I have been in Penang for more than a week now. Four more days and we will be heading back to Australia after spending 1 week in Europe and 2 weeks in Penang for our annual overseas holiday. It is really hard to think about going back to work next Monday. But, that is life. I have to face the reality like everybody else.
People have always asked me when is the best time to travel to Penang. I have decided the best time is now – towards the tail end of a rainy season. The temperature is cooler and less humid. It rained almost every evening and for less than an hour. Some evenings it was a light drizzle, shower and one or two evenings had been heavy rain. Some evenings, the shower lasted less than ten minutes. I like it because It cools down the temperature and clears the air.
On this trip, my sister lent me her car. The first few times on the road, I was quite tense driving her car. The traffic was mad, mad, mad. It seems to have got worse. Each time we came back, the traffic got worse, especially driving in the heart of George Town. There is only one good road, which is the coastal highway. It runs from the south of Penang island and ends before reaching Weld Quay, the commercial and business district hub of George Town. The state government is planning to extend the highway around the island to the North of George Town – Gurney Drive, Tanjung Tokong and Tanjung Bungah. For now, the motorists have to drive through the busy streets of George Town when they travel from one end to the other end of the island. The funny thing is that very few motorists honk here, even the traffic is chaotic with no road rules – illegal street parking, driving without signal, overtaking on the left, tailgating and driving on the wrong side of the road. The biggest culprits are the motorbikes. To drive in Penang, you have to drive like one of them.
The heart of George Town is slowly changing. More heritage buildings are being bought up by foreign investors, to restore and renovate the buildings giving them a new lease of life. One great example is a passionate Australian expat, Narella McMurtrie, who has invested in the old part of George Town, helping to preserve the heritage and unique culture of George Town, turning several rows of UNESCO world heritage listed prewar terrace shophouses into trendy, boutique accommodations, cafes, shops and art galleries.
The latest in Narella’s “Straits Collection” is a smartly renovated “China House”, located between Beach Street and Victoria Street. I was lucky to come across this amazing new place, artfully transformed from 3 heritage old shophouses terrace buildings joined in the middle by a well ventilated airwell into a cafe, a bakery, a proper dine-in restaurant, shops and art gallery.
The reason I came to know about this place was a small article in the local newspaper advertising the first George Town Literary Festival 2011 during the weekend 26th – 27th November. It was exciting to know that Penang was hosting this event for the first time and in this fine looking heritage building. A perfect blend of art, literature and culture. There were scheduled readings and book signing by the authors.
China House is truly a remarkable place to take in the colonial past and history in a modern era. It is located on 153 and 155 Beach Street, and 183B Victoria Street. It is not easy to find a parking space, but easily accessible on foot from Weld Quay’s Rapid Penang bus terminus.