Friday, 31 August 2012

In celebration of....

In celebration of what? You tell me. There are so many things we can celebrate today. To each his own. As for me, I am thankful to celebrate life.

Anyway, I was on my way to the market this morning. I turned the corner and what did I see? A pack of dogs by the roadside. It wasn't the presence of the dogs that caught my eye. Rather, what surprised me was their numbers. I thought there were about a dozen of them. Don't know where they had come from. But they were all bunched together in a pack. Like the dirty politicians from the Barisan Nasional in Malaysia whose tactics are the smear campaigns, these animals had only one thing on their mind. Sex, sex and more sex.

Yes, sex. As can be seen from this picture, this pack of mongrels were all milling around a bitch in heat hoping for a piece of the action. Only one bitch to be shared by the rest of them. Pathetic in a way. But I thought that if these mongrels were humans, the piece of the action would also include corruption and they wouldn't be wanting to share it out so openly or willingly. Luckily, these are just dogs which cannot think beyond basic instincts.

So I turned back to the house, which wasn't that far away, and returned with a camera to snap this more sanitised picture (and several others which were less savoury) for posterity. What a Merdeka Day morning it has been. Happy Merdeka to you!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Being Bersih just for today

In support of the Janji Demokrasi gathering tonight at the Dataran Merdeka.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Mini idli

While in Kuala Lumpur, I had the good luck to try this bowl of mini idli (made of steamed rice cakes) - some call it button idli - at the Saravana Bhavan restaurant in Little India. As the little idlis, the size of 50 cent coins, are well-soaked in a thick gravy of sambar broth, a spoon is needed to scoop up the lil 'uns. Then there's the Indian coffee to savour. By and large, a very satisfying breakfast.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Sunrise over Kuala Lumpur

I thought it was rather unique that I could photograph a picture of a sunrise over Kuala Lumpur from my room at the Cititel Midvalley last week. The early morning clouds and possibly mist or haze covered the lower part of the sun and they filtered out much of the intensity of the light. As a result, part of the sun's circumference became so visibly clear. The presence of the helicopter was incidental. I didn't realise it until I took a second look at the picture.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Observations at Malaysia Chess Festival 2012

It is no excuse but the truth. I've been finding myself more difficult to log into the Internet in the evenings ever since my wife started competing with me for the use of the home personal computer. What about the mornings and afternoon? Well, the real excuse is that I'm suffering from a lack of inertia.

Anyway, I was spending several days in Kuala Lumpur last week without my ipad2 or the heavier and bulkier Macbook or the netbook. I only had my mobile with me and I felt that it would be sufficient for me to survive a few days away from Penang. No heavy-scale surfing but just enough connectivity to allow me to check my emails occasionally.

So what was I doing in KL? In particular, at the Cititel Midvalley. Anyone knowing me would know that I would invariably be at the Malaysia Chess Festival. I went there with half a mind to play in the tournament but at the last minute, I decided against it.

The format this year had changed from a long time control to rapidchess games, and I was dead set against short time controls. I play chess to enjoy myself, not to suffer at the chess board, and I consider 25-minute games as pure masochistic. The rush of the adrenalin in the last 10 minutes of a chess game is not to my liking and the pressure has become too much for me. Why should I torture myself unnecessarily? I started realising this more than 15 years ago and that is why I've fought so shy of quick time control games in Penang and now in Kuala Lumpur.

The change in format was primarily due to one man: Dato' Tan Chin Nam through whose big generosity that the Malaysia Chess Festival has now completed its ninth edition. But for the first eight editions, all games were played at long time controls which allowed the tournament results to be submitted to the World Chess Federation for rating.

But this year, he decided that the Malaysia Chess Festival needed to be enlivened up and he insisted that the organisers turn the three signature events - the Arthur Tan IGB Malaysia open, the Lee Loy Seng seniors open and the Ambank chess challenge - into rapidchess events. Privately, I had told the organisers that this shouldn't be done but I guess their hands were tied. So word went out that the Malaysia Chess Festival would be different this year.

Disquiet from the international chess community came when the organisers received a message from China that said they would not send any player to the Festival. Since eight years ago, the Chinese had been fervent supporters of the Malaysia Chess Festival and their close ties with Tan actually went back to 1974. People may not realise it but one of the reasons that China is a chess powerhouse today is because of Tan and his Dragon project in the Seventies and Eighties.

Back to this message, the Chinese mentioned that they had been participating in the Malaysia Chess Festivals of previous years not because of the prize monies. If they wanted money, they already had lots of tournaments in China that now offer significant cash prizes. They told Tan that they came to play because of the title opportunities. Because rapidchess games cannot be registered with the World Chess Federation for title norms and qualifications, they decided not to take part this year. If ever there was a rude awakening for Tan, this must be it.

