Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Penang - the Best and Worst of Malaysia

Already, Asia is testing me in ways I never imagined. It makes me angry at the human race in general. I am frustrated at Asia's way of life. I am afraid that Asia will continue down its environmentally destructive path. I am sad for the children.I am disappointed in how ungrateful i was living in Australia and complaining about living conditions. I then come across Imperfect Penang, with all of its environmental destruction and overpopulation and I see straight through it. Penang is indeed imperfect but it also is an island full of people who seem to care less about needing to build a brighter future, but rather live in the moment. As a result, there is a happiness that exists amongst its population - a happiness to talk, to laugh, to play, and to serve its tourists. Yes, there are beggars, and prostitutes and homeless people but Penang is a far cry from Malaysia's capital city, KL, where everything is an effort for all classes of people, no one really cares less about invading other people's space and touts hassle constantly, looking for their next dollar.

The guidebooks tell you that Penang has a long history, in the same way as Melaka does. Penang was once part of the Sultanate of Kedah (under muslim rule) and it then came under the rule of the Portuguese who stumbled across it as they sailed to the Far East, working the spice trade. Then, like every bit of world history, the Brits came and invaded it (dont worry, they did it to us in Australia as well). Wikipedia goes on to say that down the track, Penang, in the q0th century, Penang was used as a staging post for the opium trade between India and China. Gambling dens, brothels and opium traders followed. Fast forward to 1957 and it became part of the newly independent Malaysia.

So, with all of the mix in culture, we have Christianity, Islam, Hindu and Buddhist history all mixed up in amongst the sleaze of brothels, opium trading and gambling!

What is interesting is that Penang is also now fast becoming Malaysia's own "Silicone Valley", with some of America's biggest semi conductor organisations (ie. Intel) setting up shop due to the cheap labour and helpful (*cough* "obliging") Malaysian government, who are happy to give big american companies licenses to trade (as long as the price is right). Admittedly, these massive semiconductor factories are providing work to people who would ordinarily not be able to find work elsewhere and as a result, living conditions on the island have improved considerably. However, due to the rapid growth, the traffic is poor, the urban planning hasnt taken into account such growth in population, and the infrastructure is struggling under the pressure. The gap between rich and poor is certainly widening and in the lanes where BMWs and Mercs park, there are beggars lining the streets. It will be interesting to see what life has in stall of Penang.

In the meantime, the mix of culture really is present in the architecture throughout Georgetown, its main city, and it is this that draws most of the tourists. As mentioned in my previous post, Georgetown was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status for its unique mix of architecture. There are signs throughout the city, congratulating each other on being awarded this honour. It is certainly a proud island in that respect.

Much of my time in Penang was spent wandering the streets, enjoying taking shots of the historic buildings and enjoying the holiday atmosphere (it was the May Day Long Weekend). Hope you enjoy the pictures!

1 comment: