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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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Never Forgetting Balik Pulau – exploring an alluring, rustic village in Penang across time

Josephine Choo
Photography, design and layout by Adrian Cheah

Never Forgetting Balik Pulau © Adrian Cheah

"Never Forgetting Balik Pulau" is part memoir, part guide. The author, after spending her entire youth in the village, accumulated a bagful of tales. Exploratory trips back gave credence to past memories but gradually, a comprehensive guide with maps to the village evolved.

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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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Chio Hua, the golden Nyonya Jelly

Nyonya jelly © Adrian Cheah

Reminiscing about my childhood days brings back fond golden memories especially about the kitchen where I first fell in love with cooking. For me, everything that my mum shared with me will always have a special place in my heart – from cooking the most fiery sambal babi to making crunchy Nyonya jelly. Mum has definitely enriched my childhood with these experiences.

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Ang Pow, a packet of good tidings

Ang pow © Adrian Cheah

A gift of money, ever so simple and practical, is convenient and would to be much appreciated by the recipient! All over the world and for as long as anyone can remember, the Chinese have been giving gifts of money during auspicious occasions, like Chinese New Year, birthdays and weddings.

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George Town World Heritage Site: The story of the Chinese in nineteenth-century Penang

By Mark Thompson and Karl Steinberg with photographs by Adrian Cheah

George Town World Heritage Site: The story of the Chinese in nineteenth-century Penang

Walk between two of George Town’s most famous landmarks with this illustrated guide. Discover the story of the Chinese in nineteenth-century Penang and explore some of the community’s fascinating characters, customs, architecture and events.

For as long as it has existed, George Town in Penang has attracted travellers and settlers from across the globe and is a true confluence of cultures. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site continues to enchant visitors with its traditional charm and its well-preserved historical townscape.

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Sri Mariamman, the temple of an ancient goddess

Sri Mariamman © Adrian Cheah

Penang has a large community of Indians, broadly divided into those from the North (Bengalis, Sindhis, Gujerati etc.) and the South (Tamils). It is not surprising then that the Penang landscape is dotted with Hindu temples, from the large and ornate to the unostentatious makeshift huts and lean-to's.

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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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The Saanen Dairy Goat Farm, a hidden gem to visit in Balik Pulau

Saanen Dairy Goat Farm © Adrian Cheah

Stories related to goats cut across cultures and geography, conjuring up myths and beliefs that have flowed through millennia right up to this present day. I find these vivid and dramatic tales utterly captivating.

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Emperor Villa's "kochabi" set meals good for lunch or dinner

Emperor Villa © Adrian Cheah

Emperor Villa, a family-run business offering accommodation and dining first opened its doors to the public in September 2019. It took two years to complete the construction of its rustic villas complete with a spacious swimming pool, nestled among nine acres of greenery in the hills of Sungai Ara, Penang.

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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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Kek Lok Si Temple, the monastery on Crane Hill

Kek Lok Si Temple © Adrian Cheah

In Chinese iconography, the Crane holds special significance. It is an auspicious symbol denoting longevity, and wisdom that comes with age. The Crane is said to manifest a peculiar interest in human affairs and is also often associated with good luck, high-mindedness, purity and freedom.

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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 creature that terrorised humans during the New Year. It was so fierce that it threatened to destroy the entire race of mankind.

At a loss at 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 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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The art of making the perfect Kuih Kapit (love letters)

Kuih Kapit © Adrian Cheah

Some people claim that oysters are an aphrodisiac. Then there are others who say that the tomato is the food of love (from its name pomme d'amour – French for "love apple").

In Malaysia, there exists a delicacy that, despite its name, is neither an aphrodisiac nor a love potion. Yet those who have tasted it have been known to wax lyrical over the exquisite flavour. The "love letter", more commonly known as Kuih Kapit (a paper-thin crispy biscuit), is an essential feature of Chinese and Malay festivals.

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Ti Kuih to sweeten the words of the Gods

Ti Kuih © Adrian Cheah

Ti Kuih (sweet sticky rice cake) in Mandarin (nian gao) literally means "year cake" which also echoes the sound of rising abundance or prosperity for the coming year.

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Kuih Bangkit (Tapioca cookies) – a popular Chinese New Year favourite

Kuih Bangkit © Adrian Cheah

Kuih Bangkit is one of the classic Chinese New Year cookies beside Kuih Kapit and pineapple tarts which are adored by Penangites. What makes this traditional snow-white Nyonya cookie good is the aromatic smell that welcomes you the moment you bite into the crispy outer later which then melts in your mouth to a powdery softness.

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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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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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More than just fresh oysters at a Penang oyster farm

Penang oyster farm © Adrian Cheah

My early childhood days were filled with family weekends to the beach. We would swim, dig for lala and on occasions, arm ourselves with a screwdriver and hammer to chisel out oysters from rock surfaces. Some days we would also bag a few belangkas (horseshoe crabs) and hai ciau (axe clams). Those were the good old days when the shores of Penang were teeming with life and the waters, pristine.

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The 32nd International Baba Nyonya Convention in Malacca

Baba Nyonya Convention © Adrian Cheah

Sadhguru (Jaggi Vasudev), an influential yogi cautioned that the more we identify with something – religion, gender, race, ideology, money, et cetera – the more we will defend it, some even with our lives. Having said that, most of us feel the need to identify with things we hold dear, be it our family, heritage or even our social media status.

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