The Sia Boey controversy – revitalised canal or glorified fish pond?

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A RM7m beautification project at Sia Boey has generated heated controversy. Koi carp and red tilapia have been literally dropped into a cleaned-up stretch of the original canal, which has been sealed off with fibreglass reinforced plastic, to create a water feature – or elongated pond, as some would call it.

(See photo above) Looks good, ya. Let’s see how long/how well this pond will be maintained – and the costs of the maintenance.

According to one environmentalist, koi carp is an introduced species that is relatively tolerant of artificial or polluted conditions – ideal for domestic ponds and aquariums. The tilapia is known to be a scavenger fish.

Singapore has an opposite approach. When fish species that flourish in clean water – ie species that are intolerant of pollution – are seen, that is a sure indicator that the river is coming alive – and they achieved that in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the usual dirty water along the canal has been diverted to a new canal covered by a concrete walkway. It hasn’t really solved the problem of polluted water landing up in the sea – merely covered it up.

This graphic image has been circulating online:

Some have pointed out that the Prangin Canal was never a river; others argue it was, as the waterway used to drain the mangrove swamps in the large area surrouding it.

Old sketch of Prangin Canal showing what Carnavon Street in the background once looked like

Still others have said rivers in Penang tend to slowly and sadly envolve from river to stream to ditch to canal to big longkang (drain). (Change the sequence as you see fit.)

It seems incongruous to me that the state is creating a water feature or pond or whatcheveryoumaycallit in the original canal in the centre of George Town and dropping some fish into it – while the real coastal fishing grounds of native wild fish are being destroyed by massive reclamation around Penang Island. Even aquaculture farms off the coast of southern mainland Penang are worried.

All this reminds me also of the attempt to create an artificial beach at the planned Gurney Wharf on reclaimed land – after many of our original beaches have lost their lustre as a result of misguided development.

The Sia Boey rejuvenation is a far cry from the vision of a cleaned-up canal in an arts and heritage district, as envisaged by some:

Sia Boey trams alternative

The original market could have been turned into a tram station, as part of a cheaper island-wide bus and rail network at street level, see above and below:

Sia Boey trams alternative

But no, SRS Consortium prefers a single and extravagant RM10bn elevated LRT route from Komtar to the airport (along with a RM8bn six-lane highway which will hug and tunnel through the sensitive hill slopes of Penang and degrade two popular public parks). The state government, for its part, wants an LRT terminal to be located smack in the middle of the congested Komtar/Sia Boey area, like this:

An artist’s impression of a transport hub at Komtar – Image: Kwong Wah

Imagine how much more teruk (terrible) the congestion will be with pick-ups and drop-offs in the area. Indeed, it is a severe mistake to turn the Komtar area into a transport hub. Why? Read this.

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You want to see real rejuvenation? Hop over to the Sungai Ara Linear Park to see what the local residents have done – without a RM7m budget. Heck, with hardly any budget.

That’s a real cleaner river you see there – definitely not a pond! But the residents’ pride and joy is now being threatened by that six-lane monster highway. Sad, isn’t it?

Check out Khoo Salma Nasution’s version of events at Sia Boey below:

The Prangin Canal revitalisation that could have been

As vice-president of the Penang Heritage Trust and committee member of Penang Forum, I would like to respond to recent allegations made against Penang Forum over the Sia Boey rejuvenation project.

Dating from 1804, Prangin canal was the man-made boundary of early George Town, canalising a river, or rather a creek.

“Sungai Prangin”, spelt in different ways, appears in many George Town maps and early records. The Malay toponym “Ujong Pasir” surely preceded “Siaboey”, the Hokkien name for this area.

Those of us who grew up in George Town remember how food was available around the clock at the wholesale Siaboey market, and how the busses were lined up along the big smelly drain called the Prangin canal.

The Siaboey market sadly moved out in 2000, around the same time that the inner city was being decanted due to the Repeal of Rent Control. Komtar Phase V was derelict for many years. The exposed part of the Prangin canal, with its granite walls was left exposed at the eastern end, but the section in front of Komtar and Prangin Mall had long been covered over.
One could write a whole book about the rich history of this area, but here I would just like to set the picture right about its rejuvenation efforts.

It is obvious that the historic centre of George Town needs a green lung in addition from Padang Kota. As soon as George Town was listed as World Heritage under Unesco, a few of us started to think about how to get Komtar Phase 5 earmarked as a park and open space.