Faced with this dilemma, it was time for some damage control. It was too late to revert this Festival back to the traditional long time control. So what did the organisers do? They decided to stick with the rapidchess format but they combined all the three signature events into one big tournament. This was a master-stroke that saved the Festival.

I should mention that throughout the Festival, Tan was still trying to justify the change to rapidchess games. Before the first pawn was even pushed, he sought feedback from the participants whether the Malaysia Chess Festival should remain a rapidchess event or change back to its original long format. From among the 180-plus participants, only about 12 players were in favour of rapidchess.

During the course of the tournament, he asked me to show him to some of the Filipino players - they were grandmasters and international masters - as he wanted to know their preferred format, and they all told him that they wanted rapidchess events. Of course they would say that. It did not surprise me. These Filipino players were basically mercenaries. Unlike the Chinese who valued titles and norms above everything else, the Filipinos were only interested to win cold, hard cash. That was all they wanted and if they could win cash prizes in the shortest time possible, so much the better. So why spend five or six days over long time-control games when they could win the same amount of money in three days over short time-control games? See their logic?

Emboldened by the Filipinos' response, Tan again asked the participants for a fresh feedback at the closing ceremony. At first he asked for people who supported the short time control. Only a handful of players wanted that. I didn't bother to see whether or not they belonged to the Filipinos. Then he asked about long time control and the hall was filled immediately with raised hands. Not satisfied, he groped at the last straw and asked whether people would prefer one-hour games. Nobody raised their hands. So I guess that finally, the message sank in that long time-control games are what chess players want when they come down to Kuala Lumpur in August every year. Next year at its 10th edition, the Malaysia Chess Festival should be back to long time-control games and reclaim its stature as a premier chess tournament in this part of the world.

Chess aside, I must say that it was really good to meet up with all those chess fellas again: so many friends from among the chess players and the chess organisers. But of course, when I look at the faces of the younger local chess participants, I have come to realise that we are generations apart and the younger set do not know me at all. My definition of a chess generation is about six to seven years, the time it would take a player to progress through his secondary schooldays. I would not be wrong to risk saying that there were at least six generations - possibly even more when the youngest players were about 10 years old and the oldest players were well in their eighties - of chess players in the tournament hall. But no matter the age difference, chess still remains a game for everyone.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

So long, and thanks for all the fish

About 10 days ago, I was writing about how I agonised over contributing a story for the souvenir book of this year's Malaysia Chess Festival in Kuala Lumpur. With the competition starting today with the players' arrivals - technically, the competition starts only tomorrow - I am reproducing my write-up here on the blog. So here goes, my version of "so long, and thanks for all the fish."

Anyone who had been following my writings in The Star newspaper all these years will have realised by now that I am finished with my chess column in the Star newspaper. Really. Seriously. I do not anticipate any more chess coverage for them, not now and not in the near foreseeable future.

People have asked me several times whether or not I knew why the newspaper had given up on the chess ghost. Actually, I don’t know. The only reason ever told to me was that they needed a directional change in editorial policy. It happens every few years. The newspaper will review their content and decide which columns to drop and which new ones to introduce. Chess got the chop this time.

But frankly, folks, I have truly enjoyed all my time writing about chess in the local news media. If I were to count my stay from the very first time I attempted writing a chess report, it would have been something close to 35 years.

Do I hear a gasp anywhere? Thirty-five years? That’s right. My very first chess reports appeared in the now defunct National Echo newspaper in 1976 or 1977. Of course, time has blurred my memory but I was employed by this newspaper at that period. Therefore, it was only logical that if I did want to write about chess, I would have to be one of their permanent staff then.

After I left the newspaper industry, I went into the banking line. However, writing was still a very large part of me and one day in 1980, when I read an advertisement in The Star inviting people to apply for a freelance job in the newspaper, I thought to myself: “why not?” Nothing much for me to lose, right? If chosen, it would only be a freelance job. It wasn’t as if I was going to leave my current employment. I would write about my dearest hobby, share my opinion with people and hopefully can lure more people to playing chess.

To my mild surprise, the newspaper wrote back to say yes, they would like me to contribute a weekly column. And that was how I started writing with them beginning in August of that year. I’ve got to make it very clear that my chess column, from the time I started it, had never been about money. Back in 1980, getting paid RM15 or RM20 for every week’s work wasn’t going to make anyone rich quickly or slowly. I was simply doing it for the love of the game. But if the newspaper decided to pay for my effort, I wouldn’t refuse the professional fee.

So the chess column in The Star newspaper started in August 1980, the very first regular chess column in Malaysia written by a chess player and specifically for Malaysian chess players in mind. I still get a lot of satisfaction today when chess players tell me that they grew up waiting anxiously for the Friday editions of the newspaper so that they could learn what was going on in the chess world at large.

