Penang’s vanishing natural heritage


More and more people are expressing disquiet over the model of development being pursued in Penang. From north to south of the island the voices are growing louder.

Even property prices on the mainland are soaring – and this before the tunnel work has even started. Double- and even single-storey houses in Bagan Ajam in Butterworth, close to the site of the proposed tunnel, are going for RM600,000-700,000, whereas only about three years ago, they were were about half that level.

And the hills are being chopped or scarred. Some are worried that under the ongoing review of the Penang Structure Plan 2005-2020 (gazetted in 2007), the height limit for property development to be allowed on the hills would be raised from 250 feet above sea level to say, around 500 feet.

This is a thought-provoking piece from FMT:

Losing my Penang heritage
Fa Abdul
19 April 2015

The fond memories of Penang past are being overtaken by massive development that is resulting in an island without a soul.

I am a Penang girl. Every time people ask me about my homeland, my thoughts fly over to one house painted in green along Jalan P Ramlee. My grandpa’s house.

My grandpa’s house is located a stone’s throw away from the home of the legendary Tan Sri P Ramlee. This is where my grandpa raised six children and got them all married.

Grandpa’s house is the only house painted in green along this road – he believed green was an auspicious colour and he wanted all of us to live happily under one roof. But every time election season came around, the green of the house would be obliterated by a sea of blue flags.

Yup, my grandpa loved BN. Every election month, he would decorate the entire house in Barisan Nasional flags. I still remember 10-year-old me waving at Tun M during many of his election visits here. The image of Tun chuckling as he pointed his finger at grandpa’s house is still fresh in my memory – Tun M must have been amused to see an old man more excited of the election than he himself was!

Penang was the only home my grandpa ever knew. With his old bicycle, he would go around the island collecting rental for his employer – that was his rice bowl. Knowing the family needed a stable income, he rented a tiny space along Jalan Dato Keramat to start a stationery shop for his eldest son – it was called Ahmat & Sons (I wonder if anyone remembers the old shop).

Time flew and soon everyone’s family expanded. It was time to move out and build their own nests around Penang Island. My uncles, aunties and cousins then found their new homes in Tanjong Tokong, Georgetown, Jelutong, Ayer Itam, Bukit Bendera and other places around the island. (If you are in Penang, remember that any mamak you meet could very well be related to me, seriously!)

Anyway, without most of his children around, my grandpa took care of his beloved house himself and made sure everything was in order. Every weekend when we visited, he would be busy wiping the windows and sweeping the lawn. He insisted on doing everything around the house himself.

My grandpa spent everything he had on his house. He took much pride in it.

Living in Penang back then was amazing – except during the rainy season. You see, Jalan P Ramlee was the worst place to live during rainy seasons, thanks to the enormous floods we endured. Every Penangite knew that.

During these floods, grandpa had a hard time moving all his furniture and electrical appliances to the second floor of the house. That was when he’d call my dad and all my uncles, aunties and cousins to help. We would be scurrying around hurriedly storing away things away on the second floor before the first floor was submerged in water.

I still remember my dad criticising the BN state government back then – he and my uncles thought the state government should have taken measures to prevent this annual flood. And having one of the dirtiest rivers in the country – Sungai Pinang, flowing in our backyard, didn’t help. The drainage system made things worse, what with so much garbage piling up and clogging the longkangs.

But thanks to Umno Kampung Rawana, we had our Rukun Tetangga (Neighbourhood Watch) people ever so ready to help out. They delivered simple meals to the houses while Gerakan efficiently provided boat services to those who had to go to school and office.

The real work however began right after the floods subsided. That’s when the entire area would be submerged in slimy mud and icky-gooey stuff the river vomitted. While we were scrubbing the house and the streets, my uncles used to tell me stories about floating poop during the floods back in the old days when my grandpa’s toilet only consisted of a hole in the ground and a bucket underneath.

Gross as those stories were, it still tickles me every time I recall those wonderful days.

My grandpa passed away at the age of 95. He died in his own bed, in his beloved green house.

