Great Penang

Adrian Cheah loves Penang. He brings you interesting insights into the UNESCO heritage city of George Town where he calls home.

Great Penang © Adrian Cheah


An enduring staycation at Green Acres Orchard and Ecolodge in Balik Pulau

Green Acres © Adrian Cheah

Mr. Eric Chong and I have known each other since we were seven years of age, both attending La Salle School in Standard One, then St. Xavier's Institution in Form Four. This humble beginning has fostered a close relationship between us that enables me to offer my personal insights into my dear friend's passion project of becoming an orchard grower, a farmer, an organic crusader, an avid student of mother nature and above all, a man who has an unquenchable curiosity to seek and learn. He is unfettered by hard work with perseverance deeply rooted in his being. Together with wife Kim and son Adric (as well as their pet beagle, Ciku), they are the family behind Green Acres.

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Penang Hill – an uplifting experience!

Penang Hill © Adrian Cheah

A must-see in Penang is the Penang Hill Railway, Keretapi Bukit Bendera, a fascinating little cable train service that lifts you out of the heat and humidity of the coastal plain and up to a fabulous view and cool breezes. OK!, if you are not quick on your feet you can miss a seat, but the majority of passengers stand. Anyway, you see more and have the added fun of travelling upwards at 45 degrees to the landscape.

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Batu Ferringhi – a beach for lovers and dreamers

Batu Ferringgi © Adrian Cheah

I came to Penang for the first time only last July after spending time over the years in Hong Kong, China and India, but mostly in Indonesia. Being a lover of beaches I headed for Batu Feringgi on the north coast and settled at the Parkroyal Hotel. In Indonesia, the beaches at Kuta on Bali and Paragtritis on Java have been ones I have always returned to.

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Stop and smell the spices at Tropical Spice Garden

Tropical Spice Garden © Adrian Cheah

One of Penang's popular attractions is the Tropical Spice Garden which is located in Teluk Bahang, a few minutes drive from Batu Feringgi. For those seeking peace, tranquility and to immerse one's self in the splendour of Mother Nature, this veritable secret garden is the place to be.

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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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Kuala Muda fishing village and whispering market

Where fisher folk keep alive a most quaint and unusual tradition of bidding

Kuala Muda whispering market © Adrian Cheah

The political boundary between the states of Penang and Kedah is partly defined by a majestic age-old gift of nature. This is the magnificent Sungai Muda river which meanders quietly but imposingly from the Ulu Muda rainforests deep in the interior of peninsular Malaysia towards the Straits of Malacca.

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Jungles that hide Penang’s forgotten colonial dams

 forgotten colonial dams © Adrian Cheah

The dams of Cherok To’ Kun and Bukit Seraya continue to stand amid encroaching forests in secret testimony to the dedication of their builders and operators from a bygone era.

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KTM Swing Bridge in Prai – a rare engineering novelty in Asia

KTM Swing Bridge © Adrian Cheah

A marvel of engineering, this “swing bridge” is built over the Prai River specifically to allow trains to cross over, connecting the Butterworth Railway Terminal on the northern side to other rail destinations further south in Malaysia. The bridge also opens up occasionally for large barges, ships and ferries that need to pass through along the river. It is operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), the national railway company.

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The surreal vistas of Bukit Katak (Frog Hill)

Frog Hill © Adrian Cheah

Jim Richardson once noted that if you want to be a better photographer, "you should stand in front of more interesting stuff". Richardson is a renowned photographer for the National Geographic Magazine. Many would agree with Richardson and with the advent of social media, it is easy to turn an unknown location like Bukit Katak (Frog Hill) into one of Penang's much sought after Instagrammable hotspots.

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Penang Bird Park – a living sanctuary that houses and protects more than 300 species of birds

Penang Bird Park © Adrian Cheah

When it opened in 1988, the Penang Bird Park was the first man-made bird sanctuary of its kind in Malaysia. Comfortably nestled in a sheltered corner in urban Seberang Jaya, it features some 3,000 birds, consisting of more than 300 local and foreign species.

