Finally I am back in Penang again. It is nice to be back after seven months of absence. It is never boring in Penang. There is always something to do or “eat”. On each trip I made to Penang, I will made a point to walk and explore the old heart of George Town, which is UNESCO heritage listed. There are new finds and surprises. Every streets that I walked brings back some childhood memories reminding of the past. The narrow streets are still grungy with cloaked and smelly drains, and broken and uneven pavements. Old terraces are being renovated into boutique retail shops, art studios and galleries, restaurants and cafes, and stylish accommodations. They are tastefully renovated by retaining the historical look and colour. They are not overdone with vibrant colours to become something out of a movie set, and the surrounding un-renovated buildings and dirty streets still remind the visitors of the past.
I was walking along Weld Quay when I came across a row of heritage listed colonial terraces used as trading houses by the German shipping companies during the Straits Settlement. Weld Quay is rich in history all along this main coastal road. It was a project overseen by the Governor of Straits Settlement – Sir Frederick Aloysius Weld – in the early 1880s. The road was constructed in front of Swettenham Pier, a vibrant shipping port sheltered from the wild wind and rough sea. It became the main thoroughfare for the traders between east and west merchants.
There were some activities in front of the row of terraces. I stood outside one of them and noticed a couple of artists working on the huge walls – painting some local scenes of Penang. A minute later someone came up from behind. He smiled at me and started explaining the artwork that was happening inside the building. It got me interested. The paintings on the wall are inspired by a Singaporean investor, who was born and grew up in Penang. He bought a row of the four terraces, refurbishing them into an art gallery museum depicting the history of the earlier Straits Settlement of European traders, Chinese and Tamil workers. The buildings were used as “Godown” (trading warehouses) in the 1880s.
The project manager, Mr Yong, spoke with great passion of this amazing project, which will be called “Made in Penang”. It is target for a soft opening later this year. The vision and master plan to recreate the scene of the thriving shipping and trading industry along Weld Quay in the 1880s is slowly coming to life on the walls of this row of terraces.
Mr Yong invited me to look at the other two adjoining double storey terraces – one of which will have a 3-dimension painting on the wall depicting the local scenes of Penang and the other will display a full size miniature model of what the busy street scene was like during the trading era of 1880s. I was delighted and grateful when Mr Yong offered to show me around.
I can’t wait to see the completed work. It is in my “must visit” destination when I come back to Penang in 2014 for Chinese New Year.
This is truly a story of “Made in Penang”. All the artwork is done or will be done by local Penang artists.