Romancing the Pearl of the Orient

Penangite Chui Lim shares with us her musings of her favourite island.

By Chui Lim

Food glorious food is what comes to mind when people talk about Penang. After all, Penang was cited by TIME as having “the best street food in Asia” and where “nowhere else can such great tasting food be so cheap”. CNN Travel has also showered accolades on Penang as “one of the world’s top eating destinations” with CNN Go naming Penang’s assam laksa as “the world’s No. 7 most delicious food”. Penang’s char kway teow has also been included by Huffington Post as “one of its 19 delicacies you can’t come home without trying.”

Photo: Irene Cho

The ‘Pearl of the Orient’ has however much more to offer than its delicious variety of food. It is a  growing vibrant arts and culture centre. Art is everywhere if you find it – be it in the Penang State Art Gallery, Hin Bus Depot or in popular streets like Armenian and Ah Quee. The many temples, mosques and places of worship also attest to the diversity of culture in Penang. But what may have been often overlooked are the “spaces of quiet” other than the parks, hills and beaches where one can retreat to and bask in God’s gift of artistry, to take it in and just Being, away from the hustle and bustle in Georgetown .

Photo: Irene Cho

Irene Cho starts her day off at the crack of dawn seeking out these ‘spaces of quiet’ and heads usually for the clan jetties at Weld Quay. The Tan and Yeoh jetties she ritually visits are amongst the oldest of six clan jetties built to house descendants of the pioneer immigrants from China who came to work as labourers or ‘coolies’ in the expanding Penang Harbour and the construction of Weld Quay in 1882 . These ‘water villages’ are built on stilts and represent a piece of Penang’s history and legacy but have repeatedly faced threats of demolition due to their fire-prone wooden structures. Fortunately when the dossier for World Heritage inscription was prepared in 2008, the clan jetties were included as part of Georgetown’s Heritage Trail. It is in these ” spaces of quiet ” that she can delve into her inner self and communicate her passion through her camera to capture some of the spectacular sunrise and of egrets and kingfisher feeding on their catch of the day at the Tan and Yeoh jetties .

Photo Irene Cho

When you see the egret doing the tango or salsa in these fabulous photos, doesn’t Johnny Tillotson’s ‘Poetry In Motion’ come to mind? The Little Egret is a specie of the small white heron in the family Ardeidae and can be found mostly in shallow water and on land consuming a variety of small fish, prawns or creatures. Before the construction of Gurney Wharf in 2016, egrets were mostly found feeding at the mud flats of Gurney Drive. It breeds colonially, often with other species of water birds, making a platform nest of sticks in a tree or bush .

The  ‘dance’ of the egret with the ‘blackbird’ captured here on 4 December 2017 was at Karpal Singh Drive which is a seafront promenade within the suburb of Jelutong near Georgetown. It is named after the ‘Tiger of Jelutong,’ the revered late Karpal Singh, who despite a motor vehicle accident in 2005 which confined him to a wheelchair, continued with his illustrious legal and political career till his untimely death in another motor accident on 17 April 2014.


Photo: Irene Cho

The scaly- breasted Munia is native to tropical Asia and is known in the pet trade as nutmeg manikin or spice finch. They thrive mostly in grassland but have adapted well in urban areas nesting in gardens. They feed mainly on seeds and their conical beaks and thick tongues help in de- husking seeds from heads of grass. June to September is its nesting season and as long as the little bird has humans who enjoy its presence and take care not to disturb its habitat, it can peacefully coexist with us. While their calls could be considered noisy by some people, they are sweet music to Irene Cho’s ears !

*Featured image by Chui Lim.
*This is the first of a two-part narrative by writer Chui Lim exclusively for Uppre. Read the second part here.

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