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Penang Bridge – connecting the island to the mainland

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

Before 1985, transportation between the island and the mainland was solely dependent on the state-owned Penang Ferry Service that plies between Butterworth and George Town. For using the ferry services in Penang, motorists need to pay toll fare while heading to the island. There is no charge for leaving the island.

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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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Jalur Gemilang – the stripes of glory

Jalur Gemilang © Adrian Cheah

Behind the simple and slightly derivative design, the Malaysian flag has, since its creation, served as a silent testament to the country's heritage and cultural mix, and upholding cherished values like freedom and justice.

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Our bold and beautiful red Bunga Raya

Bunga Raya © Adrian Cheah

Let us pause for a moment and look at the name of Malaysia's national flower – Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. The English word “hibiscus” derives from the Greek word “hibiskos.” The flower received its name from the renowned physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40 – 90 AD). He was the author of "De Materia Medica", a 5-volume Greek encyclopedia about herbal medicine and related medicinal substances. Dioscorides was also a botanist.

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Malaysians – unique and united

Malaysians © Adrian Cheah

"The melting pot or mixing bowl images do not provide an adequate picture of Penang. The kaleidoscope, with its shifting patterns of colourful pieces, overlapping sometimes to make new shapes, some larger in one frame and smaller in others, offers a better metaphor for Penang's multi-ethnic population and its changes over time." – Sarnia Hayes Hoyt Old Penang 1991

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Penang's Cina Wayang (Chinese opera) – for gods and ghosts

Chinese opera © Adrian Cheah

Growing up in Ayer Itam in the 70s was so much fun. Living near the wet market was even better since you could buy food easily any time of the day. Back then, we would bring our own tiffin carriers, even supply our own eggs to the char koay kak lady or Pak Dollah, the mee goreng uncle. Ah Heng, the rojak man, parked his cart in front of my house. He would string halved green mangoes on a lidi (coconut leaf) stick and top them with rojak sauce and crushed peanuts. Another favourite of mine was the sliced bangkwang (turnip), also topped with rojak sauce and crushed peanuts. Ah Heng eventually gave up the rojak business and sold koay teow thng. Everybody knew everybody back then. News even travelled faster than a speeding bullet. Before I could reach home, my mum would have known what I was up to. Mind you, that was when my house did not even have a telephone.

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The upside-down tree – Penang's very own Baobab

Penang's Baobab tree © Adrian Cheah

According to African legend, the Baobab wanted to become the most beautiful tree of all. When it realised that this was not possible, it put its head into the ground, so only the roots pointed heavenward. Another legend holds that when the Baobab was planted by God, it kept walking, so God pulled it up and replanted it upside down to stop it from moving.

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The many uses of the "horse racing" calendar

Horse racing calendar © Adrian Cheah

Introduction

It is relatively easy to know which day of the week it is. Similarly, we can more or less tell the time of day merely by looking outside the window. But how many of us can tell the date without referring to a calendar?

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The legend of the ferocious beast called Nian

Nian © Adrian Cheah

"Nian"' in Mandarin means "year". However, legend has it that Nian was also a mythical monster that terrorised humans during the New Year. It was so fierce that it threatened to destroy the entire race of mankind.

At a loss about what to do, the Emperor summoned his advisors to find a solution to this looming armageddon. Having devised an infallible plan, the advisors approached Nian and challenged this all-powerful beast to prove of its invincible strength by destroying all other monsters on earth rather than to erase the humans who were obviously no match for it.

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Ang Pow, a packet of good tidings

Ang pow © Adrian Cheah

A gift of money, simply practical and convenient, is positively appreciated by all. It is common for the Chinese community throughout the world to present ang pows (red envelopes of money) as gifts during auspicious occasions such as during Chinese New Year, birthdays and weddings. Although this humble offering dates back thousands of years, it is still prevalent to this very day.

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The Sari: Queen of garments

sari © Adrian Cheah

The amazingly versatile sari (or saree) is more than just a length of cloth – six yards or more – for the traditional South Asian woman (and a few men) in countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. It is also a garment that covers all, yet is revealing, enchanting yet unassuming, serene yet sensuous. Suitable for work, leisure or luxury, the incomparable sari contains many such contradictions in its flowing folds.

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