A drive along the other side of Penang Island

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tunglang writes about a recent drive around the western half of Penang Island and finds out how things have changed…

Our more cultured songket and home timber carvings are artistic inspirations from the rainforest, besides animist beliefs expressed in raw art wood carvings by the Orang Asli. Before the advent of electricity and piped water, the rainforest was (and still is) the source of every conceivable living need, taking care of us humanoids, who were supposed to take care of the rainforest as chosen masters of earth, for millenia.

Penang as an island is still covered in some parts with almost pristine million-year-old jungle, mostly in the north-western corners and parts of the hill ridges running behind Penang Hill. Just a trek up from Teluk Bahang Forest Reserve to Tiger Hill will offer one a unique experience of living jungle and breath-taking views of the other side of Penang Island.

As I drove along Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi till Teluk Bahang this afternoon, I was taken aback by the sheer rapid development going on busily in the once quiet, serene coastal belt of tourism charm. Even the bicycle signs didn’t offer me any consolation beyond prompting me to reminisce about my good old days of the 1970s, riding solo on my Raleigh racer on cool Saturday mornings. In my heart, I could sense the desperate cries of the forest fringe bleeding from the Caterpillar unrelenting digging and pushing at the edge.

Chin Farm, was nowhere to be seen. The once red earth entrance was transformed into an abode of bungalows for the rich and famous. One thing that still remained as it was – the width of the narrow winding coastal road. As I drove, alert to sharp cornering, I tried my best to savour the sea views mindful of impatient Speedy Gonzales of Myvis and a Rapid bus following closely behind. Driving was no more leisurely for the mind, body and spirit along this coastal road.

The beach of once Scout Jubilee Camp was fenced up (for what?) with only two small lanes, each on either sides for public access to the beach. This beach land privatisation was unforeseeable 30 years ago, when anyone could just walk in, camp or just barbeque here under coconut trees in the cool breezy evenings with surreal turning beams of light from the Muka Head lighthouse streaming far into the starry sky.

With the Rapid bus still following closely behind, I reached the “End of the World” famed for its fresh seafood. But alas, the place was now a Taman Negara fenced-up entrance. I wondered if one had to pay to just go in for a hike to Pantai Keracut. (For almost 10 years, I was into 4WD in mainland Peninsular jungles, so my almost absence from this nature’s haven.)

Funny though, when I enquired about a coming theme park from the locals, nobody seemed aware of this new development in their vicinity.

As I drove along the now quiet road to Balik Pulau, I wondered how long this serenity would last. From here to Sungai Pinang, driving at 40mph, I was only overtaken by two cars and one bike and no other cars visibly following behind me, not even a hurrying Rapid bus. Vehicles from the other direction were less than a score. It was like driving 30 years ago at leisurely speed. The iconic pre-Merdeka stone bridge fencing could still be seen. Just keep them stone-alive.

As I drove past the several new housing developments towards Balik Pulau town, my instinct told me this was irreversible. The Malay kampung ambience was slowly morphing into suburbs of stone, marbles and green glass facades with designer gates. Only a few authentic Malay houses stood the test of time, change of minds, and encroaching modernisation. The once lazy daisy Beverly Hills with running chickens of Penang was no more, as I was once again closely followed from behind by an impatient Speedy Gonzales driven by a pak cik!

As I exited from Balik Pulau turning into Tun Sardon hill road, my mind turned to the rainforest, streamed with beautiful late afternoon sunlight. This stretch of road cuts through what was once a thick jungle of wood-peckers, wild boars and bats. I had the good fortune of hiking up the hills as a young boy on my way to my godfather’s homestead of now 200-year-old Hakka heritage, which still stands the test of time, weather and eventual sale of Chor Kong’s land.

READ MORE:  1.8 … This changes everything
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Bunga Raya

I can sympathize with kittycat46, but as a relative newcomer I’d like to say that there’s still a lot to be protected. The main issue is: there are no plans and mechanisms in place at all! Mechanisms that restrain development, and award conservation. We need to be quick to get it right, before it is really too late.

