The Rustic Charm of Georgetown

Why on earth did you booked a train to Penang?” a friend, Doc Gelo, asked me. He was not the only one who asked. Few friends were puzzled over my choice of transportation to Penang. They told me that I could’ve cut the 6 hours journey by half if I take a bus.

My answer to them was all the same; that it had been more than 34 years since I last travelled on a train to the north side of Malaysia. I need to see the greener side and maybe use the time to plan my 2014 work schedule. I don’t really like to take a bus (the last time I took a bus to my hometown Raub, the driver drove like a maniac) and since the petrol hike took effect recently, driving was not my preference too. Well, perhaps if my husband and son could come along with me, I would’ve travelled by car. Anway, the train cost me only RM68 for a return ticket for KL-Buttwerworth. Very economical. I don’t mind all the 10 stops; it was nothing to compare to the slow train ride I took from Frankfurt to Cologne with 69 stops!

Accompanied by my so-called entourage—my niece, Wanda and her friend, Ika—we left on Ekspress Rakyat from Kuala Lumpur at 4pm. We got seats facing south while the train moved north. I enjoyed watching the landscape and enjoyed uploading photos and checking-in on random train stops along the way on my Instagram account. When the journey from one stop to another took longer time, I took out my sketchbook. I normally don’t do this because I will feel nauseous. But that didn’t happen! I discovered for the first time that I have an advantage from having a seat facing opposite direction.


We reached Butterworth at 10pm and later took the ferry to Weld Quay. My friend, Faten Rafie and her husband Azizi Hassan, fetched us at Weld Quay, George Town, Penang. We went for a late dinner at Nasi Kandar Kapitan. We wanted to go for Nasi Kandar Beratur earlier on but had to cancel because we would’ve had to literally ‘beratur’ (queue).

On the way to the hotel, Faten and Azizi took us around George Town (yes, it was almost midnight but we were up to it) to look for random welded iron caricatures by local artists as well as those street arts by Ernest Zacharevic.

It was around 1.00am when we reached the hotel. “I’ll be your tourist guide tomorrow,” Faten (Tanjong born and bred) said before disappearing into the night with her husband.

I woke up the next day feeling excited. Having a room on 15th floor means that I could look at George Town from bird’s eye view. The view of roofs and buildings along Noordin Street were beautiful. I could already imagine doing a watercolor painting of the scenery.


Noordin Street, or Lebuh Noordin, is within a city area known today as the Seven Streets Precinct and it is the only street in the precinct to be named after a Muslim, in this case Habib Marican Noordin, the Indian Muslim merchant who was one of the benefactors of the Kapitan Keling Mosque, and who built the Noordin Family Tomb. *

Faten took us to Padang Kota Lama esplanade area and we had lunch at Hameed Pata Special Mee (noodles) situated just besides Fort Cornwallis. The noodles was super delicious! Combined with coconut milkshake, it was a lunch that worth all the fat I gained.

We didn’t go inside Fort Cornwallis as I had been there on my previous visit few years back, so we went straight across the open field to reach the Town Hall and City Hall. Both buildings were built in 1880 and 1903 respectively. The white City Hall is the largest of the two, but Town Hall painted in yellow and white is arguably the most handsome one.


From Padang Kota Lama, we went to 179, Victoria Street to reccee the place where The Borders Children’s Program would be held the next day in conjunction with the George Town Literary Festival 2013. I had to see how to get there because I was one of the invited children’sbook illustrators for the event. I wouldn’t want to miss it because I could’t find my way there.

After discussing with The Borders representative, we later went to China House café to have coffee and cakes. I love the place, the interior is beautiful. There were crayons and paper table cloth and next thing we knew, Faten and I (as well as Faten’s niece, Najah Zahry who joined us later) doodled and scribbled on it.


After coffee, Faten and I went to discover the nearby area looking for more street arts, cat arts, old buildings and many more. My entourage went elsewhere with their Penang friends; the teenagers were happy to be away from two middle-aged women. Faten and I walked for hours discovering Victoria Street, Armenian Street, Acheh Street , Cannon Street and Kapitan Keling Street.


A set of windows from Syed Alatas Mansion which was built in 1860. The mansion was once known as the Penang Islamic Museum. I wanted to enter the mansion but it was closed for renovation.

It was a great walk and I mostly had a blast capturing photos of of windows (another hobby of mine when travelling). The windows were all oh so beautiful! The mossier and the older, the more beautiful.

“I surprisingly took 252 photos for two hours walk, I must be crazy!,” Faten messaged me on WhatApp chat on phone when she reached home that evening. “Haha, we are equally crazy, I took 275 photos!” I told her before saying goodnight and making appointment with her again the next day to give me moral support at Victoria Street.

My head was spinning as I thought about my presentation the next day. I am the Glossophobia type. I rather people see me draw than hearing me talk. Previously I had the fear of drawing in public but I overcame that two years back when I was given a big panel to draw at Illustrator Lane during Children’s Literature Festival 2012.

