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The Clan Jetty - Chew Jetty

The clan jetty forms part of Penang Heritage Trail. Actually there used to be seven clan jetties, one was demolished by fire and then not rebuilt again to make way for other development (Koay Jetty). Now six clan jetties remain, with Chew Jetty having the longest walkway and the most number of houses built on stilts in the water.

chew jetty
The wooden planks which serve as the walkway.

The jetties started in early 20th century as homes for Chinese fishermen in George Town. They were built as the silt and mud that line the area of Weld Quay made it impossible for boats to land during low tide. During high tide, the place appeared to be floating in water. This is also the place where Chinese dragon boat racing first took place in Penang.

The Chinese have surnames to denote their origins. By grouping together, they get stronger with a great sense of community. Out of those six jetties that remain, one jetty however, has people with mixed surname living there.

I got the chance to visit Chew Jetty together with some of the participants of the conference I went to. It was part of the activities to make the conference more meaningful. Good that we were not stuck for two days solidly just listening to speeches.

chew jetty
One of the nicer shops.

We were briefed by our guide that there was a temple at the beginning and also at the end of each clan jetty. Houses were built on stilts on both sides of the plank walkway. Even motorcycles and bicycles used this path. Houses which were built here vary in styles. Some were better than others. Some only had old people living there. There were shops: a barber, a hairdresser, grocery store. Even a trinket shop for tourists.

chew jetty
A double storey house being built.

This narrow walkway was rickety in several parts. However, people lived here for over a hundred years already. Some of the houses were supported by paint cans filled up with cement and they could be built in any direction they want. I saw one with stainless steel gate. One new house was being built too, two storey high!

chew jetty
Only the front wall remained out of this burnt house.

Living in a condition like this, fire is their biggest enemy. We saw remains of one house burnt down. We also knew there was no sewerage system, even though the residents here get electricity and piped water. So, they have cable tv like the rest of the country.

chew jetty
Participants of the conference at
Chew Jetty community center.

Before we left the place, we stopped by at their community center which was built behind the temple at the entrance of the jetty. It was a nice hall with stage and also places to study. They held tuition class and also performing art here. There was one corner whereby children who lived at the jetty pledged by writing their names and saying: "I will never throw rubbish into the sea". That is a very good way to instill awareness to the young ones.

This jetty is just like any other places in Penang where people live normally to earn their daily keep. Yes it has some bad reputation but most of it is not as bad as the actual situation. People who have been there will testify that it is just as any other places. Crime rate is low and the only setback is maybe the absence of the sewerage system. The place does not  smell as bad when the tide is high. That said, there are worse smelling places in Penang than the clan jetties during low tide.

They have been labeled as squatters too but their ancestors have been living like this for over a hundred years. Without the fishing industry that the residents run, Penang would not be as it is now, whether you like it or not.

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