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Pulau Pinang or Penang - Malaysia

PENANG, 370km from Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia's northwestern coast, is a confusing amalgam of state and island. Everything of interest in Penang State is on Penang Island - Pulau Pinang (Betel Nut Island) in Malay - a large island of 285 square kilo-metres upon which the first British settlement on the Malay Peninsula was sited. Penang needs little introduction to many visitors to Malaysia, having long been known as one of Southeast Asia's finest destinations. Penang's outstanding beaches and exotic sights have made it one of the most popular destinations in the region. The island is linked to the mainland by the Penang Bridge, which at 13.5 km long is the longest bridge in Asia. Butterworth, has ferry services across to the island.

According to local folklore, the Snake Temple, dedicated to a Buddhist healer-priest, was inhabited by snakes who crawled out of the jungle on the night of the temple's completion. The snakes are still there today. The Kek Lok Si temple, at Air Itam, is reputed to be the most beautiful and largest temple complex in Southeast Asia. Its seven-story pagoda, over 90 feet high, is a harmonious blend of Chinese, Thai, and Burmese architecture and craftsmanship.

The confusion of naming conventions is due to the island's capital, and Malaysia's second largest city, Georgetown,often being referred to as "Penang". Georgetown is a fast-moving, go-ahead place, and has a reputation as a duty-free shopping mecca that accords with its history as a trading port. The epitome of its commercial development is the gigantic high-rise KOMTAR building, visible even from the mainland.

Nonetheless, Georgetown has sacrificed few of its traditional buildings and customs to the modern day approach. It has one of Malaysia's most vibrant Chinatowns, faded two-storey shop-houses and ornate temples predominate, legacies of the massive influx of immigrants attracted here by the early establishment of a colonial port. Later there was an influx of Indian merchants, bringing with them spices, rich cloths and religious customs, nowhere more evident in the city than during the annual festival of Thaipusam. Georgetown also has some of the best British colonial architecture in the country in the area surrounding crumbling Fort Cornwallis, the island's oldest building. To the northwest of the centre of town, huge mansions and elegant gardens highlight the rewards gained by early entrepreneurs.

The island is the focus of several important festivals throughout the year, starting with Thaipusarn in February but perhaps the best known of the rest is the Penang Bridge Run held in May, when thousands of competitors proceed across the bridge to Butterworth at dawn as part of a half-marathon. June is also a busy month, with the International Dragonboat Race, the Equestrian Carnival and a beach volleyball tournament on the northern coast. In July the flower festival and Grand Parade provide colour, while the Cultural Festival provides a showcase for the various ethnic groups - the Malays, Chinese and Indians - who make up Penang's population.

HISTORY

Until the late eighteenth century, Pulau Pinang was ruled by the Sultans of Kedah. For many years Kedah had been harassed by enemies, which meant that its Sultan, Mohammed J'wa Mu'Azzam Shah II, was prepared to afford trade facilities to any nation that would provide him with military protection. Francis Light arrived in Penang in 1771, a ship's captain of the European trading company of Jourdain, Sullivan and de Souza, who was in search of a regional trading base for both his company and the East India Company. According to contemporary accounts, Captain Light was a charming man, well trained in the art of diplomacy, and it was not long before the Sultan had housed the captain in his fort at Kuala Kedah, conferred upon him the honorary title of "Deva Raja" (God-king) and taken him into his confidence.

Light knew that the East India Company wanted to obtain a strategic port in the region to facilitate its trade with China, and as a refuge from its enemies in the Bay of Bengal. In forwarding the Sultan's offer of the island of Penang to the Company, light drew particular attention to its safe harbour, and to the opportunities for local commerce. In 1772 the Company sent its own agent, Edward Moncton, to negotiate with the Sultan, but the talks soon broke down and it was another twelve years before agreement was reached, spurred by the accession of a new Sultan, Abdullah, and the East India Company's mounting concern that other countries were gaining a regional foothold - the French, at war with Britain, had acquired port facilities in northern Sumatra having already made a pact with Burma, and the Dutch were consolidating their position in the Straits of Melaka.

