A look at George Town, heritage city, a decade later

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow speaks to retired herbal drinks shop owner Chan So Han during the launch of the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site 10th anniversary exhibition in George Town June 14, 2018. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow speaks to retired herbal drinks shop owner Chan So Han during the launch of the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site 10th anniversary exhibition in George Town June 14, 2018. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, June 14 — A joss-stick maker who turns 90 this year and a retired octogenarian herbal tea shop owner may not have anything in common, yet they share a common bond.

They are the people who make up the hodgepodge that is George Town, which started out as a trading port centuries ago.

Their stories are the ones that are featured in the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site 10th anniversary exhibition.

The exhibition, titled “George Town: Beautiful and Irregular”, features snippets of the heritage city’s past in terms of its built and living cultural heritage along with the changes that have taken place over the years.

The stories of joss-stick maker, Lee Beng Chuan, 90, retired herbal drinks shop owner Chan So Han, 86, and many others who gave George Town its colourful living heritage are featured in the oral stories section of the exhibition.

Chan even lent most of her herbal drinks equipment to the exhibition, including two ornate medicated tea containers that she had used for over six decades before she closed her shop last year.

“I am grateful for all these years of support by my regular customers, some from when they were children until they grew up and brought their own children. But now, I believe that I can share parts of my past by donating these items that have been with me for over 60 years,” Chan, who attended the opening of the exhibition, said.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow looks at an installation during the launch of the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site 10th anniversary exhibition in George Town June 14, 2018. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow looks at an installation during the launch of the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site 10th anniversary exhibition in George Town June 14, 2018. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, who officiated the opening of the exhibition, said the past 10 years of maintaining George Town as a Unesco heritage site were due to community involvement, Khazanah Nasional, Think City, George Town World Heritage Inc (GTWHI) and Penang Island City Council (MBPP).

“The road ahead is still a long one after 10 years and we have to continue on to ensure that this city remains a living city rich with cultures and to be further enriched by a combination of old and new elements,” he said.

He said MBPP, Think City and GTWHI had only played a lead role in the past 10 years as involvement by the communities and stakeholders are also important for any restoration effort to work.

“One of the more important strategies is through education for locals, visitors, adults and children as we need to increase our knowledge, understanding and appreciation of our cities and history,” he said.

He said this is why the exhibition that shares the beauty and irregularity of George Town is a way for people to get to know about the city.

“The George Town Unesco World Heritage Site belongs to all of us, we need to work collectively to ensure a sustainable management through shared responsibilities and commitment and with a constructive approach,” he said.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow looks at an installation during the launch of the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site 10th anniversary exhibition in George Town June 14, 2018. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow looks at an installation during the launch of the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site 10th anniversary exhibition in George Town June 14, 2018. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

The exhibition, which is open to the public daily except Mondays, takes visitors back to the past when George Town was still a trading port with features of the first newspaper in South-east Asia, Prince of Wales Island Gazette, which was established in 1806, and also the Penang Sin Poe which was established in 1894.

It has interactive sections, a corner emulating an old-style kopitiam complete with canisters of sweets on the counter, and a kaki lima card game featuring the many beautiful five-foot ways of George Town.

There is also a section on the fashion and lifestyle of women some 100 years ago up to the 1920s “modern girl” fashion and lifestyle.

The title of the exhibition “beautiful and irregular” was inspired by a letter written by Augustus Prinsep when he saw Penang for the first time in 1829.

Prinsep had described the island as presenting “a most beautiful and irregular outline, enveloped in those delicate things of grey, which, as the sun arose through a humid atmosphere, changed to a beautiful pink.”

The exhibition is open to the public from 11am to 7pm at the Bangunan UAB, Gat Lebuh China until July 27.

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