Posted in Malaysia

MY-239281: George Town, Penang, Malaysia

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Postcrossing ID: MY-239281
Date Sent: 18 December 2014
Date Received: 11 January 2015
Days Travelled:  24
Distance Travelled:  641 km 

In two days, I’ve received four UNESCO World Heritage Site postcards which is an awesome start to the New Year!  This latest one comes from a place that I’m intimately familiar with and which has very close ties with my home for the past ten years – Phuket, Thailand.  That city is George Town which is located on the north-east corner of Penang Island in northwestern Malaysia.  I visited this wonderful colonial city four times in 2011 while awaiting a new work permit and non-immigrant visa for Thailand, the process taking even longer than usual due to much of the city of Bangkok being underwater and the government officials who normally sign documents being enlisted into sandbagging duty!  On each of those four visits, I stayed in guesthouses along Chulia Street where the street art pictured on this postcard is located.  I didn’t come across this particular mural but I saw many, many others during my daily strolls.

George Town, names after Great Britain’s King George III, was founded by Captain Charles Light, a trader for the British East India Company.  He’d previously been stationed here on Phuket and it is said that he’d warned the governor of the Burmese invasion in March 1785.  He’d attempted to persuade his company to establish their base of operations on Phuket and, thus, claim the island as a British crown colony.  When that failed, he set off for Penang which he purchased from the Sultan of Kedah and built Fort Cornwallis on the northeastern corner of the island.    The trading post surrounding the fort was founded as George Town on 11 August 1786 and by 1805 the population had reached 12,000.

The historic commercial center has been listed as a World Heritage Site since 2008 and is filled with colonial architecture, much of it the same Sino-Portuguese style one sees in Phuket’s Old Town.  The narrow but deep shophouses originate a bit farther south in Malacca, influenced by the Portuguese colonists there but executed by Straits Chinese with their own design embellishments.  When these local Chinese, dubbed the Baba-Nyonya or Peranakan, emigrated, they took their architecture with them.  George Town and Phuket happen to be two of the places where this is preserved the best.  Indeed, we also share much of the same food, clothing, and festivals.  After spending so many years living in Phuket, visiting George Town feels very familiar to me – almost like home, but with enough differences to keep it very interesting.  For more about the Baba-Nyonya architecture, please take a look at my other blog, Asian Meanderings.

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