Ang Keat San

Tunglang, it’s Jubilee Camp, not Coronation Camp. Coronation Camp was at Botanical Gardens.

Kaypo

tunglang

Ang, thanks for the fact. Guess too much of Kopi-O jumble up my name recall. Yeah, this Jubilee Camp was my ‘must-convalescent’ spot every 3 months during my working-like-a-dog-years in a KL ad agency. I would come here to literally float in the afternoon sea (from 3pm till dusk) with just my face popping above the waves enjoying the green, green coconut trees of home sweet home Teluk Bahang. And to scrub away all office politics wounds and scars into the emerald sea. Now I believe why Captain Francis Light loved to frequently land on Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang… Read more »

James Wong

The Penang Islanders have this attachment to living only on the island side and not on the mainland side, so it is inevitable that slowly but surely, Penang Island will become like Hong Kong Island one day.

Richie Hee

tunglang should get a freelance video/movie maker to make a Penang traveller show ‘Passage to Penang’. TLC is waiting for him.

Syiok Syiok

tunglang is like many locals with certain elements of “talents” typically uncovered by local administrators all these years due to “favouring affirmative policies” adopted. no wonder Penang has been losing its mutiara charms especially during boh hoot era kowtowing to above mentioned policies !
Never say too late. Passage to Inner Penang could be a reality if only tunglang with proper connection able to highlight the past and merge them into present scenarios to open up the awareness especially among the younger hip-hop generations.

having said that, we have not seen true anil-tunglang calloboration beyond the texts in the blog……..

roy

tunglang can have his own blog (or has a section within Anil’s blog) to showcase the experience of jalan jalan in Penang – to uncover the hidden treasures of the island and the famous makan place! Maybe Tourist Minister Yen Yen can sponsor since she always complain the Chinese did too little cuti cuti Malaysia?

tunglang

Thanks, Richie, Shiok and roy.
You all get me thinking of what I should do with my life: my talents, belief and inclinations. I am now in deep introspection, sort of at the cross road of directions to take sans politics.
I do want to contribute to Penang Heritage and Malaysian Rainforest in meaningful and purposeful ways.
Less Kopi-O today to keep my mind sharp, intent and focused.
As Steve Jobs said: Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

kittykat46

I have a somewhat different view of the development on the back of the island, or lack of. One half of my ancestry originates from “the other side”. To me they weren’t Good Old Days. The memory of my relatives there are of poverty, stagnant society and a lack of economic opportunity. Of course, development there needs to be planned and ecologically responsible. Some of the past development in the Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang area was certainly highly damaging to the environment. But there has to be change and economic growth. What looked like old rustic charm to an… Read more »

Eloi

A realistic fact about progress is the clearing (destruction) of land for the purpose of development. Progressive or advanced countries have long ago threaded on similar paths. Some have realised their grave miscalculations and are trying to reverse this degradation to nature and the natural order of things but they are unable to do so. Our country is walking that same path now. The main factor is the explosion of earth’s population. Everyone needs employment and with that comes economies and industries and such. In tandem with that is the need for housing to house and feed these populace. And… Read more »

x

Chin Farm, was nowhere to be seen. The once red earth entrance was transformed into an abode of bungalows for the rich and famous…
Because the previous and current administration did not do a single thing to prevent the area from being used as a rubbish dump and as a quarry to be plundered and destroyed into its present pathetic state.

Racheljansz

Same problem with the Scout Coronation Camp at Teluk Bahang!

old_hippy

it is ashame what has happen to this place because it used to be a real groovy hangout for everyone and why it was never retain as a picnic area no one really knows but it can certainly be saved from further deteriorating

warrick singh

Anil,thank god that there are souls like you who appreciate the value of nature and the role of buffer that the vegetation plays ! The recent japanese tsunami and thai floods or even the brisbane floods earlier this year are ‘definate precursors’ of things to come ! Basically by disrespecting nature the consequences are going to be dire indeed ! Cheers – warrick