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.

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