In accordance with an agreement arranged by light, the Company was to pay Sultan Abdullah $30,000 a year. Unfortunately for the Sultan, the Company's new governor-general Charles Cornwallis firmly stated that he could not be party to the Sultan's disputes with the other Malay princes, or promise to protect him from the Burmese or Siamese. This rather pulled the rug from under Light's feet because it was on the basis of these promises that the Sultan had ceded the island of Penang in the first place. Undeterred, Light decided to conceal the facts from both parties and formally established a port at Penang on August 11, 1786 on his own initiative. For the next five years Light adopted stalling tactics with the Sultan, assuring him that the matter of protection was being referred to authorities in London. The Sultan eventually began to suspect that the company had reneged on the agreement, and he attempted to drive the British out of Penang by force, but the effort failed and the subsequent settlement imposed by the British allowed the Sultan an annual payment of only $6000, and no role in the future government of the island.

So it was that Penang, then inhabited by less than a hundred indigenous fishermen, became the first British settlement in the Malay Peninsula. Densely forested, the island was open to settlers to claim as much land as they could clear - in somewhat debonair mood, Light encouraged the razing of the jungle by firing coins from a cannon into the undergrowth. After an initial, late-eighteenth century influx, mainly of Chinese immigrants attracted by the possibilities of new commerce, Penang quickly became a major colonial administrative centre - within two years, four hundred acres were under Cultivation and the population had reached ten thousand. Francis Light was made superintendent and declared the island a free port, renaming it "Prince of Wales Island" after the British heir apparent, whose birthday fell the day after the founding of the island. Georgetown was, unsurprisingly, named after the king at that time, George III; it has retained its colonial name, even after the island reverted to the name of Penang. Later in 1800, the Sultan of Kedah surrendered another large tract of land, this time on the mainland adjacent to the island. This was named Province Wellesley (now Seberang Perai) after the British Governor of India at that time. The pioneer settlement flourished and the population swelled from 1,000 to 12,000 within two decades. In 1805, Penang was upgraded to the status of a Presidency.

For a long period Penang was endowed with a successful economy, with Georgetown proclaimed as capital of the newly established Straits Settlements (incorporating Melaka and Singapore) in 1826. But the founding of Singapore in 1819 was the beginning of the end for Georgetown, and as the new colony overtook its predecessor in every respect (replacing it as capital of the Straits Settlements in 1832), Penang's fortunes rapidly began to wane. In retrospect, this had one beneficial effect, since with Georgetown stuck in the economic doldrums for a century or more, there was no significant development within the city; many of its colonial and early Chinese buildings survive to this day. Although occupied by the Japanese in 1942 during World War II and placed under the authority of a Japanese governor, the strategic significance of Singapore once more proved to be Penang's saving grace, and there was little or no bomb damage to the island.

The British had ruled Penang for 100 years by the time it became part of the Federation of Malaya in 1957.


Flag

Emblem

The tricolour flag features vertical stripes of equal width with an areca nut tree on the white centre panel. Light blue represents the sea surrounding the island; white stands for its serenity and yellow signifies prosperity. Pulau Pinang (Penang Island) derives its name from the areca nut tree, called pokok pinang in Malay.

The State emblem shows an areca nut tree above a tricolour shield of yellow, blue and white. The island derives its name from the areca nut tree (pokok pinang in Malay). Inside the shield, the Penang Bridge is shown against a yellow background. It symbolises unity between the State and the Federal government. The two pillars of the bridge represent the dual objectives of the New Economic Policy, that is, the eradication of poverty and the restructuring of society. The four cables of the bridge represent the four major races, Malay, Chinese, Indians and others. The five blue and white waves below the bridge stand for the five principles of the Rukunegara (the national ideology) and the 5 administrative districts of the state. The five blue and white sections at the base of the areca nut tree have the same significance.

MAJOR TOWNS

Butterworth

Heading north from Taiping towards the coast, the landscape becomes increasingly flat and arid, as the road eases away from the backbone of mountains that dominate the western seaboard. Sitting 94km north of Taiping is the dusty, industrial town of BUTTERWORTH, the port for the island of Penang and the island's capital Georgetown.