The George Town World Heritage Incorporated was established in 2010 as an agency tasked with managing and monitoring the George Town World Heritage area, although it appears to do little of this now.

Historic plans of old Prangin canal were shown to the first general manager (now executive director of UN Habitat), and as a planner she could see the wisdom of turning the area into a park. She convinced the then chief minister (now the finance minister) that if the place were developed as an extension of Komtar it would be just another development adding to the congestion of the city.

On the other hand, if it was converted into a recreational open space, he would be positively remembered for giving George Town a public park.

As the landowner, the Penang Development Corporation was tasked with bringing the plan to fruition. As members of the GTWHI consultative panel, we were invited to a few meetings and helped to nudge it in the right direction.

Sia Boey Reborn: Penang Heritage Arts District was launched by the former chief minister in September 2015. This proposal included preserving Prangin canal as a water feature, restoration and conversion of the 19th-century Prangin market building into a hawker food court, restoration of the shophouses for food and retail, and the addition of a potentially world-class art museum.

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A storm drain diversion had already been planned as a joint flood mitigation measure by MBPP (managing the drain) and PDC (landowner).

A few months into excavation works, rows of neatly arranged granite blocks in peculiar grids were unearthed in October 2015.

The USM Centre for Global Archaeological Research was immediately engaged by PDC for an emergency archaeology to conduct a scientific study of the discovery.

At the same time, George Town historian Marcus Langdon was separately commissioned by PDC to conduct research and study into the rich history of the site and British engineering of the irrigation system, as discovered at the site.

Both USM and Langdon’s findings were presented to former chief minister who was also the chairman of PDC. The recommendation was to preserve the artefacts and to include the findings in the new plan for the site.

PDC extended USM’s appointment and the archaeological team went on to unearth the canal lock, a basin wall, and the footings of a police station. The National Heritage Department was briefed, and the commissioner of heritage made a site visit in March 2016. With the underground discoveries, the abandoned site was enhanced with layers of history.

Just a few months after launching the Penang Heritage Arts District, the former chief minister had a change of mind, and the area was re-designated a transport hub for an elevated LRT line and two elevated monorail lines.

I was invited for a heritage impact assessment for a proposed transport hub in March 2016 and that was the first I heard of the SRS proposal for the Penang Transport Master Plan which had replaced the Halcrow version.

It was a preliminary plan for a gargantuan Sentral-type multi-storey commercial hub with park-and-ride facilities. It was obvious that such a large development right at the edge of the world heritage area would obfuscate the vistas, change the morphological landscape and scuttle the opportunity to create the much-needed open space.

So I joined Penang Forum to learn more about the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP). The following month, the Penang Heritage Trust organised a press conference about the Prangin canal.

At the press conference, the present GTWHI general manager explained that she would not comment on the transport hub, whether the effects would be minimal or significantly adverse, as it lay beyond the boundary of the world heritage area.

Earlier, we had great dreams for the park, about how historic structures could be preserved for new uses, how the park would serve the community, and how an eco-system could be revitalised.

Ideally, the project could have been a real river clean-up starting from upstream, to upgrade Sg Prangin from “not suitable for body-contact” to “suitable for body-contact recreational usage”. However, river rehabilitation was not part of the state’s vision from the beginning. The urgent thing now was to save it from being obliterated by the transport hub.

READ MORE:  250 fishermen march to Parliament in 'PenangTolakTambak!' protest

As the state government was unreceptive to our recommendations, Dr Lim Mah Hui of Penang Forum wrote a letter to Unesco to inform them of this major infrastructure being planned in the vicinity of the George Town World Heritage area.

The National Heritage Department, having earlier endorsed the archaeological works, also took the opportunity to convene a meeting about the future of Prangin canal.

The GTWHI general manager, the head of the state think-tank, and a few DAP politicians wrote letters to the press alleging that a pre-emptive strike had been launched against the Penang Transport Council, and accusing Penang Forum of backstabbing, betrayal, treachery and even treason.

This was possibly to distract public attention from the real question Unesco was asking – what would be the impact of the transport hub on the world heritage area?

If not for Penang Forum’s timely action, the PTMP transport hub would have been built over most of the visible Prangin canal and potential park area. Penang Forum did not receive any thanks for its intervention but was instead vilified as “anti-Penang”.

