Great Penang

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

Great Penang © Adrian Cheah


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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Sembang-sembang with Tan Choon Hoe

Tan Choon Hoe

Malaysians are a lucky bunch, always well known for their versatility in languages or dialects. Take for example my late father who was Chinese could converse fluently in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil, Hindustani, Mandarin, Cantonese and of course, Hokkien.

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Sir Stamford Raffles and The History Of The Runnymede

Thomas Stamford Raffles was born in 1781, to Captain Benjamin Raffles and his wife Anne and in 1793 was sent as a boarder to the Mansion House Boarding school in Hammersmith, London. He joined the East India Company in London as a temporary clerk in 1795.

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Silat – a Malay martial art steeped in tradition

Like other forms of Oriental martial arts, the millenia-old Malay silat is equally popular and effective in exhibitive, entertainment and sporting functions as it is for actual combat. The etymology of the word silat refers to movement of the body and the art itself originated during pre-Islamic times. Historically, silat reached its zenith during the Majapahit dynasty (1292-1478).

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Heritage buildings in Penang

Acheen Street Mosque

Also known as Mesjid Melayu, the mosque was built on land donated by Syed Sheriff Tengku Syed Hussain Aidid an Arab merchant-prince who came from Acheh in Sumatra. The vernacular style mosque from 1808 remains basically unmodified except for the Moorish arcade added at the turn of the century.

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Ramadhan – a time for reflection

Ramadhan © Adrian Cheah

Once again, Ramadhan, the holiest of months for Muslims, is almost upon us. The ninth month of the Muslim year is strictly observed by all Muslims as a month of fasting (and abstinence) during which they would abstain from the pleasures of eating, drinking and carnal desires and actions from sunrise to sunset. Ramadhan usually lasts from 29 to 30 days, after which Muslims celebrate Id-al-Fitr (Hari Raya Puasa in local language). Fasting is one of the five basic duties of Islam.

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Hari Raya Open House

Hari Raya © Adrian Cheah

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language describes an open house as "a social event in which hospitality is extended to all." This could be taken to mean that the diplomacy of inviting one and all to your house to celebrate an event is not an unfamiliar practice. But one could conjecture that no where else in the world would you find an open house event as big and as merry as the ones held in Malaysia.

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Hungry Ghosts roam the Streets of George Town

Hungry Ghosts © Adrian Cheah

Hungry Ghost also known as the Phor Thor festival is an annual month-long celebration observed by the Chinese enclaves not only in Penang but also throughout Malaysia, Singapore and Phuket.

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Merdeka – the National Day of Malaysia

Merdeka

In 1956, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj led a delegation to London to hold talks with the British Government concerning independence for Malaya.

The Malayan delegation, comprising of four representatives of the Malay Rulers and four Alliance representatives, convinced the British Government to set a date for independence: 31st August 1957.

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Of lanterns and mooncakes

lanterns and mooncakes © Adrian Cheah

"The Chinese people have never demanded a clear separation of the worlds of myth and reality – indeed, they are so closely bound up that it is hard to say where one begins and the other ends." – An Introduction to Oriental Mythology, Clio Whittaker et al

"The moon, along with fine wine and beautiful women, is a favourite topic for the Chinese poets." – Chinese proverb

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Penang Dragon Boat Festival – race of the ancients

Penang Dragon Boat © Adrian Cheah

About 100 years ago, large clans of sea-faring migrants from China settled along the foreshores of Penang island, building pier houses on the fringes of George Town.

Many of these humble coastal plank settlements, like the old Bang Liaw jetty in Weld Quay, still exist till today, housing scores of fisher-folk families just as they did many decades before.

During the early period, every year on the fifth day of the fifth moon of the lunar calendar, the settlers would push out to sea lengthy specially built boats for a passionate day of racing. It was one of the great traditions they had proudly brought along from China.

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Tides of candlelight adoration at St. Anne's Feast

St Anne

One of the largest and most extraordinary religious mass gatherings in Southeast Asia is the St Anne Novena and Feast in the town of Bukit Mertajam in Penang.

