Penang

The Pearl of the Orient

Statue of Francis Light  Today stands on the grounds of Fort Cornwallis

Statue of Francis Light
Today stands on the grounds of Fort Cornwallis

Popularly known as Pulau Mutiara or Pearl of the Orient the island of Penang along the Straits of Malacca, became one of the first British settlement when Captain Francis Light in 1786 came aboard a trading ship. The densely jungled island was then inhabited with only a handful of Malay fishermen and Bugis pirates. Today, Penang is a melting pot of races and religion. Rich with its cultural heritage the place has become one of Malaysia’s touristic destination with George Town as its capital, named after George V. By the end of the 18th century the waters of the Orient are swarmed with Europeans and the Dutch are progressively gaining a strong hold in the East Indies monopolizing the lucrative spice trade. In order to rival with the Dutch trading policy, the British East India Company made the island of Penang a free port which in turn lures many new settlers to the capital. By the 19th century, Penang not only became a popular hub of the Opium trade but also a booming city for gamblers and brothels. Many settlers build their magnificent homes and made the city one of the most prosperous in the region and soon become known as « The Pearl of the Orient ». One of the best way to roam around the old city of Georgetown is to hire a bicycle, a rickshaw or simply walk. The old city is a living book of history where each street corner and mansions have their own story to tell. One story is the Serai Rambai, the 17th century cannon on Fort Cornwallis. A gift from the Dutch to the Sultan of Johor in 1606, taken to Aceh in Sumatra, seized by the British and finally returned to Penang. The cannon is also believed to grant fertility to childless women. Rows of striking colonial buildings such as St George’s church the first built neo-classic style Anglican church, the twin spired Cathedral of Assumption and the National Museum are seen along the Lebuh Farquhar. Millionaire’s Row is another sight not to be missed. Here are magnificent heritage homes of rich rubber planters and first Chinese merchants whose mansions are built in the Colonial and Chinese Straits style. Sadly some of the mansions have been left to decay but several have been refurbished. For someone like me who loves getting lost in time, Penang is a delight even for a very short visit. Wander around George Town and follow the heritage trail. Penang with all its bygone charms is a rare place where the past is left unchanged throughout centuries.

Saint George's Anglican church in George Town, Penang

St George’s Anglican church in George Town, Penang

Categories: Penang

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