I strolled around Market Street, Chulia Street and Jalan Kapitan Keling from 8.00pm and the place was bustling with activity.
Some quick impressions of the George Town World Heritage City Day celebrations:
Entire stretches of roads were closed to vehicles. But people didn’t seem to mind at all. They just soaked in the festive atmosphere along the streets. And they actually looked happier and more relaxed without the traffic around them.
Instead of businesses being affected, cafes, restaurants and shops in Little India and elsewhere were packing in the crowds, and their doors were kept open later later than usual.
I think it’s time we turned parts of George Town into pedestrian malls, closing off streets perhaps in the late evening. We could experiment doing this once a month and gauge public reaction. This could revitalise George Town at night more than any expensive project could. I am positive that shops and businesses will then be clamouring for the pedestrian mall pilot project to be extended and made more frequent, perhaps even permanent and covering a wide area. Let’s do this on a Sunday, once a month for a start, and take it from there.
The Han Jiang Ancestral Temple, managed by the Teow Chew Association, looked resplendent and brightly lit. A beaming Ch’ng Teng Liang, the secretary general of the association wearing a bright red batik shirt, hovered around the entrance, where crowds milled throughout the evening looking on at a variety of cultural performances.
The Temple had won a Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation in 2006, and it looked brighter than ever (more spotlights helped). Teng Liang said the association this time included performers to draw in the young, apart from impressive classical renditions including a mini-orchestra using traditional musical instruments. One of the energetic dances performances was by a group of Chinese youth strutting their stuff to Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’!
Over at the Kapitan Keling Mosque, I found a treasure trove of old photographs of Penang, some of which I hadn’t seen before, including photos of the old Barkath Stores. A pair of mannequins, one black and the other white, both decked in traditional Indian Muslim attire, seemed to be promoting a multi-cultural message.
At the entrance to the mosque was Kamarudin Abdullah, the president of the Islamic Propagation Society International Malaysia, who enthusiastically welcomed visitors to the mosque. “Please tell people we are open to the public not just today, but everyday. Somehow most people are not aware of this,” he told me.
A couple of Christian friends I met outside remarked that the dress code for females entering the mosque seemed more relaxed than St Peter’s in the Vatican!
On the whole it was great to see the various communities celebrating their heritage side-by-side on the streets of George Town and show-casing their diverse cultures, all adding up to a colourful mosaic, a living tapestry. That in itself was cause for celebration.
The only downside to this whole heritage business is my nagging fear that George Town will become more gentrified and ‘sanitised’ as the years roll by and new boutique hotels and swanky cafes overwhelm the traditional coffee shops and little family businesses. Already property prices are sky-rocketing as speculators grab entire stretches of shop-houses in the hope of making a tidy bundle. Whither traditional cultures and authentic communities?