A few years later, Penang fell into DAP’s hands. A lot of changes took place. Developments mushroomed around my grandpa’s old house. Penang seemed a lot cleaner and modern. Sungai Pinang finally looked like a river, not a floating garbage dump. And the drainage system was improved.

But with all the good things we experienced, bad ones emerged too.

The development was unstoppable. More land was reclaimed. Many hill slopes were flattened. Buildings sprouted up everywhere. New residential areas bloomed. Traffic got worse. And the floods? Well, those got even worse too.

From once a year, my grandpa’s old house was submerged in water a few times a year. The once strong and tall walls of the house began shaking and looked drab. And with all that moving of furniture and shifting of appliances, along with cleaning and scrubbing and washing, my uncle – now in his 70s, finally decided to let go of grandpa’s last asset – his green house.

Today, for the first time in 60 years, my grandpa’s house is empty, all locked up. Nobody wants to live there. Nobody wants to rent a place which goes under water a few times a year.

While Penang blooms with development and new land opens up promising astonishing sea views, plenty of other areas on the island are being sacrificed. While outsiders grumble about the drop in food quality, perhaps only true Penangites understand how lifestyles and people’s attitudes have changed alongside the massive development.

No matter how developed Penang becomes, I don’t think it will ever match the Penang I grew up loving. So much has changed. Too much, in fact.

Penang may have been awarded the World Heritage City title, but sadly I have lost my heritage in the heart of Penang.

But I am not alone. Like me, many people have lost their heritage in Penang. And I believe more will be losing theirs in time to come if people continue to ignore the devastation that is so obviously taking place on the island that once used to be my grandpa’s home.

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Time has changed.
even Komtar (gerakan’s heritage?) has lost its charm, according to the Star:{D9E4B5E9-3AAF-427C-8B65-6051B3B97A5A}


I think these changes is reflective of what’s happening in DAP as a whole. I recall with fondness the DAP 1.0 where the great Titans like LKS, Karpal, Patto and others who stood for the true ideals of democracy and socialism without fear or favour and truly wanted to serve the people selflessly. They eschewed material gains and titles and positions. That’s why even today we look upon these giants with much respect even devotion. That’s why many of us (at least me) always voted for DAP through good times and bad times for decades. The DAP 2.0 were different,… Read more »


Sorry I pressed the wrong button, Anil Netto. calvinsankaran, you are indeed very observant insofar as the salient differences in the DAP 1.0, DAP 2.0 and DAP 3.0 are concerned. Yes, I do see that. I will even go further. Those who joined the DAP before 1969 from whose who joined the DAP after that. And it cannot be disputed that the DAP won Penang without a blueprint for its development, something I talked about way back in 1971. On the whole, it is doing a decent job, a lot better than during the time of KTK – but that… Read more »


bctan, let me share with you some of my observations about this CAT govt and the ones before. I work for MNC but my job requires a lot of interaction with the state government leaders especially in the areas of investment. I am also actively involved in the Penang MNC industry community as well. As such I can see for myself the capability of the state leaders and their administration from a good vantage point. Penang generally being well run, from the times of LCE and I would rank among the best state govts in terms of efficiency and being… Read more »


Dare I say it? Do we need to vote DAP and LGE out to send them a message that we are sick and tired of the over-development and serving corporate interests at the expense of the rakyat in Penang?




DAP 2020.0 will still be a better option the than Umno, Getakan or MCA. No need for long-winded bicara.


Jalan P Ramlee, the memories it evokes is tremendous. There was a time when we had an annual crocodile industry, waysback in the 1960s when I was trying to grow up. Believe you me, crocodiles were caught for human consumption until the river became far too polluted for even these creatures to survive. Now, they are history. Meanwhile, I am still growing up like Peter Pan. Up north, in the beautiful stretches of pristine beach Batu Feringghi, we had the lovely “chap chai” – sea creatures that give you a run for your money. These disappeared finally after the tsunami… Read more »