The state decided to shift the proposed LRT Station to the Jalan Magazine side of the PDC land (currently the car park), without reserve space for monorail stations.

Designed in a pseudo heritage architectural style (as shown in the artist’s impression) the LRT station would replace what would have been the biggest privately sponsored art museum in the country. The relocation of the “arts district” upset the art and cultural communities. The dream of an international urban art-park was turned to dust.

In late 2016, GTWHI took over the site management from PDC. The Sia Boey rejuvenation project launched on March 25, 2018.
Compared to the PTMP transport hub proposal, the Sia Boey rejuvenation project costing RM7 million is a welcome alternative. The government should certainly be lauded for providing a pleasant park amenity for the enjoyment of the public.

However, following the initial publicity about a “rehabilitated” Prangin canal or “river” in some of the first announcements, some of us felt duty-bound to point out the fact that no river (open system) has been rehabilitated in the process.

Rather, a section of the Prangin canal structure (the walls inexplicably topped up with new concrete slabs) has been converted into pond (closed system) and filled with water, while the stormwater of the Prangin canal is merely diverted into a parallel culvert.

It just needs to be made clear that this no Singapore river clean-up; it is no Cheonggyecheon (Seoul) nor even a Japanese koi stream.

The public should also realise that due to the misbegotten PTMP transport hub proposal, three precious years were lost, the shophouses are further crumbling, and the “Sia Boey rejuvenation” is, in fact, “Sia Boey reborn, resurrected” – but minus the art museum as the “jewel in the crown”.

If Penang Forum is again called “anti-Penang” for pointing out the truth, so be it.

Khoo Salma Nasution is vice-president of Penang Heritage Trust and committee member of Penang Forum.

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Lim Goh Poh
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Lim Goh Poh

The youngs especially millenials are ignorant of historical values. Cosmetic touch up canal or pond serve them well as they can take selfie with milk tea with koi fishes in the background. CM Chow hope such instagram era can pull in visitors to tmrevive or rejuvenate the atea to bring in much needed excitement to state cash flow. Afyer all being said and done, Penang Forum now appear lifeless to bring its agenda to tje millenials. Only time can tell the fortune of new era Sia Boey.

Wei
Guest
Wei

hehe…Penang forum basically is a three man show that makes irritating high decibel noises. they have pathetic ground support from the general public outside of their tiny inner circus of well heeled, retired, plenty of free time ang moh wannabe who most likely live in sensitive hilly slope of tanjung bungah..

Anfield
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Anfield

Want to do more to fight climate change?
Cut down on driving, buying stuff and eating meat

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/climate-change-cut-down-driving-flying-buying-e-meat-11788964

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

Penang state gomen’s low cost housing becomes an add-on costs housing? Nyiamak! What a shame to call itself a people’s gomen when this look-like-housing-con-job has been going on for almost a decade! No wonder PH announced they will increase low-cost + medium cost housing for the easily fooled Rakyat! And make developers happy for low cost housing = can make good profit! Look at this: unit cost = RM72,500, car park = RM30,000, corner unit selection = RM8,000, additional price of RM1,000 per floor legal fees = RM4,500 which brings the total to RM130,000 Hello, Jagdeep Singh Deo, Executive Councillor… Read more »

Wei
Guest
Wei

hehe..kbkping Tu lang doesn’t understand there is no free lunch in this world…count yourself lucky to have a unit with a view to the sea…other people pay much more for that…if you want everything handed to you in a platter go and leave under communist…but you ain’t got single chance to kbkp here….hehe

Anfield
Guest
Anfield

GEORGE TOWN, Aug 1 — Penang will ban developers who make buyers pay beyond fixed prices for low-cost, low-medium cost and affordable housing units, state exco Jagdeep Singh Deo warned today.

He said developers may offer extra renovations and facilities as options to buyers but they must make it clear that these are not compulsory.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/08/01/penang-exco-says-will-blacklist-developers-demanding-premium-for-price-cont/1776585

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

Jagdeep Singh Deo is short of Karpal Singh’s no nonsense. Had he been otherwise, we won’t see these kind of nonsense going on for almost a decade!

