Celebration of Penang Heritage City
The celebration of Penang Heritage City was held over three days: on the 25th, 26th and the 27th of July 2008. George Town was finally accorded the status of UNESCO's Heritage Cities of the World on 7th July 2008. Together with Malacca City, the cities are now known as the Heritage Cities of the Straits of Malacca. I had the good opportunity to join in the fun with my two young children.
The list of program was handed out to us. The celebration of Penang Heritage City included the following.
The highlight was the street procession from Jalan Kapitan Keling (also known as Pitt Street) to the Esplanade (or locally known as Padang Kota Lama), and then the opening ceremony complete with fireworks, entertainment from the local artistes and also a skit entitled "Penang Story". The leaflet for celebration of Penang Heritage City was well produced, complete with the George Town city maps.
Before the procession, at various locations in the heritage core zone, there were "mini" entertainment areas such as Chinese opera, puppet show, lion dance, boria, Ghazal parti and giant drums performance.
We started from the Esplanade at around 5.00 p.m. Then we walked along the Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai), turned the right corner to follow Chulia Street and stopped for a while to admire the art and architecture of the Teo Chew temple. Big drums were lined up outside the temple ready to put up a performance. There was a small stage too for the puppet show.
From afar, we could hear the cymbals and drums accompanying the lion dance at the Yap Temple. So, we stopped there. My children were so excited. I did not expect that they would like that, especially my daughter who did not particularly like loud sound or music. On the contrary, in this case, she liked the lion dance performance very much.
We followed the Armenian Street until we reached the Islamic Museum. Here, an outdoor stage was erected. There were also tents offering free Malay cakes and drinks for everyone. A local artist was there too, whom you could commission an impromptu portrait.
The boria performance was in full swing. It was performed by young people in bright, colorful costume. Later, there was Ghazal Parti and Indian songs by the local artistes.
After a quick tour of the Islamic Museum (formerly Syed Al-Atas' mansion), we moved to the former Sun Yat Sen's headquarters which was only a few doors away. Then, we slowly walked back to Pitt Street, stopping by to watch a couple of Chinese opera performances held at the compound of two different temples.
Night fell, it was so typical of Penang's street procession to start with Chingay. It was a balancing act, together with some acrobatics and daring feats. On the side street, Indian drummers accompanied a group of young Kolattam performers. This dance is derived from Silambam, an ancient Indian martial arts.
The rhythm was hypnotic. The drummers seemed to be in trance, so absorbed they were in the cyclic pounding of the drums. A couple of lions ran, jumped and danced with clowns wearing wooden masks. The beat of the cymbals and drums ran on and on.
Imagine, some of these performers put up with the energetic pace for about four hours!
Then, the lion dancers came again. Full of playful antics, they "spat" sweets and peanuts to onlookers which made the children especially, to scream with delight.
All these went all the way to the Esplanade. Here, in front of the Town Hall, the Chingay group again stole the limelight.
Faithfully followed by naughty lions and also energetic Indian drummers and the young Kolattam stick fighters.
Did we get tired after walking miles? We hardly felt it then. It was such good fun and something that not many people had experienced.
Please bear in mind, this was considered a small scale street procession by Penang's standard.
If you happen to be in Penang when such street celebration is organized, do not miss the chance to become one of the revelers.
When the officials finally declared the proclamation of Penang as one of Straits of Malacca's Heritage Cities, the firework went with large fanfare. It was great. The children, especially were waiting for this spectacular moment.
Kudos are due to the organizers and sponsors, who managed to pull everything off in such a short time that the celebration of Penang Heritage City was such a big success. We also went for the last day of the celebration. There are more photos here.
The celebration of Penang Heritage City should be a start to the future of a more meaningful relationship between the people of Penang and their own heritage. I truly hope that the status is revered so that the criteria outlined by UNESCO are observed to preserve our heritage.
Heritage Buildings Penang
When Penang was included into the UNESCO World Heritage, this was not by accident. The city has plenty of beautiful preserved heritage buildings, see for yourself:
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