The upside-down tree – Penang's very own Baobab
According to African legend, the Baobab wanted to become the most beautiful tree of all. When it realised that this was not possible, it put its head into the ground, so only the roots pointed heavenward. Another legend holds that when the Baobab was planted by God, it kept walking, so God pulled it up and replanted it upside down to stop it moving.
A traditional signboard maker in Penang
In this day and age of colourful and animated LED video billboards, digital displays for advertisements and other fancy forms of signage, one does wonder if there is a place, still, for the traditional, hand carved signboard – the sort of signboard that is found in some Chinese homes and business establishments.
My Kebaya shirt – a journey where novelty meets sublime beauty
Having grown up in a Chinese Peranakan household, I have always been intrigued by the beauty of the kebaya. It is not just about how the entire ensemble – when matched with a traditional floral sarong is wearable art, one that gives a veritable statement on the opulent cultural heritage of the Nyonyas.
Nyonya kasut manek (beaded shoes) – timeless objects of beauty
The British presence in the three Straits Settlement states had a profound influence on Peranakan culture. Suddenly, the hitherto unknown suits and skirt became à la mode for men and women respectively.
Western techniques also influenced the art and craft of fashioning Peranakan footwear. The style of embroidery for example, once influenced by the Malays was in turn influenced by Western culture. The fine bead work for shoes with which the Nyonya is identified with is a comparatively recent invention from 19th century Britain and Continental Europe.
The floral bath (mandi bunga) ritual
The Russian musician Igor Stravinsky might have composed Le Sacre du printemps (The Rites of Spring) as an exploration of nature and the rituals of renewal and sacrifice, but one could safely conjecture that the ritual and ceremony of the Malaysian floral bath was created for more personal (and less lofty) reasons. The two may be worlds apart, but both Stravinsky and the local bomoh share one thing – invoking the power and the mystery of nature and the elements in their work.
People of the Five Rivers
As one ascends the steps of George Town's magnificent Chinese clan temple of the Khoo Kongsi, it is difficult not to notice a pair of huge images meticulously carved out of granite as if welcoming visitors in.
The two tall, life-sized figures of Sikh guards (above) stand imposingly on the ornate pavilion of the century-old complex, widely considered to be the grandest clan temple in the country.
Sembang-sembang with Tan Choon Hoe
Malaysians are a lucky bunch, always well known for their versatility in languages or dialects. Take for example my late father who was Chinese could converse fluently in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil, Hindustani, Mandarin, Cantonese and of course, Hokkien.
History of Little India
This meticulously regimented network was among the earliest parts of George Town planned under the administration of Sir Francis Light, the English founder of Penang. The area is hence now referred to as the "Francis Light Grid" – a rectangular network bordered by Leith Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street (now Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling).
Our bold and beautiful red Bunga Raya
Let us pause for a moment and look at the name of Malaysia's national flower – Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. The English word “hibiscus” derives from the Greek word “hibiskos.” The flower received its name from the renowned physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40 – 90 AD). He was the author of "De Materia Medica", a 5-volume Greek encyclopedia about herbal medicine and related medicinal substances. Disocorides was also a botanist.
Penang's Cina Wayang (Chinese opera) – for Gods and ghosts
Growing up in Ayer Itam in the 70s was so much fun. Living near the wet market was even better since you could buy food easily any time of the day. Back then, we would bring our own tiffin carriers, even supply our own eggs to the char koay kak lady or Pak Dollah, the mee goreng uncle. Ah Heng, the rojak man, parked his cart in front of my house. He would string halved green mangoes on a lidi (coconut leaf) stick and top them with rojak sauce and crushed peanuts. Another favourite of mine was the sliced bangkwang (turnip), also topped with rojak sauce and crushed peanuts. Ah Heng eventually gave up the rojak business and sold koay teow thng. Everybody knew everybody back then. News even travelled faster than a speeding bullet. Before I could reach home, my mum would have known what I was up to. Mind you, that was when my house did not even have a telephone.