Anfield
Guest
Anfield

Penangites must ensure that the canal is not littered with rubbish and polluted with waste like the rivers in Johor’s Pasir Gudang, as the pictures in the special feature of Oriental Press today:
https://www.orientaldaily.com.my/news/features/2019/07/29/300057

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

The b…. problem is the PTMP, which DAP idiots & those in GTWHI are so (more) concerned about but couldn’t care less for authentic state heritage assets & value such as Sia Boey to preserve but instead love to plasticise as slippery as possible like those slippery fishes in a canal or canal-pond to be precisely called. But a mention of Sia Boey canal-pond to be precise can cause some severe knee-jerking sensitivity in a pond full of Oscar flesh-eating fishes! Just look at the diverted dirty, smelly part of canal flowing side by side the “hallelujah” fish pond side… Read more »

Shriek
Guest

Dude still wants to see and eat fishes. Now when there are fishes, tu Lang still want to kbkb. Here you are the fishes for you.

Wei
Guest
Wei

hehe…why all the knee jerk hair splitting and kbkping ? who care whether it is pond,canal ,river,stream? people change all the time..it is like one day Tu lang stay in heritage house than another day moving to luxurious high end tall vista destroying condominium built by evil developer with 5 tier security guarded by B40 you care so much about….why the change, no keeping the past???

Zhuang Shang
Guest
Zhuang Shang

I look at it positively since the place has been abandoned beyond recognition for so long. The pond at least brings life and vibrancy so much needed now in time of gloom due to poor economy!

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

2Only 23 tigers left in the Royal Belum and Temenggor forest reserves https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/486538 Perbadanan Taman Negeri Perak (PTNPk) estimates there are only 23 tigers left in the Royal Belum and Temenggor forest reserves. Its general manager Mohamed Shah Redza Hussein said the figure was about a 60 percent drop from the over 60 tigers recorded in the two forest reserves seven years ago. He said the biggest threat to the tiger population at the two habitats is poaching, believed to be done by foreigners, especially from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and aided by locals. “If we do not act now,… Read more »

Lim Goh Poh
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Lim Goh Poh

Malayan tiger survival in the wild threatened by unscrupulous human hunters.

Time to create a protected tiger park may be at Jerejak island. Win win for all as visitors get to view from canopy talk.

https://youtu.be/X8Q5q5Qo9_M

China has been successful in breeding Siberian tigers and our rangers can learn from them.

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

China is very strict against poaching of their own tiger species as well as Pandas but is not with smuggled-in foreign tiger parts high in demand by their own people who consume for weirdy lack-of-confidence reasons – to compensate for not having enough sex prowess but have the highest population in the world? Once upon a time our Malayan tiger population was more than China’s tigers many times over & should have continued to increase if China’s citizens’ belief in Malayan tiger’s sexual prowess holds true! Perhaps, high time for authorities to discreetly approve shotgun firearms (of 3 inch ammo)… Read more »

Anfield
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Anfield

The ‘rustic charm’ of old Sia Boey may be a reminiscing place for the Baby Boomer generation but the present government may want to capture the hearts (and votes) of the current 15-16 year-olds for the next generation with this selfie pond? Do not be surprised if a bubble tea outlet were to pop up nearby too to complement the pond. Need to make sure the plastic wastes do not end up in the pond.

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

Anil, if you look at the topmost picture of the so-called ‘rehabilitated’ canal, you will see a glaring difference between the right & left of the canal’s side walls of stone bricks. Isn’t it of utmost archaeological importance & care to preserve the century old British stone wall of building canals? The left side wall looks cheap, unauthentic & incongruous to justify the costs of separating the hidden parallel running monsoon drain.
GTWHI, what kind of taste for authentic history, if not purely for resurrection of fish-eating ghosts of heritage canals.

Anfield
Guest
Anfield

No controversy here – over 40 years of charcoal fired Char Kuey Teow at Burma Road Penang, a tribute to this master maestro:
https://youtu.be/i9aJusHv3fg

Lim Goh Poh
Guest
Lim Goh Poh

“REVISED” Sia Boey can easily cause price escalation in the neighborhood when it becomes touristy. If you are tired of char kway teow or won ton mee, do patronise sia boey “under the bridge” hokkien mee located across the street of the fish ‘pond’ canal. Dont complaint if it gets too expensive later. Penanglang can review the taste on anilnetto.com.

Lim Goh Poh
Guest
Lim Goh Poh

https://www.crispoflife.com/2015/05/bridge-street-hokkien-mee-jalan-cychoy.html?m=1

Good maestro mee in the morning at Beach St front end to settle the shrieking feuds among fellow PenangLangs so that we can realise wonderful prosperous vision for Penang.

