I anticipated grandiosity in this year’s celebration. I also set no less than great expectations of the pageantry of events. I thought there’s no way that the 4th anniversary of inscription of George Town, Penang as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites could get worse but otherwise. No one can blame me as I experienced George Town Festival 2011 : Tapestry of Cultures last year. I saw, heard, felt, smelt and tasted it as beyond spectacular! A flamboyant display of rich diversities that this cultural melting pot in Southeast Asia is known for. I was simply blown away by that 2011 holiday and I believe this year, it just got better! I haven’t traveled the world but where else can you find streets showcasing arts, heritage, culture, traditions, food, religions, performances and whatnot, mostly for FREE and readily accessible to public all at the same time?
July 7th is the gazetted public holiday for the George Town Festival but people behind it planned and prepared an entire month of merrymaking! This year, it extends from June 15th to July 15th. And if that doesn’t sound grand fiesta to you, I rest my case.
With only my mom in tow, as my wife and our 7-year-old son decided to stay at home to do some chores and rest after, I arrived in George Town from our place in Butterworth on the afternoon of Saturday, July 7th. My mom and I did some necessary errands first, then headed to Plaza Gurney Mall and back to the laterals of Lebuh Chulia.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably known that the Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic‘s murals are all over the key streets of George Town. I assumed the muralist who did those fantastic and whimsical reflections of bits and pieces of life in Penang using mostly children and children’s imagination as his subjects, was commissioned specially for the GTF2012. I showed my mom one of his works located in Lebuh Ah Quee as we began our personal GTF2012 walking tour that weekend.
This Zacharevic’s art installation in Lebuh Ah Quee is an updated version that we saw on our visit last June 23, 2012; before it became more animated, it was firstly presented as ruggedly, rustic and restless looking street painting then…
His masterpieces at one of Penang’s waterfront settlement protected by UNESCO, Chew Jetty …
Armenian Street which is my favorite…
and other streets of George Town are always admired by local and foreign tourists.
I regret the fact that I failed to come to Ernest Zacharevic and Gabija’s invitation via facebook and missed their exhibit called Rescube which was a collaboration with few more Malaysian artists.
What I like most of George Town, Penang other than its multi-racial diversities that are so apparent in their flavorful gastronomic delights, colorful and vibrant cultures and varied and inspiring religions, is the fact that this island boasts of creativity in almost every corner.
Another wonderful treat for the public present in this year’s GTF2012 was witnessing Malaysian artists creating their on-the-spot-watercolor paintings. My mom and I were very fortunate to chanced upon these artistic and skillful hands immortalizing parts of Cheah Kongsi and its nearby shophouses along Armenian Street. For few minutes, I was left in awe!
Still in Armenian Street, I walked my mom through a souvenir shop called, 14 Living Story which in my humble opinion, is one of the most quaint stores that sells interesting pieces that represent George Town and a few more things about Pulau Pinang. However, since it’s my nth time inside that souvenir shop and I somehow became familiar with what they could offer, I was more fascinated with one of their ornaments –a Chinese money plant! I like this plant and I want money, LOL!!!
Spotted this street performer at the junction of Armenian and Kapitan Keling Streets who’s throwing his unusual neon yoyo up in the air while grooving over an imaginary sound. He drew crowd expectedly.
Then we continued our aimless strolling and walked towards Cannon Street. Et voila, another Ernest Zacharevic’s mural!
I saw him when he did this last June 23, 2012…
The other side of the wall has pink pin wheels to send lovely vibes…
Meanwhile, at the tail end of Cannon Street comes Lebuh Acheh…
How do you like sweet smiles as a welcoming party?
Whenever I fill out forms or converse with Malaysians and tell them that we, Filipinos came from Malay race, I usually get quirky stares because most of them haven’t heard of it yet. One need not google or read history books, there’s proof in things that are common among us. Traditional music with gongs, for one, is shared by two countries.
There were also live demonstrations of other forms of arts and handicrafts from henna tattooing, batik making and basket weaving.
Past half hour that we’re roaming George Town streets, my mom and I trooped back to Armenian Street and went inside Cheah Kongsi.
We were in Cheah Kongsi to witness one of a kind expression of Lion Dance. To most of us, Filipinos living in Manila, we usually enjoy such Oriental street performance in Manila Chinatown every Chinese New Year. We might be familiar with Lion and Dragon dances performed on the road with so much ease, but Penangites do it on stilts! The GTF2012 map and guide had Lion Dances on stilts at 6PM and Dragon Dance at 7 in the evening for that day. As soon as we got inside the Cheah Kongsi compound, I let my mom watched over my backpack and reusable shopping bags and thankfully found a nice spot that’s high enough for me to capture the impressive performance.
