George Town, Penang
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th December, 2009
I had intended to reach Ipoh today, but as the minivan I got from Hat Yai terminated in Penang, I decided to terminate there as well and so I will be ending the year in George Town. It’s 40 years since I was last on the island, though as I recall I didn’t linger even an hour in the capital then but instead headed straight for the beach (as one does at that age). Anyway, I’m glad to have the chance to make up for that now. Of course, there have been a lot of changes over four decades. Many new high-rise buildings have sprung up, for a start, and a long bridge now links the island to mainland Malaysia — which means far more cars than there were before. The character has changed somewhat too, as Penang was a free port way back then, whereas now it is more a centre for tourism, both domestic and foreign. There is still a lot to see, though. In fact, it is one of the jewels of South East Asia for anyone interested in history. It was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July last year. There is an extraordinary blend of Chinese, Malay and Indian culture, as well as some splendid colonial buildings from the British times. The seafront Eastern and Oriental Hotel — a bankrupt ruin when I was last here — has been beautifully restored to resemble its glory days when it was run by the Armenian Sarkies brothers as one of the great hotels of the world, much loved by Somerset Maugham, among others. Tomorrow, I’ll be off to see where the ‘father’ of modern China, Sun Yat Sen, was based in 1910 and where the German author Hermann Hesse visited just a few months later.