Penang Notebook is part of the ‘Notebook’ series by Chin Kon Yit. Part journal and part art book, it is a ‘portable’ extension of the artist’s larger Sketchbook series. Chin is one of Malaysia’s most eminent watercolour artists. Largely self-taught, he worked in a leading advertising agency for 15 years before becoming a full-time artist in 1991. His work has been shown in several solo exhibitions and many joint exhibitions. Kon Yit’s paintings have previously appeared in Kuala Lumpur: A Sketchbook, Penang Sketchbook, Malacca Sketchbook, Landmarks of Selangor and Landmarks of Perak as well as in Malaysia Notebook, Kuala Lumpur Notebook, Penang Notebook and Melaka Notebook, all published by Editions Didier Millet.
A Penang notebook
From ancient times seafarers have plied the Straits of Malacca, the crucial trade route that links the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. The East India Company (EIC). established in 1600. soon became ﬁrmly entrenched in India, with its ships plying between India and its trading stations in China. It faced stiff competition for the spice trade in Asia from the Dutch and. after the Dutch wrested Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641, the EIC’s ships had no safe harbour in the straits to reﬁt during the northeast monsoon.
Francis Light, arriving in India in I765, secured command of a trading ship belonging to Madras merchants, and set up agencies in Acheen, northern Sumatra and Kedah on the northwest coast of the Malay Peninsula. He recognised Penang as a safe and suitable harbour for the EIC’s ships, and gained the favour of the Sultan of Kedah, whose state was under suzerainty to Siam (now Thailand). In 1771, the Sultan of Kedah granted not only the Qualla of Quedah [Kedah], but the whole coast from this place to Pulau Penang in return for a force ‘to assist him against the people of Salengore [Selangor]’ who posed an intermittent threat to his state.
It took 15 years for the EIC to accept the offer, by which time Kedah had a new sultan. Light was ﬁnally rewarded for his years of effort and appointed Superintendent of Penang in 1786. He landed at Tanjung Penaigre (Point Penaga), the northeastern tip of the island, on 17 Iuly 1786 and took formal possession on 11 August, christening the new settlement Prince of Wales Island in honour of the heir apparent, Britain’s future George IV, although this ofﬁcial name was hardly used even during British rule. The more common name, Pulau Pinang (Areca Island), after the Areca palms growing on the island, is still used today. George Town, the name Light gave to the settlement after the reigning George III, remains the name of the island’s capital.
From the outset, the port was free to all nations, and traders from Asia and Europe came to avoid the monopoly restrictions imposed by the Dutch in Malacca and Batavia (now Jakarta) and to trade under the security of the British ﬂag. The population increased rapidly. Light assigned the various streets in the commercial town to different communities: The Malays formed a ‘Malay Town’ south of Lebuh Chulia; the Eurasians from Phuket and Kedah settled on Lebuh Bishop and Lebuh Gereja (Bishop and Church streets); the Chinese lived and traded from their shophouses in Lebuh China (China Street); while Light and his fellow Europeans occupied the entire north beach area.
Singapore’s founding in 1819 relegated Penang to a secondary position; its trade diverted to Singapore because of the new port’s more strategic location. Penang’s recovery from stagnation was helped by the mid-19th-century tin boom, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the Pangkor Treaty in 1874 which opened up the Malay States to British intervention. With the development of the Malay States and the building of the ﬁrst railways, Penang was the natural outlet for the products of the northern part of the peninsula, and its trade soared with the rubber boom and the coming of modern communications. Its fortune followed that of Malaya‘s (now West Malaysia’s) subsequent economic and political development.
Penang, today, has about a third of the country’s historic (pre-World War II) buildings. Its rich architectural heritage and cultural diversity have been recognised by George Town’s inclusion on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Penang at a glance
Ofﬁcial name: Pulau Pinang
Also known as: Pearl of the Orient
Location: O5°25’N 100°20’E (George Town)
Capital: George Town
Land area: 1,048 sq km (including the mainland)
Highest point: Penang Hill (830 m)
Population: 1.6 million (2010)
Population density: 1,524/sq km (2010)
Main ethnic groups:
- Chinese (42.9%)
- Malay and other indigenous groups (41.1%)
- Indian (9.8%), others (6.1%)
- Islam (44.6%)
- Buddhism (35.6%)
- Hinduism (8.7%)
- Christianity (5.1%)
- others (6.0%)
Languages spoken: Bahasa Malaysia (national language), Chinese (Hokkien, Mandarin), English, Tamil
Anthem: Llntuk Negeri Kita (For Our State)
Currency: Malaysian ringgit
Main economic activities: Electrical and electronics, manufacturing, tourism and hospitality, medical tourism
Time zone: GMT+8
International dialling code: +604
Vehicle registration: P
Main airport: Penang International Airport
UNESCO World Heritage Site: George Town
Fun things to do:
- Join a Heritage Walking Tour
- stroll through Penang Hill and the Botanical Garden
- take a scenic drive to Batu Ferringhi
- try Penang’s famous street food!
Useful phrases in Malay: Apa khabar (how are you), terima kasih (thank you), minta maaf (sorry)