody hijacked my pen-name ‘statistician’ in M’siaInsider’s ‘Namewee supports 1M’ – Urgh…. from now on, I will not express my opinions in the name of “statistician” otherwise everybody would think that I am weakling kookoo flipflopper ” on my principles “.

    Shucks!

     
    • Same here. That’s why there’s an I after my name, like in Edward II, George IV. Prince Andrew is even further down the line from the throne, so using this ‘domain’ is still ok.

      Anyway, the saluting ultraman was a feature that my father never failed to point out to me on our drives to no where with me standing at the back. Yes, the car could actually be used then. Now that people mention the empty field where Gama stands, I remember the cinema billboards.

       
  13. for out of town folks to understand the street lingo of heritage penang :

    JALAN MACALISTER 中路
    JALAN MAGAZINE 頭條路、五葩燈 、槍藥間、六叉路
    JALAN C.Y. CHOY 過港仔(崔耀才路)、枋廊、聖王廟路
    JALAN CLOVE HALL 頭條暗路
    JALAN DATO KERAMAT 柑仔園路
    JALAN PENANG 檳榔律、吊人街、舊骹拘、吊橋頭、
    JALAN PERAK 大路後、霹靂路
    LEBUH ACHEH 打石街
    LEBUH ARMENIAN 打銅仔街 / 建原街
    LEBUH AH QUEE 阿貴街
    LEBUH BISHOP 漆木街、順德公司街、柴工街
    LEBUH BRICK KLIN(JALAN GUDWARA) 風車路(古瓦拉路)
    LEBUH BUCKINGHAM 新街頭
    LEBUH CANNON 大同巷、大流街、大槍空
    LEBUH CARNARVON 沓田仔街、十間厝、四角井
    LEBUH CECIL 七條路
    LEBUH CHULIA 牛干冬
    LEBUH CINA 大街
    LEBUH CINTRA 日本橫街、拍袍街
    LEBUH FAQUAHAR 華蓋街
    LEBUH GEREJA 義興街
    LEBUH KATZ 六條路
    LEBUH KENG KWEE 景貴街
    LEBUH KIMBERLY 汕頭街
    LEBUH KING 大伯公街
    LEBUH LEITH 蓮花河
    LEBUH LIGHT 萊特街
    LEBUH MACALLUM 五條路
    LEBUH MARKET 馬吉街
    LEBUH MCNAIR 過港仔橫街
    LEBUH MELAKA 馬六甲街
    LEBUH MELAYU 台牛後
    LEBUH MUNTRI 南華醫院街、新海南公司街
    LEBUH NOORDIN 二條路
    LEBUH PANTAI 社尾街、打鐵街、緞羅申街、中街、土庫街
    LEBUH PENANG 唐人街、
    LEBUH PITT(JALAN MASJID KAPITAN KLING) 椰腳街(甲必丹吉寧回教堂路)
    LEBUH PRESGRAVE 三條路
    LEBUH QUEEN 吉寧街、十二間、舊和合社街

     
    • Can we have the Chinese name in Romanised english like tiong Lor for Macalister Rd
      The Magazine Circus Police Station was where Gama is and there was a vacant land opposite Komtar where Circuses were erected as I used to go there as a young boy.There were no buildings where Howe Chiang Pharmacy block stands

       
  14. Now we know why Senior folks in Penang like the currently popular Taiwan hokkien show 夜市人生 showing on Hua hee Tai (Astro) because the nite market scenes there remind us of OLD PENANG stolen away with time & poor management !

     
    • ‘Life of Night Market’ is a huge hit on Hua Hee Dai (Astro 333), following the success of ‘Love’. Even non-Chinese are subscribing to this Hokkien channel to watch those Taiwan melodramas.

      TVB Hong Kong (major TV station and producer of those cntonese drama series since 1967) is losing its core artists after Hong Kong authority granted liscence to 2 new free-to-air stations who are poaching the artists with better payroll and perks.

       
  15. now we know beautiful colonial-designed road system being taken away by past administrators; creating monster-like lack-soul eg octopus pedestrian overhead that removed the vibrant “chi” energy vital for heritage sustainability !
    tunglang in 3 years times after retirement (unless official retirement age being extended by gomen) can have new career as artist at heritage penang; and he can draw up his vision of penang street food museum ???

     
  16. Good drawing but two major flaws, one road missing Brick Kiln Road ( there were actually 6 roads going to the roundabout :- Dato Kramat, Mcalister Rd, Pg Rd, Gladstone Rd, Magazine Rd, and Brick Kiln Rd.

    2nd error is that the place which the present Gama Dept Store was an empty fenced up ground.

    The building that was at the corner of Penang Rd & Gladstone Rd had a rounded front facing the roundabout. I know it well because on the 1st floor was a record shop ( forget it’s name, maybe is Wingli).

     
    • Sptay, thanks for the comments.
      In fact I wanted to draw 2 illustrations, one from the Macalister Road view as the one above and another one with 360 degree horizontal view of the peripheral landscape as if one is looking from the centre of the roundabout.
      Also, I wanted to include the 3-4 cinema billboards at the open field junction between Brick Kiln Road and Dato Kramat Road (presently Gama Supermarket). But due to time-constrained quick sketching on the go on A4 size paper, and knowing Anil’s narrow column, I just (hack off) missed the landmark.
      Actually, I didn’t know this was convict prisoners area which could likely explain the numerous strange spiritual encounters I had as a young kid. Just imagine seeing a column of ‘half-zombie’ people, many with long pigtail hair walking straight into the hall clock at dusk as I was about to wake up from an afternoon siasta.

       
      • Don’t be put off by the narrow column. If you click on the picture, it pops out so you get a full-screen view.

         
    • A good sketch, thanks tunglang. I noticed one error. The neon sign of saluting robot on roof-top of the corner coffee shop in-between brick kiln road and magazine road was not of PHILIP brand but a MIDO brand watch ad.
      But somehow, I prefer the actual pics of these scenes which will very much bring back the old memories of the 60’s of Penang. Can you get the pics of old Penang scenes? Share with us if you could get hold of them. I’m willing to buy them if they are for sale.

       
      • Thanks, Choong for the pointer.
        My mind of 53 years has gone off tangent / focusing!
        All the while I thought it was Philip’s Ad.

        I wish I could lie down on Sigmund Freud’s couch, seif-hypnotize and regress to the 60’s and get my brain wired to a color inkjet printer and PRINT photos.
        I was just a kid and couldn’t afford a portable camera to record the happenings at Goh Pha Teng. The studio 4×5 camera with the exploding light bulb flash was all I associated with photography for family portraits.
        Anyone with 60’s Goh Pha Teng photos to share (and compare with my drawings)?
        It would be a wonderful to see how far I got off tangent!

         

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