No where in my piece did I ever mention anything about any agreement by the people on the price of development, Anil Netto. I have tried to be as objective and as neutral as possible in my comments. I agree with you that the development has been top-down, without any consultation whatsoever with the people of the Penang, let alone people who are stake-holders and affected by such development initiatives. I remember way back in the late 1960s, as a young lad of 22 or 23 years old, telling the late Tun Lim Chong Eu, in a one-to-one tete-a-tete that… Read more »


we have too many talk nonsences people in Penang, anything they will against, if heritage you don’t do proper re-planning, add some attraction elements, put some innovation, make it valuable for visiting, it’s nil. make people interesting on it, love it better than talking nonsence. go and see many places in Georgetown where we are so proud on it and so call heritage, is just like …, judge the current environment and outlook, so messy and ugly, some in shape of half collapse, some nailed or just fence with sheet metal…… the morning you can see the over night rubbish… Read more »

Don Anamalai

Fa Abdul should ask why the malay community is willing to give up their kampong land to developers?
Honestly most of them profited from the land deal to live comfortably in the kampongs of mainland.

gk ong

The reality is most young folks of Generation Y and Z are clamouring for new lifestyle of the digital age and they are dictating the supply & demand of the commercial society. Those baby boomers should remember the impact of rock-&-roll to the dismay of their parents, and how Woodstock influenced the hippy movement in the late 60s. Similarly the hippy parents would subsequently find the hip hop generation annoying. Every generation creates new trend and behavior, and may consign old things to museum as heritage relics. So we can empatise with those desperately holding on to their old memories… Read more »


Before one decries those with heritage sentiments or longings, do check reality of political+corporate marriage of convenience which do more harm than good for societies in the name of Cosmopolitan Penang. One is business GREED, the other is MONEY (for political funds + development coffer + of course that rangoon Road HQ). The unchecked skewed relationship where money talks louder than economic development for social good is left to the winds of recklessness. The consequences are spiral inflations, environmental degradation, social-class inequality, wage stagnation (corporate influence on wage legislation), wastage of scarce resources & reliance on foreign workers (to max… Read more »


The “kiamsiap” frugal papamamas pamper the children to satisfy their wants at young age primarily drives the commercialisation (‘cementation”?) of metropolis modern lifestyles only seen on Penang TV in 60s-80s ? It’s a cycle. We shall witness more bankruptcies of younger folks in 20s as front page story in NST last Sunday accounted for that. No denying there are many rich greying Penangites (for the context of this article focusing on Penang) BUT there are also many less financially endowed ones. The children of the less well off ones better don’t try to emulate for “bin chui” sake otherwise their… Read more »

gk ong

Unfortunately the young generation that is brought up in good pampered life tends to squander away the hard earned money of their parents, and very likely that natural heritage is not in their dictionary. Today MyVi or Axia is becoming a norm even for Form 5 students. Soon every school will need bigger parking lots.

So retirees should hold on tight to their EPF money.


GK Ong – you are a fool of the highest order. This article is talking about the destruction of the natural environment to enrich a privileged few who have connections to the local government in Penang. And you somehow connected that to the rock n roll and hippy phenomenon in the US, which is a social phenomenon. What is happening in Penang, and what the article talks about, is about the destruction of the environment and rampant capitalism dictated by the oligarchy in DAP. To draw parallel to rock n roll hippies, like you have done, is absolutely stupid. For… Read more »


Cicero – you are inded a bigger fool for not knowing how to read between lines. I can only assume that you pass your exam via rote learning…. What Ong is trying to imply is the young generation today has little attention nor care of natural environment. No need to be explicit lah! Why must you blame the Penang government when similar rampant destruction of natural heritage in happening in other states as well. You are obviously got drunk by the BR1M toddy.

ajith v

Cicero (appears to be) a BN cybertrooper (out) to discredit the Penang government.


Sia Boay canal area has just benn fenced up for development of Penang Heritage Centre? Will the spaceship-like structure be there as highlighted by Anil some Time back?
If the project proceeds, blame the armchair critics that have failed to provide constructive feedback during public hearings held at Komtar concourse on a few occasions?