Yeah, right, I was on stilts too! LOL! No, of course not! I stood up the concrete fence with my stance secured and took extra efforts not to fall and break anything important while capturing this feature. So here’s a few of my photos of that amazing Lion Dance on stilts…
One of the breathtaking stunts they did was this…
And these were the two young men who moved the lion on stilts with ease and expertise…
This Lion Dance was tremendously done; absolutely entertaining!
There was an hour gap between the Lion dance on stilts and the Dragon dance thus, my mom and I opted to grab some eats from our favorite food place in Lebuh Chulia (photos just before the end of this post) and headed back to Cheah Kongsi before 7PM.
Just a few steps from Yap Kongsi and Yap Temple is a Southern Indian decorative design made of colored grains. Where else can you experience Hindu, Chinese and Malays co-existing harmoniously? Pardon me but I really I have to state this : Indeed, “Malaysia, Truly Asia!”
We left Lebuh Armenian and headed to Lebuh Acheh where Indian, Thai and Sri Lankan dances will be performed at 8PM. Days before this event, I was personally invited by Ms. Pavaani, the classical Indian dancer whom I met last June 23rd before she performed then. Her email noted that I can capture a few shots of the girls just before their show.
Local and foreign audience in the street including my mom and myself were treated to fascinating cultural dances. First to perform were the very energetic and passionate, Punjabi dancers…
Each group as I understood it, prepared two dances. Each step was engaging; all eyes were glued to the steps of the performers.
I was surpised myself to see Thai and Sri Lankan dancers. I’m not sure if they’re from George Town too or must have been invited to grace the event. Either way, they made the night even more vivid and alive!
After the amusing Thai dances, the group of Ms. Paavani continued presenting ”Dancing Feet”, a wonderfully choreographed various styles of Classical Indian dances, much to delight the audience.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the beautiful lady in yellow is Ms. Pavaani… I believe she leads the group.
It was almost 9PM when we decided to leave and didn’t wait for the Sri Lankan dancers to perform; we saw they have real swords and spear-looking weapons as props. Not because we chicken-out of their performance, but we’re almost dead-tired. We saw they even needed a long table to put all those props in place prior to their performance. We missed their dances but nonetheless, my mom and I were happy with what we experienced. The shows were modestly done in streets yet so exuberant and lavish!
This blog entry would not be complete without food post of course! For our early dinner that Saturday, just before we came to watch the Dragon dance in Cheah Kongsi, I brought my mom to our family favorite, Restoran Kapitan where we indulged in simple but tasteful Indian dishes.
We love Indian dishes from Kapitan however we prefer it less spicy (or for my family –non-spicy at all). We’re glad they have food choices to cater for the taste buds like ours. I ordered Chicken Cheese Kebab with Cheese Naan. It comes with flavorful dips which I like very much. That tangy tamarid, green mango and chili mix is one of the tastes that I usually crave for! It’s perfect to dip the Cheese Naan or Roti Cheese.
Chicken Butter Boneless is the bomb for me! It’s the first time I’ve tasted this and so glad my mom opted for anything without chili. It might be red in color but only because it’s tomato based. Creamy and buttery with hint of tomato sauce with Indian herbs (and spices), it’s another great dip for those Indian breads. I found another favorite in this dish! Can’t wait till Tina and Gabby sample this.
My mom loves Kapitan’s Mango Lassi which I also like. Lassi’s different from the usual and plain juice or fruit shake because it’s yoghurt based. We all washed down our Indian meal with thirst-quenching Mango Lassi…
This post was only about a few hours of a month-long celebration of George Town Festival 2012. It’s not even tip of the iceberg, so to speak. There’s a long line of programs that includes performers from other neighboring countries. So there were Sri Lankan and Thai dancers whom we saw in this D-I-Y-day tour but there are performers from Cambodia, Australia to name a few; not to forget, no less than my country’s pride, The Philippine Madrigal Singers also threw a 2-night concert that regretfully we missed (due to financial limits). More activities are in store for the remaining days of the festivities.
I remain grateful for being an expatriate here in Penang for almost 2 years now. Because of my work here, I and my family get to engaged ourselves in decent revelries like this. Most tourists and travelers would take efforts just to visit this UNESCO’s World Heritage Site but as mentioned, I consider it a blessing to be based in Penang and to experience George Town almost every weekend. This island’s diversities, heritage and gastronomic offerings are its strongest charms that lure tourists from near and beyond. In my opinion, those are the main reasons why George Town Festival should be celebrated by more generations to come.