George Town

You can’t come to George Town and not visit George Town! So I spent this day (which was quite rainy – I did this the right way round!) admiring colonial architecture, visiting the Pinang Peranakan Museum (the ex home of a wealthy Chinese mafia gangster, now owned by another guy who took four years and millions of RM to restore it all… who knows where he got his pennies…), then taking myself on a mini tour of some of the famous George Town Street art on the way to the Penang House of Music, rated #1 of things to do in George Town (amazing really, considering it’s a mainly musical view of the history of George Town, and although it’s extremely well documented and researched and also very interactive and brilliant for all ages, it’s housed in a shopping mall all about IT, with broken escalators… the least likely place for it! The lady who runs it told me it costs a fortune for them to rent that place as well and they might have to close or move). Then I went more directly back to the hotel (well it was supposed to be direct, but see next post)…

Peranakan Museum

More colonial era opulence, this mansion was owned by a Chinese mafia/triad boss. It was in his interests to impress the English with all his fine trumpet vases, flooring, pillars, gold leaf wooden doors and screens. The pictures of the grandparents on the wall of the dining room show them dressed in British clothes. Which just looks…wrong to me.

The Chinese mafia boss kept his own pharmacy and doctor, fearing someone might try to poison him – live by the sword and all that. In that time people also used silver to test whether there was any poison in food. (Usually it would turn the silver black.) Apparently this was the more than decorative function of some of the ladies’ hair pins.

The street art pretty much speaks for itself. It’s a shame I didn’t have time to see more of it. Here’s some, along with some colonial buildings and another Hindu temple:

Penang House of Music:

This was a great musical way of telling the story of the history of Penang, including lots of information about the different types of music from the many different cultures in Penang during different periods. (With genuine instruments for me to have a go at and a lot of snazzy technology to try out as well.)

A lot of the music that became popular was influenced by British music, and especially jazz. During the Japanese occupation all radios were doctored so no one could listen to western music, and the musicians in Penang were forbidden from playing British music. So they put Malay words to their favourite British jazz standards and said they were Malay music, which seems to have fooled the Japanese in the main.

Although one jazz musician was imprisoned for 3 years by the Japanese for listening to western music, and made to dispose of the bodies of the other local people the Japanese slaughtered during this time. He survived, but was haunted by it all, of course.

Here are some pics from the Penang House of Music. Well worth finding my way to:

Before the British came to Penang, the traditional Malay and Chinese music usually involved a whole troupe. The lead singer would wear distinctive clothing and carry the red baton to conduct with.

Out of this developed a kind of opera called Bangsawan, which the troupe would take on tour around to the rural places as well as in the towns. When the film industry began to develop in the early 20th Century, apparently the Bangsawan were sought out to perform, as they were skilled at acting singing and dancing. Unfortunately, so many of them went into the film industry (much preferable to travelling round all those log distances all the time) that the traditional Bangsawan gradually died a death:

Love songs of the Nyonya

I think Jimmy Boyle on the left below was the one who was imprisoned by the Japanese for three years for listening to western music. But he survived!

Chinese drum

Hawaiian slide guitar

Harmonium
Homemade skiffle bass

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