Visiting Malaysia is like stepping back in time. Everywhere you look, there will be something which either reminds its inhabitants of the past. It could be an old building, a shop which has been open for generations, a spot where traditional performances were held and so on.
Aside from locations, there are also people who still practice old trades such as making furniture by hand, transporting fares by trishaw and even smithies who fashion buckets and other tools from iron and wood at their forges.
This is what I discovered, or rather, rediscovered when visiting Penang. It has been ages since I set foot on Penang island and there is much more to it now than ever when it comes to art, culture and heritage. I personally feel that Penang is now a hub for art in Malaysia.
Heritage here is also preserved in museums and galleries. They dot the main city of George Town and many of them have cafes attached to them which look just as unique as the galleries. One such cafe/gallery is China House.
The cafe’s walls are adorned with vintage paraphernalia while the art gallery upstairs displays paintings, pottery and sculptures by various local artists. They also have booths within the cafe selling hand-made fashion accessories.
Moving back outside, the weathered walls of colonial-era buildings are given some character with art installations and paintings such as this this:
I also noticed that there’s a strong Chinese influence in Penang in terms of culture. There’s a multitude of Chinese clan houses you can find, many of which are open to visitors for more information on each house and some even allow photography.
Over on the coast of George Town is the Clan Jetties Floating Village, a complete village on stilts above water where the Chinese clans used to live in the 19th century. Coming as immigrants then, they established clans to survive in a new environment.
If you’re visiting Penang for the first time, make sure to bring your walking shoes because that’s how Penang is best explored. You won’t discover much if you ride around in a car all day. The real experience is in the hidden gems tucked away in the most unexpected corners of the island. Penang maintains its old world charm and is a cozy destination to wind down or enjoy art and music and most of all, food! But that is a story for another time.
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