Penang Island as tourists and foreigners know it is the “Pearl of The Orient”. It lies off the coast of Kedah, Malaysia.
Before Malaya (now Malaysia) achieved its independence from the British in 1957, Penang was part of the British Straits Settlement, comprising Singapore, Malacca and Penang itself.
Penang was said to have been founded by Sir Francis Light in 1786, this is 224 years ago.
Approximately 2 years ago, the Penang government came to be controlled by the opposition parties which comprised of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (P.K.R) and the Demokratik Action Party (D.A.P) under the Chief Ministership of Lim Guan Eng, the son of Malaysian Opposition leader, Mr. Lim Kit Siang.
If you should happen to be a student of Malaysian history, without a doubt, you surely would have learnt much about the island of Penang and its various leaders. Leaders, such as mentioned earlier, Englishman Sir Francis Light and of course, the Tunku or “Father Of Malayan Independence” or Bapa Kemerdekaan.
Permit me to elaborate a little bit regarding the Tunku, which incidentally is a princely title in Malaysia. Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj (1903 – 1990) was born in Alor Setar, Kedah, The Tunku, later to be known as Bapa Kemerdekaan made this beautiful island his home when he finally retired at the 1st Prime Minister of Malaysia in 1970.
For those who are unaware, the Tunku was visited by a group of young people, led by myself in 1975 and my co-organiser Mr. H.C. Chee, then 2nd dan Tae Kwon Do exponent of the Korean Art of Self Defense and a sweet young lass Cik Faezah. The entourage to Penang Island also included my own wife, Mary Yap.
As the group of youths comprised predominantly of youngsters from the sleepy hollow of Kapar town, Selangor, was made up of both boys and girls, their safety became a headache to the organizers.
With this premise in mind, I felt it is necessary to enlist the assistance of my own wife and Cik Faezah to be responsible for the girls’ safety.
It should be borne in mind too, that Penang in the 1970s was renowned for its “Tai Khor”s. Tai Khors or big brother are like the Mafia groups of Italy. They are said to extort money and confront tourists and visitors to this otherwise peaceful and beautiful island.
Anyway, the group of 50 members made an educational visit to Penang, which was planned for 5 days and 4 nights in 1970’s December, some over 35 years ago.
Luckily, we had our security problem well taken care of by our co-organiser, Mr. Chee and his 15 or so members of the Tae Kwon Do group.
I still recall a big and notorious looking character of our group, a young man by the name of Lee Boon Kwee. He was then no more than 15 or 16 years old. He should now be at least 50 years old today. How fast time has passed.
As I said, our group’s visit to Penang was intended to be an educational tour. The organizer promised its members an interesting visit to Penang. A trip which was to be remembered by them for the rest of their lives.
It was with this in mind, that a decision was made for the group to pay a visit to meet Tengku Abdul Rahman, who by this time had retired from active politics. Tunku was now residing in Penang.
The organizers, in its earlier preparation to visit Penang had written to Straits Times newspaper columnist, Mr. Khor Cheang Kee. Mr. Khor was an extremely well known personality, famous for his Penang Perspective column, which appeared in the 1970s.
Mr. Khor was then attached to the Strait Times newspaper office, I think at MacCallum Street, Penang, was therefore enlisted to assist in the preparation of our itinerary to visit the island.
And you know what? Mr. Khor suggested to our group, a programme so good and interesting, that our visit to Penang was to be one so memorable and to be remembered even up to this day.
What did the famous Penang Perspective columnist suggested? Amongst other things, he suggested our group include everything that’s Penang!
Quoting from a letter I received from Mr. Khor dated 7th June 1975, it was his suggestion that we visit historical places, churches, temples, uniquely structured “kongsi” (clan houses) and not forgetting also its picturesque mansions of the rich.
Bearing this in mind, therefore this group wrote to the Governor of Penang, seeking his permission to visit his official residence, the “Bel Retiro”, situated on top of the famous Penang Hill.
Unfortunately though, due to security restrictions, this request had to be turned down. What a waste?
Allow me to elaborate slightly about this famous architecture mentioned above, whatever the consequences. The Bel Retiro, history has it, was built through arduous and back breaking labour of Indian convict dumped on Malayan soil by the British authorities in the 19th century.
The second interesting itinerary suggested to our group was for us to witness the island’s freedom of worship permitted to the island’s multi racial population. We have inherited this legacy to this day.
It was also suggested that our group should visit Kapitian Kling mosque in Pitt Street, Penang. Also suggested was to visit famous Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) temple.
Not to missed too was the Anglican St. George’s church in Farquhar Street and the famous Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption. So much so, for examples of the freedom of worship which Penang is so renowned for to tourists and foreigners alike, who may wish to pay a visit to the island.
With this article getting even longer, with the passage of time, I am afraid as always, too long an article will contribute to making its readers being bored. It is therefore my suggestion to terminate this article at this juncture.
Rest assured that a continuation of this article will be made at another time and place to talk about other interesting subjects and topics such as architectural sights which Penang Island is capable to provide.
So until we meet again, thank you for taking the trouble to read this blog.