Georgetown

Visiting Georgetown in 1879, stalwart Victorian traveller Isabella Bird called it "a brilliant place under a brilliant sky" and it's hard to improve on this simple statement - Malaysia's most fascinating city retains more of its cultural history than virtually anywhere else in the country. Fort Cornwallis, St George's Church and the many buildings on and around Lebuh Pantai all survive from the earliest colonial days, and the coinmunities of Chinatown and Little India have contributed some fine temples. Later Thai and Burmese arrivals left their mark on the city, but its predominant character is formed by the rows of peeling two-storey Chinese shophouses which have shutters painted in pastel colours, bright red Chinese lettering covering their colonnades, and cheerfully designed awnings to shield the goods from the glaring sun. While the confusion of rickshaws, buses, lorries and scooters make parts of Georgetown as frenetic and polluted as most other places in the region, life in the slow lane has changed very little over the years. The rituals of worship, eating out at a roadside stall, the running of the family business, have all continued with little concern for Georgetown's contemporary technological development. It may no longer be a sleepy backwater - most of the island's one-million strong population now lives here - hut the city's soul is firmly rooted in the past.

Strategically sited Georgetown is no stranger to visitors, since ships from all over the world have been docking at present-day Swettenham Pier since Francis Light first established his port here in 1786. Over the years, not surprisingly, it acquired a rather dubious reputation for backstreet dives frequented by boisterous sailors on shore leave. Where once ships' chandlers and supply merchants ran thriving businesses, modern-day maritime trade is of an entirely different nature: neon-lit bars and dingy brothels help to boost the spirits of foreign navy crews who make regular forays around the city's streets. There's been a gradual change though, especially since the late 1970s, when foreign tourists first descended upon Penang in significant numbers.

Bandar Bayan Baru

Bandar Bayan Baru is located on the western side of Penang Island. Among the tourist attractions close to this town are the Snake Temple and the Bukit Jambul Orchid and Hibiscus Gardens.

PLACES OF INTEREST

Fort Cornwallis

Fort Cornwallis is located in Georgetown and was built on the site of Francis Light's historic landing in 1786. Originally a wooden stockade, it was replaced by a concrete structure built by convict labour, in 1804 and named after the Governor General of India at that time, Charles Marquis Cornwallis. Today, an open-air amphitheatre, a history gallery, and a handicraft and souvenir centre occupies the interior. Fort Cornwallis also houses a famous Dutch cannon, called Seri Rambai, that in some way or another has been associated with virtually every shift in political alliances on the Peninsula since the early 17th century. The cannon arrived on the Peninsula in 1606 as a present from the Dutch to the Sultan of Johor. Only a few years later the Dutch cannon was taken by the Achenese in a raid on Johor's capital. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the cannon was sent to by the Achenese to Kuala Selangor in hopes of establishing an alliance with the Bugis. The cannon's last move, from Kuala Selangor to Penang, followed the British bombardment on Kuala Selangor in 1871.

Padang Kota Lama

One of the important historical sites of Penang, this is also the site of Fort Cornwallis where Captain Francis Light first landed.

Penang Hill

The hills of Penang - Western Hill, Tiger Hill, Strawberry Hill, and others - have long been popular refuges from the heat of the low-lying city. As the funicular railway proceeds along its half-hour climb of the hill, a broad panoramic view of Georgetown slowly unfolds. The view from Flagstaff Hill, at the top of the line, is a lovely way to watch night descend over the island.

Khoo Kongsi

The Khoo Kongsi is situated in Cannon Square. The construction of the clan house or kongsi began around 1894 and was only completed in 1905. The wave of Chinese immigration to Penang during the nineteenth century gave rise to the formation of clan formations, or kongsi, which served as surrogate kinship and professional associations for immigrants who had left behind family and friends. A multitude of kongsi arose in Penang, and each organization constructed a hall to serve as the locus of its community. The clan house, Khoo Kongsi, is for the exclusive use of members of the Leong San Tong clan and is the most famous example of these halls, having been designed with such magnificence that it was said to rival the palace of China's emperor. Whether by misfortune or because such a resemblance was viewed as an offence, the original Khoo Kongsi burnt to the ground almost as soon as it was completed. The present structure was built as a scaled down version of that original, though it is an extraordinarily impressive structure nonetheless. Comprising of two buildings that face each other, one is the clan temple and the other houses an opera stage. The Khoo Kongsi is unique not only for its historical value but also for the fine elements in construction and design. The building features a magnificent hall embellished with intricate carvings and richly ornamented beams of the finest wood, each bearing the mark of master craftsmen from China.

