A lot of attention has been given to Penang Island, but how do we revitalise Seberang Perai in a way that would be more authentic to local cultures and would promote a sustainable domestic economy?
1) Carry over Penang’s niche in heritage awareness over to the mainland – minus the property speculation and gentrification. Recognise and promote awareness of the cultural heritage and political and economic history of Seberang Perai ever since it began opening up during the early 19th century.
The fishing villages along the northern coast line, the Little India in Butterworth old town centre, the thriving commercial centre along Raja Uda (where the Khian Guan Biscuit factory is one of the oldest in the region), the Mak Mandin Industrial Estate (one of the oldest in the country and where famous brands such as Lingam chilly sauce, Hacks sweets, Van Houten’s chocolates and cocoa powder had their base) and Bukit Mertajam.
Discover the history behind the smaller towns like Nibong Tebal, Kepala Batas and Permatang Pauh. Put up memorial plaques at the sites where people were executed during World War Two (e.g. in Butterworth town off Jalan Bagan Luar Road and near the ferry terminal) and at places where old settlements were established.
2) Promote and protect the local food-based sectors: rice farming, coastline fisheries. At one time, Seberang Perai was also known for its sugar cane and coconut plantations.
3) Promote the local cuisine as well and spruce up the area: the sea food restaurants of Bukit Tambun, the mee udang of Sungai Dua, popular street food along Jalan Raja Uda.
4) And let’s not forget that the ancient kingdom of Bujang Valley, which dates back from the first century AD, extended well into Seberang Perai, perhaps reaching up to Bukit Mertajam. This was one of the oldest kingdoms in the region and archaeologicial work on it has been ongoing for years.
In fact, if you visit St Anne’s Church today, you can see the Cherok Tekun relic – a large rock with an inscription in ancient Sanskrit (Pali), to which hardly anyone pays much attention, much less understands the history behind it.
A community without an understanding of its history is a community that will lack pride of place and understanding of where it is coming from. Establish a Seberang Perai museum and photo gallery that reflects the cultural diversity and heritage on the mainland and promotes awareness of local history.
5) Spruce up the coastline, which offers magnificent vistas of Penang Island, especially by night. At present the sea is too polluted for swimming – but worryingly, that hasn’t stopped children from swimming and toddlers from wading along the north Butterworth coastline in the evenings. Organise the restaurants and stalls along the coastline which at present are built haphazardly and probably without local council approval or licensing.
6) Create awareness of the major religious sites and places of pilgrimage e.g. the magnificent Sheikh Abdullah Fahim blue mosque in Bertam Perdana (along with a 100-acre Vision Park), the old St Anne’s Church in Bukit Mertajam (1846) which draws tens of thousands of people every year, the pre-war wooden church in Butterworth, the Sree Maha Mariamman Devasthanam Temple (founded 1853) off Jalan Bagan Luar, the respendent Butterworth Nine Emperor Gods (Tow Boo Kong) Temple along Jalan Raja Uda.
7) Build a cross-channel rail link, extend the old tram system to the mainland, promote cycling and other forms of sustainable transport.
Have I missed out anything?