Trip Report by David Antill March 2000
I married a Penangite 10 years ago and we travelled from the UK back to Penang to go through a Chinese marriage ceremony and then a honeymoon. It was my first visit to S.E.Asia and a complete eye opener.
Wow! It was all that I imagined and hoped that it would be. Now I know what living in a hot wet blanket must be like. That is the last time that I walk in a lounge suit in those temperatures! I am sure that the locals were thinking "Gila Babi" as I walked to my betrothal at the same time as wondering if I would make the few hundred yards to the Family house before melting. It felt as if I had known my wife's family for many years as my family and I were made to feel very welcome.
My wife's family comes from (and the main family house is still in) the Tanjong Bunga area. In Penang I enjoy the pleasant mix of culture shock and familiarity. Now that I have become accustomed to the food I can understand why the Penangites, especially the expats, talk so much about the food. I can't yet find where to buy Bunga Kantan here in the U.K. Does anyone know? The trouble is that, once we have finished what is in the freezer, we have to wait until someone brings some more back before we can have a good Laksa!
I found that in Penang there were a wonderful amount of links with the past that made always me interested in returning. I do have the concern, after returning on a few occasions (as expressed elsewhere on this site) that progress may gallop ahead and that you may find that you have lost much of what may attract people to your island (Singapore has already lost this charm and is like any City apart from the HEAT). The historical interest in Penang can be easily destroyed but, if preserved will, in the future I am sure, increasingly become an income generating asset. I have found a particular interest in the influence that the UK and later, Australia, has had upon the Island from the date of Sir Francis Light up until, and including, the construction of, what I believe were the (I believe RAF, and later the RAAF) married quarters in the Tanjong Bunga area.
One day, when I can find the time off, from work and a young family, I would like to find out what information is available from the M.O.D. here in the U.K. about the whole development and history in general. I found it absolutely fascinating to travel half way around the world and yet find the same baths, plumbing, window frames and yes, even roof tiles as at home! The fascination must come from the blend of the exotic and the familiar.It could be just that some may feel that I am a lost cause. I understand that the Base/Runway was in Butterworth, which would have required a ferry trip each way every working day. There is a building which is approximately 3 stories tall and, at a guess, about 100' long on the road between T. Bunga and Georgetown (still standing but empty on my last visit in 1998) which I have been informed was something to do with the Air base. Anyone with any memories?
Any information, and especially old photographs, stories or maps of the Island either generally or those showing the UK and Australian involvement on Penang (from all eras but especially the 1950's onwards) would be most gratefully received. I also stayed in a very Colonial cottage in the Cameron Highlands named Rose Cottage. I think that this cottage was for Officers on leave as the whole area is in a hill station retreat. I was amazed to see that there was even a fire place at the cottage, which I did not expect to find at that Latitude. The brass Key Fob for the cottage had the M.O.D. "arrow" stamped into it. I could hardly believe where I was as all around there were houses that looked like they had been taken from Surrey in England and dropped around a Golf course where the weather is apparently usually like an English summer.(Great tea sold there as well and the largest collection of Land Rovers that I have ever seen in one place )I would love to see any old photographs from this area as well. I would be particularly pleased to hear from anyone with with any information photographs or similar interests in the region of Penang and Cameron Highlands. I imagine that there are many who served in the Military who will have an interesting tale or two about these areas. Don't let these interesting details be lost. Finally great site. A nice tonic after a hard day's work. It puts me in the holiday mood...(hopefully back summer 2000)