Bukit Bendera

Bendera Hill is located in Ayer Hitam. The hill is 800 m above sea level and it is the highest peak on the island. The summit is accessible by a cable railway that is more than 50 years old and other attractions here include a 100-year-old cannon. From the highest point on the hill, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of Penang.

Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens offer peace and tranquility amidst lush green surroundings, tropical plants, and the vibrant colors of Penang's flora. The 30-hectare garden also features a waterfall. Created in 1884 by the British, it was meant as a tribute to Charles Curtis, the garden's first superintendent. Curtis collected botanical specimens from the surrounding hills - specimens that have since become significant samples in the world's major herbaria. The gardens are also well known for their bold Rhesus monkeys who do not restrict themselves to the bounds of the gardens.

Wat Chayamangkalaram Temple

This Buddhist temple of Thai architecture houses a magnificent gold-plated reclining Buddha that is said to be the third largest in the world. The niches behind the statue house urns containing the ashes of devotees.

Snake Temple

Probably the only temple of its kind in the world. The multitude of pit vipers coiled around objects on the altar are believed to be rendered harmless by the smoke of the burning incense in the temple. Just for good measure, the snakes have also been devenomed.

Kek Lok Si

The Kek Lok Si Temple is located on a hilltop in Ayer Hitam and is reputedly the largest Buddhist temple complex in South-East Asia. The construction of the temple began in 1893 but it was only completed in 1905. The temple is also widely-known for the beauty of its design, which incorporates elements of Chinese, Thai, and Burmese architecture. Kek Lok Si is dominated by the seven-tiered pagoda of Ban Po Thar, the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas that was completed in 1930, which is dedicated to the Boddhisattva Tsi Tsuang Wang, who declined to enter nirvana after enlightenment in order that he might assist others along the path.

St George's Church

St. George's Church is located on the corner of Lebuh Farquhar and Jalan Masjid Kapitan Kling. It is the oldest Anglican Church in the country and its architectural design was modelled after a much larger church in Madras. Built with convict labor in 1818, this stately Anglican colonial church is one of the oldest landmarks in the city. A memorial canopy, dedicated to Captain Francis Light, the founder of Penang who died on 21 October 1794, stands in the entrance of the church, he is buried in the adjoining cemetery.

Sri Mariamman Temple

This Hindi temple, built in the late nineteenth century, features fascinating sculptures of gods and goddesses over its entrance and on its facade. Housed within its ornately decorated interior is a priceless statue of Lord Subramaniam, embellished with gold, silver, diamonds, and emeralds. The statue figures prominently in the annual Thaipusam Festival, when it is borne on a silver chariot through the city streets to the temple at Jalan Waterfall.

State Mosque

Located at the junction of Jalan Ayer Hitam and Green Lane, the Penang State Mosque was built in 1979. It was designed by Filipino architect E B Paz.

Penang Bridge

The Penang Bridge was officially opened in 1985 and it is the crowning landmark of Penang Island. The 13.5 km long bridge is the longest in Asia and the third longest the world. It connects Penang Island to mainland Peninsular Malaysia.

STATISTICS

Area : 1,030 square km
State Capital : Gerogetown
Administrative Divisions : 5
Namely:- Central Seberang Perai, North Seberang Perai, South Seberang Perai, Northeast dan Southwest

Population

: 1,225,501 (2000)

Breakdown of Races (1994)

:
Malay
Other Bumiputeras
Chinese
Indian
Other
:
:
:
:
:
446,700
1,300
572,700
127,000
6,200
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