I was about to sleep when Wanda texted me “Ngah, do you want anything from Nasi Kandar Beratur?” I quickly replied, “Yes, one nasi kandar for me!”

*This is the unedited version of the article I wrote in my column Em’s Diary in Gaya Travel magazine, issue 8.6/9.1.

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George Town, Penang in watercolor

I am so lazy to write. Well, actually I am all out of words. I wrote a 4-page diary on this for Gaya Travel magazine and wouldn’t want to repeat the same thing here. But I will share the watercolor paintings I did for the upcoming article.

shophouses2Row of houses at Noordin Street.
townhallPenang Town Hall.
cityhallPenang City Hall.
windowWindows of Syed Alatas Mansion.

The diary article that will be featured in gaya Travel magazine will be out in January 2014. I will make sure to give away 5 copies to those interested.



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I am in Penang!

The Borders will be having Children’s Program during the Georgetown Literary Festival and I will be showing a presentation of my sketchbooks and later sketching activity. The event will start from 3.30pm – 5.00pm at 179, Lebuh Victoria. My new books will also be on sale. Do come!

Below are random sketches from my Moleskine sketchbook. I will upload good resolution soon.


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Art & Places: Pinang Fountain, Georgetown

At the King Edward’s Place roundabout, there is a sculpture of areca-nut palm (or commonly known as betelnut) standing proudly to greet visitors with it’s unique modern look contrary with the historical Jubilee Clock Tower.

Pinang Fountain
Pencil on Moleskine. Coloring was done digitally.

Standing at 4.8 meters in height, the metal sculpture serves as a fountain where a spray of water comes up from inside the sculpture. Named as Pinang Fountain, the sculpture was erected to commemorate Pulau Pinang which translates ‘the Island of Areca-nut Palm’. History has it that when Portuguese traders discovered Pulau Pinang (which was a small uninhabited island back in the 16th century) they named it “Pulo Pinaom” as there were abundance of Arecanut Palm trees found around the island.




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Art & Places: Welded Iron Wall Caricatures, Georgetown, Penang

I came across one of  many caricatures installed around Georgetown. Since the inner city of Georgetown has been declared as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2008, Penang State Tourism Development & Culture has been developing a project called ‘Marking Georgetown’ since 2009. This project consists of a total of 52 sculpture located around the city. ‘Marking Georgetown’ creatively symbolises street and social history of the early settlement days. The project showcases the works of cartoonists such as Tang Mun Kian and Baba Chuah.

Here is one that I managed to capture during my short visit to Georgetown.

 Welded Iron Scuplture in Georgetown, Penang
Tok Tok Mee by  Tang Mun Kian. Installation work was done by Scuplture at Work.

Tok Tok Mee is the name of a steel-rod sculpture placed at the junction of Lebuh China and Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. The sculpture tells how hawkers of wantan mee signal their presence by striking ‘tok, tok’ sound. Housewives and children would be scurrying out of their homes to buy a bowl or two soon they heard the ‘tok, tok’ sound.



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Jubilee Clock Tower, Georgetown, Penang

My son and I took a trishaw around Penang Esplanade and at the intersection of Light Street, Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai) and King Edward’s Place (Persiaran King Edward), we saw a clock tower.We managed to see part of the inscription written on the tower ‘This clock tower was presented to Penang….

Jubilee Clock Tower, Penang


After doing some reading online, I learned the name of the tower; The Jubilee Clock Tower.

Previously known as QueenVictoria Memorial Clock Tower, the clock tower is a free-standing clock tower at the intersection of Light Street, Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai) and King Edward’s Place (Persiaran King Edward). Completed in 1902 in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the clock tower rises to 60 feet to mark the 60-year reign of Queen Victoria.

The full inscription on the tower reads ‘This clock tower was presented to Penang by Cheah Chen Eok in commemoration of Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee 1937-1897‘.

This clock tower comprises of 4 tiers; the base is octagon-shaped and the following two tiers comprise four distinct sections with elaborate windows, balconies and a clock face on each side. The topmost tier is rounded off with Roman pillars and topped with a golden dome cupola.

The total cost of construction came to$35,000, a princely sum in those days, borne by Cheah Chen Eok, a wealthy businessman. Chen Eok was also a Justice of Peace, Municipal Commissioner of Penang, member of the Chinese Advisory Board, a trustee of the Penang Free School and member of all local clubs. Chen Eok regarded himself as a loyal British subject and when Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, he offered to fully fund the erection of a clock tower in commemorating the event.

During the Second World War, many bombs were dropped around the nearby government buildings and interestingly, this resulted in the slight lean of the clock tower.





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Georgetown, Penang

It has been two years since my family and I last visited Penang and during our way back from Kedah after my uncle’s funeral last week, we dropped by Georgetown, Penang. Initially we wanted to go to Kuantan as my husband has some work to do but after confirming with the boss, the Kuantan trip was actually scheduled two days ahead. Since it was already evening, we decided to put up a night there. We found a very cheap hotel at Pitt Street that is within walking distance to Penang Esplanade; one of the attractions in Penang.

