The Bad News:
A significant portion of George Town, Penang was deservedly awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in July, 2008. The best preserved pre-war city in Asia was now thankfully protected from the wrecking ball. Ironically, that protection and ensuing notoriety has started a tourist fire that may yet destroy the fabric of George Town.
Tourism is like fire. It can cook your dinner or burn your house down. The beautiful old streets and traditional communities are now rapidly being transformed into a theme park. Driven by an unfortunate emphasis on wall graffiti ( ok, street art ), the hordes transcend with their selfie sticks and smart phones to roam the streets in search of the next mural on their map. There's rarely a thought spared for the history, culture or unique architecture. This town has become a playground. Bicycles and peddle carts giggle the wrong way up one-way streets. Trinket stalls, novelty shops and junk food vendors clog the narrow lanes. It's almost heart breaking to see the Old Town being trashed like this. There appears to be no control and no vision. But ....
The Good News:
Tourism has added perceived value to a town that many once viewed as little more than a slum. Decaying buildings are being restored and some interesting shops and cafes are springing up. Most importantly, the beauty and life of George Town is still evident. You just have to dig a little deeper in some areas. Little India is almost unchanged and still so vibrant. The Kongsi Temples, Mosques, Indian Temples and Churches are exquisite. The old pre-war houses are essentially intact and the street-scapes are a photographer's dream.
If you wander along the narrow streets and lanes you will still see local artisans plying their trades. This is the life of the town. The people who live and work within the community, despite the tourism. There are still many places and spaces to sense the spirit of a glorious town in it's twilight years and to savour the positive aspects of change.
This blog is not for everyone. If you find joy in the circus that Armenian, Cannon, Acheen and Victoria streets have now become, then better you get a mural map, hire a bike, snack on ice balls and take lots of pictures of yourself standing in front of painted walls. It's your holiday.
If you have any interest in Heritage, Culture, History, Eco Tourism, Good Coffee and Quiet Spaces, then I hope I can offer some options to make your stay more rewarding. Enjoy George Town.
Notes About This Blog:
It is not my intention to give endless detail about any of the places mentioned. Neither will I outline all that there is to eat and drink at any given cafe. That is to be your experience. My role is to suggest suitable places and itineraries, how to get there and when to go.
My nemesis are those narcissistic bloggers who insist on posing in front of every subject they purport to discuss. While I am not adverse to expressing an opinion, it remains little more than a personal touch to an otherwise objective insight into George Town and beyond.