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All about Penang & more

Penang today is very much an amalgam of the old and the new – a bustling port, a heritage city and an industrial base. Perhaps it has more to offer per square mile than any other place in the world. For sheer variety of locales, cultures and foods, Penang is hard to beat. Here are stories about Penang and more.

People of the Five Rivers

Sikhs in Penang © Adrian Cheah

As one ascends the steps of George Town's magnificent Chinese clan temple of the Khoo Kongsi, it is difficult not to notice a pair of huge images meticulously carved out of granite as if welcoming visitors in.

The two tall, life-sized figures of Sikh guards (above) stand imposingly on the ornate pavilion of the century-old complex, widely considered to be the grandest clan temple in the country.

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Penang ferry service

The famous heritage ride across the Penang Channel

Penang ferry © Adrian Cheah

Probably the most cherished and well-known icon of Penang, this ferry service which carries motor vehicles and foot passengers became operational in 1925, linking Butterworth on the mainland to George Town on the island. Prior to that, the ferries in the form of large boats were meant for goods and people only.

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Clan Jetties of Penang

Clan Jetties of Penang © Adrian Cheah

"The wooden stilts are replaced every five years or so" explained Siew Pheng as we walked around the jetty. Siew Pheng, born and raised on Chew Jetty goes on to tell us that this labor-intensive task of replacing the wooden stilts is a dying trade as only a few old hands practice the skill. Many youngsters prefer not to live at the jetty, but in apartments and houses on Penang island itself, as the maintenance of these houses is backbreaking work.

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The best laksa in Balik Pulau

Balik Pulau laksa © Adrian Cheah

Penang laksa is extremely popular, especially among locals for its wonderful balance of spicy, sweet and sour flavours. This is strictly a hawker treat, as one is unlikely to find great laksa in a fancy restaurant.

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Colourful onde onde ubi keledek recipe from Madam Lily Wong

Onde onde © Adrian Cheah

Nyonya kuih are colourful Asian sweet cakes that are popularly served for breakfast and afternoon tea and as snacks anytime of the day. The selections are many and varied, available at morning markets and food courts throughout Penang.  One such type is the explosively delicious onde onde. 

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Chine Blue – an insight into Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion © Adrian Cheah

Like a fragment from a scroll painting, an exotic indigo-blue mansion, with graceful, curved windows and a peaked, tiled roof, remains in the midst of Penang's modern high-rises. This rare survivor of old Penang, constructed in a Chinese-courtyard style with Western art-nouveau features, reflects the complex personality of its builder Cheong Fatt Tze. Called the "Rockefeller of the East", he was the most flamboyant of all Penang's multimillionaire towkays during the island's heyday of wealthy magnates.

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Fort Cornwallis – the Star on the North East Coast of Penang

Fort Cornwallis © Adrian Cheah

The star-shaped Fort Cornwallis marks the point where Francis Light and crew landed on 11 August 1786 to "take possession" of the island from the Sultan of Kedah. This date was also the birth date of Prince Charles and hence Francis Light named Pulau Pinang as the Prince of Wales Island.

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Book review: Once Upon A Kamcheng

Lillian Tong and Jewel Tan

Once Upon A Kamcheng

Preface

This book is an anthology of Penang Straits Chinese Baba Nyonya memoirs, biographies, and collected stories. The compilation was inspired by life growing up in a Baba Nyonya home and the stories told to me by my mother, Tan Chooi Bee, and my friends. Beyond the nostalgia of resplendent gold and gilded lattice screens and gracious living are behind the scenes expose bothering on the ridiculous to the tragic, where antics, escapes, indulgences and misadventure reign.

Lillian Tong

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An authentic Hakka luncheon in Balik Pulau

Hakka Village © Adrian Cheah

In Penang, where do you go for classic home-cooked Hakka favourites? To answer that, I ventured to the village of Balik Pulau, where about 30 percent of the Chinese are presumed to be Hakkas. Perched on a hillock in Pulau Betong is a restaurant located at Balik Pulau Lodge. Some recognise it as the "Hakka Village".

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Penang's very own Arcadia in the clouds – Penang Hill

Penang Hill © Adrian Cheah

Penang Hill is the state's foremost hill resort. Although it was originally called Flagstaff Hill, the locals have always affectionately referred to it as Penang Hill or Bukit Bendera. At about 830 metres (2,750 feet) from sea level, the temperature on the hilltop is considerably cooler than the nether lands. On regular weekdays, the hill is pretty quiet and can serve as a recuperative getaway, far from the madding crowd and city heat.

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