Pitt Street
View from our room on Pitt Street.

Pitt Street, or now known as Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, is one of the four major streets in the Original Grid of George Town laid out by Captain Francis Light when he established his trading settlement. After naming the first street of his settlement after himself, Light realised that he may have offended the prime minister for not naming anything after him. Hence, he decided to name Pitt Street after the then prime minister, William Pitt the Younger.

Instead of taking the short walk along Pitt Street to the esplanade, we decided to take a long walk by walking around the area passing by Lebuh China, Lebuh Queen, Lebuh Gereja, Lebuh King and Lebuh Light. After Lebuh Light, we reached the esplanade. It was a great walk as we got to see fascinating heritage shophouses.



Fascinating buildings! I didn’t get to capture these buildings on my previous trip here back in 2010.

After admiring the buildings, we crossed Lebuh Light to get to Penang Esplanade. This esplanade consists of  Padang Esplanade (or Taman Padang Kota Lama), Fort Cornwallis, Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse, City Hall, Town Hall, Penang Museum, Municipal Fountain, Victoria Clocktower, Cenotaph, Logan Memorial, Supreme Court, Convent Light Street, St George’s Anglican Church, Francis Light Memorial, Cathedral of the Assumption, Argus Lane, St Xavier’s Institution, Protestant Cemetery and Eastern & Oriental Hotel.

Padang Esplanade
Padang Esplanade.

Penang Town Hall
Town Hall.

Built in the 1880s, the Town Hall (also known as the Ang Moh Kong Kuan – White Men’s Club) is now the oldest municipal building in the state and boasts a spacious ballroom, where regular local events and exhibitions are staged.

Fort Cornwallis
Fort Cornwallis. Can you find Yassin and his dad?

Fort Cornwallis is the largest intact fortress still standing in Malaysia. The fort dates back to the earliest days of British settlement on the island. When Captain Francis Light landed on Penang Island in 1786, the cape where he landed was called Tanjung Penaga in Malay. There, he established the British settlement and trading port of George Town. To defend the site, he built a simple stockade out of nibong palms.

Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse.

Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses in Malaysia. It was erected by the British in 1882 and previously known as the Fort Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse underwent renovations in 1914 and 1928. As part of the renovation, the name was also changed to Penang Harbour Lighthouse. But considering that it stands within Fort Cornwallis, the lighthouse is later called the Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse. Visual distance of the lighthouse is 16 nautical miles.

There are more buildings that I like to cover but I don’t want to make this a very long one, so more posts on Georgetown soon.

So… after walking for hours, we were hungry! We went to the food stalls next to the open field, not sure what to eat. My husband saw a long queue at one particular stall, Hameed Pata Special Mee Sotong and he went and order. Although we had to wait for almost 40 minutes due to the long queue, we were happy that we ordered Mee Sotong. It was delicious! We also had Coconut Milkshake from the same stall. It was worth the 1% body fat that I gained, I tell you. LOL.

Mee Sotong
Spicy Mee Sotong. It is actually a mee goreng with sambal sotong.

coconut milkshake
Coconut Milkshake with Vanilla Ice-Cream.

We had a blast! Yassin was happy to revisit Penang. Here are some more photos around Georgetown.


sunset in Georgetown
Sunset in Georgetown.

Yassin at the playground
Yassin playing at the Taman Kota Lama playground (Day 2 before we leave Georgetown).

husband chasing bird
My husband chasing the birds.

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Trishaws in Malaysia

When I look at my photo albums, I noticed that I have some trishaw pictures and decided to write about it. I am no historian but we all know that trishaw was one of the main transporation in Malaysia up to the 70s. Since then, rapid urbanisation has increased demand for more efficient public transport, resulting in the decreasing numbers of trishaws. I try to remember hard but I can only remember that I rode on one during the 70s in Alor Star when I was a child.

Today, they are operated as tourist attraction, mainly in Melaka, Penang, Terengganu and Kelantan.

Let’s take a look at trishaws in Melaka. I prefer it way back when it was in its much simpler state where there were no fake flower decorations. LOL. Less is more. But if fake flowers can attract tourists, so be it. I guess I can live with that. On second thought, I think the creativeness of the trishaw operators somehow made the trishaw unique. I would love to interview one of the operators one day and find out who started the trend.

And this one was in Penang. I love the trishaws in Penang, they were quite an antique! The originality is still there, no fake flower decorations. And look at the back stand; antique and precious.

And this one was in Terengganu when my son, Yassin was 3. Some were undecorated…

…but some were decorated with fake flowers as well. But not as exaggerated as the ones in Melaka.

I don’t have any pictures of trishaws in Kelantan but will definitely take a snap or two if I pass by the town. I did passed by Jeli during my road trip last February but did not went into town.

Last but not least, let’s take a look at the one in the National Museum. Purely an antique, 1950s.

Have you rode on trishaw before? Mind sharing the experience?


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