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


History of Little India

Little India, Penang © Adrian Cheah

This meticulously regimented network was among the earliest parts of George Town planned under the administration of Sir Francis Light, the English founder of Penang. The area is hence now referred to as the "Francis Light Grid" – a rectangular network bordered by Leith Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street (now Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling).

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The floral bath (mandi bunga) ritual

floral bath © Adrian Cheah

The Russian musician Igor Stravinsky might have composed Le Sacre du printemps (The Rites of Spring) as an exploration of nature and the rituals of renewal and sacrifice, but one could safely conjecture that the ritual and ceremony of the Malaysian floral bath was created for more personal (and less lofty) reasons. The two may be worlds apart, but both Stravinsky and the local bomoh share one thing – invoking the power and the mystery of nature and the elements in their work.

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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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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 (a 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 on that day, the entire Hokkien clan was spared from being massacred. They believe it was the Jade Emperor, also known as the God of Heaven, who protected them. Thus, it is celebrated with more grandeur especially in Penang compared to the first day of the lunar calendar.

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Chap Goh Meh – The Night of Romance

Chap Goh Meh © Adrian Cheah

A fascinating Chap Goh Meh legend tells the tale of a lonely young bachelor, who during an outing on this moonlit night, was suddenly enchanted when he caught a glimpse of the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Who was this exquisitely delicate beauty driving by in all her finery, he wondered? With excitement pounding in his heart, the hopeful young man quickly jotted down the number of the car she was in, lest he forgot.

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On The Crest Of Prayer - The Thaipusam Story

Thaipusam © Adrian Cheah

From the top of the green hill, the endless string of devotees dotting its way up the concrete steps seemed like a sacred procession of silence.

Carrying milk-pots of brass and silver, and harnessed in colourful kavadis, the worshippers inched their way to the great temple overhead with sweet hypnotic resolve. The children, the elders, even the disabled ones, scaled slowly with their ceremonial burdens, ascending with a mission to the call of the good Lord Muruga above.

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Remembering loved ones on All Souls' Day

All Souls' Day © Adrian Cheah

The feast of All Souls' Day is a reminder for us to offer up prayers for the departed, to help them on their journey to heaven. We pray not just for those we know and love but also for “neglected souls”. This is regarded as an act of charity.

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Deepavali – Celebrating the Light

Deepavali  © Adrian Cheah

Squatting at a corner of King Street amid the human bustle of Penang's Little India, Manickam P. sorts through a giant pile of fresh green banana leaves.

Clad in baggy khaki shorts and a sweat-soaked singlet, he seems to take no notice of either the automobiles that incessantly purr past or the hundreds of human apparitions that mill by him. The elderly odd-job worker certainly has his work cut out for him nowadays.

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The Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Penang

Nine Emperor Gods Festival © Adrian Cheah

How far would you go for your belief – undergo a nine-day vegetarian diet, walk on fire or even pierce a long spear through your cheeks? Or are you an armchair devotee who prefers to remain in your comfort zone and observe from afar? Would the younger generation know what the festival is all about and would youths pause to find out more?

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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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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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