"Home Sweet Home - George Town, Penang" George Town by andrewyong

George Town Travel Guide: 179 reviews and 533 photos

my home

I was born in the City of George Town, the capital of the State of Penang. I love Penang, as do many visitors. I guess there's no place like home. It's old world charm will put you at ease at once or keep you abuzz all day and night. Penang has the most (12K of the approx. 13K) colonial & pre-WWII buildings in Malaysia.

My home State of Penang was the first British settlement in the Far East when Captain Francis Light founded a settlement in George Town on 11 August 1786 on the north-eastern tip of the island. He was a captain of a merchant ship with the British East India Company. Given the influence of the French in the area, he knew the British Crown needed and wanted a post east of India to counter the French and in order to facilitate trade with China. So the story goes to say that he "negotiated" with the Sultan of Kedah to found a settlement on the tip of the island opposite the sultanate in exchange for $6,000/- a year (Straits dollars). Later, he supposedly arm-twisted the sultan for piece of land opposite the island (Province Wellesley) for an additional payment of $4,000/- year. Until todate, the Penang State Government pays the annual RM10,000/- (in Ringgit Malaysia now) to the Government of the State of Kedah.

Penang was then known as the Settlement of the Prince of Wales Island and Province Wellesley, and together with the settlements of Melaka (Malacca) and Singapore, it formed the Crown Colony of the Straits Settlements from 1826-1946 (though occupied by the Japanese Imperial forces from 1941 to 1945 during WW2).

Much of the development plan for inner George Town was done by Light's right hand man, Colonel William Farquhar (who laid down the plan for the city of Singapore as well). With the fast growing needs of the bustling port, it meant that all plans went asunder...to an extent. Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore and an avid historian, was State Secretary of Penang at that time and it was during his opportune convelesance in Melaka that he saved Melaka's historic centre from destruction by over-zealous British officers who wanted to get rid of the remnants of the Portugese and the Dutch who occupied Melaka earlier.

FYI, Francis' son, Lt William Light is the founder of the City of Adelaide, South Australia; our sister city. We celebrate Adelaide week every 2 years! Likewise, they celebrate Penang week too.

I found some interesting write up on the history of my home State on the webpage of fotw.net (under Straits Settlements). Cocos/Keeling Islands and Christmas Island, which are now part of Australia, were once part of the British Straits Settlements, and after WW2, part of the Colony of Singapore.

Due to their geographical locations or some other political reasons, I suppose, they must have then been ceded to Australia when we were granted independence on 31 August 1957 - Federation of Malaya.

The Federation of Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963 to take in Singapore, and the East Malaysian states of Sabah (formerly British North Borneo) and Sarawak (formerly governed by the Brooke family, of what must had been the world's only private independent kingdom).

I know that the Dinding Islands of the State of Perak were once part of the Straits Settlements, but, not also Labuan Island, which is now a Malaysian federal territory in East Malaysia and an International Offshore Financial Centre.

You may want to check my homepage for the old flags used by Penang.

The City of George Town

George Town is also the 1st city in Malaysia, its status being granted by way of a royal charter by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1956. The bronze/metal charter plaque now lies inside the hallway of City Hall in the Esplanade.

The Esplanade and the square/field, fronted by the City Hall and Municipal Town Hall buildings on the west side and Fort Cornwallis on the east side, was one of three places where our declaration of independence was read when the clock struck midnight on 31 August 1957, the other two places being Merdeka Square in KL and Melaka.

Those of us who were born and bred in Penang always feel a strong emotional attachment to our 21st century city (linked throughout by fibre-optic cables) with never-changing street scenes which evoke the feelings of a 19th c/early 20th c. port-city, so different from so many parts of the world. It must be the food... (many are a fusion of Indo-Sino-Malay-Thai cuisine... you can never find them anywhere else). We have our very own sub-culture! The Straits artifacts and heritage you see in Penang today would give you an idea of how Melaka, Singapore, Phuket (where the Peranakan settled) looked like, especially SIngapore before the crazy wave of modernisation let to the destruction of almost all their heritage so much so that wealthy Singaporeans in 1990s paid a premium to people who now start to destroy our heritage by vandalising the handmade tile-laden five-foot pathways outside these Chinese shophouses.

The damn thing is that the town planners have almost gone to sleep and greedy developers have taken over...sad.

In Malaysia, locals and foreigners pay the same price for most things, even souvenirs! (bargain if you must-but not for food please but you'll know when you're being fleeced...). Beer is comparatively expensive because of high taxes to discourage drinking.

Cigarettes is cheap, but, like alcohol, it is being taxed more and more every year I think.

Many have told me they like the endless variety of food from the different communities that made Penang a home. You'll not get bored eating... The different street names will also give you an idea that once upon a time, people from all over Asia and further afield came here to find greener pastures. Hence, we have an Armenian Street, a Nagore Lane, a Yahudi(Jewish) Road (now Jalan Zainal Abidin)-there's a little Jewish cemetery there, a Bangkok Lane, the big artery Burma Road, an obscure Hong Kong Lane, etc. Heck! We even have our very own Downing Street (minus No. 10 though-only the GPO is there) and the main Scotland Road...you get the idea...

The Armenians have all packed up and gone off to Australia and there are only elderly Asiatic Jews living in Penang now (not many people know about these "little" big facts I'm afraid.

George Town's historical centre, Penang, together with Melaka's historical centre, are applying for UNESCO's world heritage site listing. George Town's Historical Enclave is listed as one of the world's 100 most endangered sites on the World Monuments Watch in 2000 and 2002.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:old George Town's many quaint streets brings you back to a by-gone era
  • Cons:all the hustles & bustles of a mad & modern city: rat race
  • In a nutshell:always a home
  • Last visit to George Town: Jun 2004
  • Intro Updated Apr 9, 2006
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andrewyong Used To Live Here!

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