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The journey of faith – the Haj

Haj © Zakaria Salim

Introduction

Hari Raya Haji (or Hari Raya Korban) falls on the 10th day of Zulhijah, the last month of the Muslim calendar. It is a major Islamic festival and of particular significance for pilgrims who have returned from performing the Haj or umrah (pilgrimage) in Mecca. It may not as grand as Hari Raya Aidil Fitri (or Hari Raya Puasa) in terms of joyous celebration, but is important nonetheless for Muslims the world over.

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Bak Chang Festival in Penang

Bak Chang © Adrian Cheah

Bak Chang is steamed pulut (glutinous rice) seasoned with dark soya sauce wrapped in bamboo leaves and stuffed with pork belly, shiitake mushroom, dried prawns, salted egg yolk and chestnuts or just white beans. This rich and high cholesterol delight which is a specialty during the Bak Chang Festival is available all year round in Penang.

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Pausing for Reflection on Holy Vesak Day

As 21st century Malaysia hurtles deeper into the recesses of globalisation, an urban rat-race and the 'kiasu' syndrome, does Buddhist culture still bear relevance in preserving traditional values?

Vesak Day © Adrian Cheah

The beggar readily sees a bare floor as place for a good sleep. The rich man, on the other hand, will have nothing else but the softest bed in a 5-star hotel.

Both men, poor and rich, have one similar need - to sleep. But they have completely different levels of craving, different heights of desire.

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Celebrating Vesak (or Wesak) Day in Penang

Vesak Day © Adrian Cheah

"Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared." – Buddha.

Vesak day falls on full moon in May. Also known as Buddha Purnima, it is considered as a holy celebration for the Buddhists as the day commemorates with Gautama Buddha's birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and death (Parinirvāna).

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Cheng Beng - the Festival of the Tombs

Cheng Beng © Adrian Cheah

History

The history and practice of Chinese religious and cultural festivals go back a long way, some even beyond the span of written history.

Over the years, the traditions associated with these festivals are handed down from generation to generation within communities, with very little changes introduced. The only difference found in a festival celebrated in two different countries would be cultural ones.

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Madam Hong and Cheng Beng Festival

Cheng Beng © Adrian Cheah

There are some who believe that traditionally, the task of performing Cheng Beng rituals fall on the family of the eldest son, followed by the next in seniority and so on. The eldest son is thus entirely responsible in ensuring that the rituals of ancestral offerings are carried out properly.

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The Spring Festival – an insight into the festivities of the Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year © Adrian Cheah

The Chinese observe many festivals, some religious and some secular. The most important celebration however is the Spring Festival, more commonly known today as the Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year.

According to experts, the Chinese Lunar New Year is the longest chronological record in history, dating from 2600BC, when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the zodiac. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, the start of the Chinese Lunar Calendar can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. A complete cycle takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each. Because of this, Chinese New Year changes each year, as it falls on the first day of the lunar calendar.

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The intriguing tale of deliverance behind the Hokkien New Year

Hokkien New Year © Adrian Cheah

The ninth day of the first lunar calendar is especially significant to the Hokkien people (subgroup of Chinese). Some traditionalists would even venture as far as to say that it is much more important than the Chinese New Year day itself because the entire Hokkien clan was spared from massacre. They believe it was the Jade Emperor, also known as the God of Heaven, who protected them. Thus, it is celebrated with more grandeur when compared to the first day especially in Penang.

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Chap Goh Meh – the Night of Romance

Chap Goh Meh © Adrian Cheah

A fascinating Chap Goh Meh legend tells the story of a lonely young man who, during an outing on this very significant night, was suddenly enraptured by the most beautiful sight he had ever laid eyes on. Who was this exquisitely delicate beauty driving by in all her finery, he wondered. Despite the excitement pounding in his heart, the hopeful young gentleman quickly jotted down the number of her car, lest he forgot.

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