Zhuang Shang
Guest
Zhuang Shang

Should feature a food fight contest between Siam Road and Burma Road Char Kway Teow stalls to win the best in Penang accolades!

Wei
Guest
Wei

hehe….as always the tree huggers are not happy, they are not happy just about everything in Penang…i think this might be some kind of mental issue with these people..but, hey..who cares……do they represent penangites? were they elected by the people? …..i am glad that the state government did not wasting time with these people. instead keep on delivering good public project for the people.. today we see people throng kapal singh drive aka IJM (the evil wthateverthehaterwanttocallthem developer) promenade for relaxation, gathering and sport. This fake man made sea font or whateverthehaterwanttocallit give the public quality time with friend and… Read more »

Milk Tea
Guest
Milk Tea

Good job, Penang Forum. Don’t worry, keep pushing your agenda for a better Penang despite all the name callings.

Shriek
Guest

Good job pg gomen. Keep it up with good work. peng land NGO only kbkb. The drain only a by pass. See why NGO no tell peng land why they dump rubbish into canal

Anfield
Guest
Anfield

Sia Boey is no controversy compared to the Lynas/Jawi issue right now as many Johor chinese are so fed up that they vow to abandon DAP and vote for MCA in the next GE.

Not sure if Penangites will switch their support to Gerakan for the same reason? Need some Gerakan representation in DUN to curb absolute power and absolute arrogance. My friend in Bayan Baru has given up on Sim.

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

Talking of water element, we already have a massive water body @ Ayer Itam Dam backing the Kuan Yin Statue @ Kek Lok Si Temple. We should take care not to cause instability of Feng Shui brought about by man-made weakening of fault line at the hills by the proposed viaduct (PIL1 of PTMP) below this dam. Learn a lesson from below news: British military called in to stop dam collapsing https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/486585 Lesson – we are now at the mercy of the 5 elements of nature: earth, wind, fire, water, metal. They are now so unpredictable we may have to… Read more »

Shriek
Guest

Why prangin water is kopi oh? Is it bacause tu lang’s kopi o waste is throw into pg waterways after making kopi oh? Why is blackish?

Anfield
Guest
Anfield

GEORGE TOWN, Aug 1 — Penang Development Corporation (PDC) today said the Prangin Bypass was built to divert drain water from the canal as part of the S10 Flood Mitigation Project for the inner city.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/08/01/prangin-canal-diversion-part-of-flood-mitigation-project-explains-pdc/1776740

The diversion is to discharge the water surface runoff and drainage water into the sea. The parallel bypass is connected to the existing underground drain that flowed to a treatment plant before it was released into the sea.

The original Prangin Canal was about 4.5 metre wide and 1.5 metre deep while the new bypass is between 9.1 metre and 5 metre wide and 2 metre deep.

Shriek
Guest

Chief mein is asking federal for 10 billion for ptmp. Tu Lang and pg forum soo good in kbkb, better help chow to kbkb at federal for the pmtp.

Ma jiji
Guest
Ma jiji

Penangites now should never, ever trust the DAP admin. They are only good at doing magic show to fool around !

Anfield
Guest
Anfield

In contrast, the JB’s town centre Sungai Segget project costs RM240 million, without any landscaping done around it.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vUCA2BfNwzU

Wei
Guest
Wei

hehe…since the Penang Heritage Trust which is part of Penang form coalition was in the project review panel that has reviewed and approved the project..i am sure this should be good…. hehe

Zhuang Shang
Guest
Zhuang Shang

Frankly what are the tangible contribution from this heritage trust other than noise making and objections?

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

Penang Heritage Trust:
Vision, Involvements, Consultative Roles & Public Interest Promotions
http://www.hati.my/culture/penang-heritage-trust/
To know more if not satisfied:
call: 604-2642631
or walk in: Penang Heritage Trust, 26 Lebuh Gereja, George Town

Anfield
Guest
Anfield

You can join Salma in the Western Road cemetery walk, at night on the 7th month for close encounter with Ho Hia Tee?

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/08/04/in-penang-a-visit-to-western-road-cemetery-is-a-walk-back-in-time/1777465

Wei
Guest
Wei

hehe…not interested in walking the cemetery to disturb the soul long gone..but maybe it is interesting to find out how many properties she own in penang island, how many car she own, what is like being an elite in penang, et cetera et cetera…