Entering the Great World Park of Penang or Tua Seh Kai was like being teleported into a dreamy entertainment world, the stuff of fantasy and gastronomical delights, recalls tunglang.
This was definitely a happy world of nightly entertainment for Penangites of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Located at the present Prangin Mall, it was like entering another dimension of amusement arcade, cinema, food and merry-go-round. Just pay 10 cents and you were teleported into a world of great entertainment. (Mind you, 10 cents then was like a bullock cart’s wheel).
If you were addicted to Shaw Brothers’ movies, you would never miss a show every week. In fact it was the half-open-wall concept of community cinema that drew the crowds, catering to those who could afford cinema seating as well as those poor souls who could only stand watching free movies from the outside! I can still replay the One Arm Swordsman’s (by Wang Yu) moment of his losing his right arm and the advertising prelude of Shaw Brothers’ logo on a background of a sea of blue waves which raised great anticipation of the night’s movie that was about to be screened.
For the adrenalin-overflowed, a drive without brakes in two-seater bumper cars powered by electricity from nettings above was a must. You got no traffic summon for bumping the senses out of somebody’s car from the back, front or sides. The more the ladies shrieked the better for more bumping! I can still smell the rust of steel on the bumper railings and floor panels, from the heat and sparks of the night’s driving.
For a child’s dream entertainment, the merry-go-round was a magical choice. You got the chance to be like John Wayne shooting Indians as you rode in seemingly endless rounds of fantasy. The wooden decorated horses (British-style design) were a joy ride for both children and adults.
And the arcade of snooker and football tables was a noisy, smoky place to bet the night away. There you could witness football somersault kicks unmatched even by Maradona or one-arm snooker exponents playing like Wang Yu to the beat of Elvis.
The one unforgettable food was the Assam Laksa at the far end of the Park. A poor man’s bowl of decent simplicity, it really woke up one’s taste buds with its heavenly prawn paste mixed in secret recipe (neither too thick nor diluted) sour soup that lingered long after the last cinema show had finished. Which was good for the hungry souls as you couldn’t get any night hawker food past midnight.
The other eat-with-hand-while-standing-and-watching-movie food was the BBQ cuttle fish. With a brown-coloured sauce dip, it was a happy nip-nip alternative to today’s pop corn. And finger-licking good too.
For those preferring less sticky fingers, the kacang wrapped in newspaper cones sold by an Indian man on a bicycle near the entrance was a convenient choice. One packet could last way past half-time of a movie show!
The Great World Park, now a distant nightly hallucination of Penang’s past great entertainment for the Ah Peks, Ah Toks and Thaiya jis.
Time for night coffee to re-live the butter-fried aroma of Ban Eng Hong Grinding Mill Coffee of No.1 Macalister Road.