I remember that my first story was about the New Zealand chess player, Craig Laird. He had come to Malaysia to play in a tournament and ended up staying in Penang for about a month or so. He was a lucky fellow. Someone managed to book him into the South View government bungalow up at Penang Hill for a month’s stay. It’s unheard of nowadays. The government bungalows up there are no longer accessible to the general public. I have to admit that I have lost touch with Laird. If anyone reading this knows his whereabouts, you can do me a great favour by asking him to write to me at

When I think back on my long freelance writing career, there were only three periods when the chess column took a short break. Other than that, the column was very regular. Even when I was to go on leave, I would prepare my article way in advance so that there would always be continuity.

The first time there was a break was during the brief but dark period during Mahathir Mohamad’s time as Prime Minister which we in Malaysia will always remember as the infamous Operation Lalang. Newspapers were bolder then and transparent in their reporting. And then one day in the midst of a political crisis, the federal government revoked the printing licence of several newspapers for their news reports of events that were seen as not favourable to the government.

When The Star was suspended, so too was my column although I can claim that what I had been writing until then was solely about chess and it contributed nothing to the tension in the country. And yet, my column was affected because the newspaper stopped printing! But several months later, I received a nice telephone call from the editorial desk to ask me to resume my column. “We are back,” the voice at the other end declared. So was I.

The second break occurred not long later. I can’t quite remember the exact time but it must have been after the landmark world chess championship candidates final match between Anatoly Karpov and Jan Timman in Kuala Lumpur in 1990. What I do remember was that someone started giving The Star a series of chess puzzles to use beside my own column.

At first I really did not mind because, well, that’s giving the newspaper some variety but gradually I noticed that the puzzles began eating into my space and my column began getting snipped short until sometimes, I couldn’t even recognise it. What was the use of writing when nobody understands what was written? Worse still, when the writer himself couldn’t make sense of it?

Throughout my writing career, my policy has been very simple. Chess has been part of my life since schooldays. I’ve been writing about the game simply because I loved it. And I had the credentials as a school player, state player and a national player. I understood the game, both on and off the board.

But if anyone wanted to take over the column, I was more than happy to give way as long as there was a replacement. So I decided to step aside and let the contributor submit his puzzles to his heart’s content. But soon later, the puzzles stopped and for several months, again there wasn’t any chess column in The Star.

The lull did not last long. Soon afterwards, another telephone call came to ask me whether I was interested to resume writing. Okay, lah, I replied and that was how I got a third lease of writing life. Remarkably, this was about the longest stretch of writing that lasted through the change of the millenium until the beginning of 2007. It stopped because the new editor who was then in charge decided on a change of content. That brief period of stoppage which lasted until the beginning of 2009, allowed me an opportunity to do other things, like explore blogging for a change.

When I went into my fourth stint as a freelance chess columnist for the newspaper in 2009, I had always felt that this was going to be a short and final spell at writing for them. The world had changed and information was being passed so quickly over the Internet that anything that was in the print media would already be old news.

Then there were the local chess organisers and players who had taken to the Internet like duck to water. Theirs was the new enthusiasm. Theirs was the new way. They provided instant results on their blogs. They updated the latest results on the chess servers. Print media would find it difficult to compete on this score.

So I knew that this time, it was going to be a brief stay although I could never know how long it would be. Whatever, I also knew that I should make the most of this opportunity. I was not wrong. In February this year, I was informed by The Star to prepare myself for another change in their editorial direction. And it has come to pass. My last article appeared in the newspaper on 2 March 2012. And I don’t foresee rising from the ashes again for yet another time.

Regarding the way I submit my weekly stories to The Star, so much has changed since I first started writing for them in 1980. When I first started out on the column, I had to use a typewriter. Whenever it was time for me to prepare a story, I would bang on the beast long into the night and keep my family members awake. Then the next day I would walk to The Star’s office in Penang and pass the story to the editorial desk which would then assign one of their staff to retype the story. And often, there would be unfamiliar words and symbols for their typists to navigate around. We have to remember that everything was done manually three decades ago. As a result, the risk of introducing errors into my stories was rather high.

Conditions improved at the start of the 1990s. By this time, people were beginning to own desktop computers. From the house, I could now prepare my stories electronically and store them conveniently on floppy disks. Ironically, it now took me longer to write because of the ease of correcting and rewriting my articles. But it was definitely more efficient. Moreover, offices were starting to get connected and while The Star still did not have an Internet presence, their offices in Penang and Petaling Jaya were at least connected through a dedicated line. But still, I had to walk to their office and copy my story into their desktop computers. But at least, I had cut out the middleman typists and take responsibility for any typo mistakes that appeared in print later on. Previously, I could always blame them, you see.

Eventually, even that, I no longer had to do. By the turn of the millennium, everyone was already well connected and I no longer dealt with the people at the newspaper’s Penang office. Everything was submitted through email directly to their office in Petaling Jaya.

So, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends and non-friends, with this narrative ends my life's work. But it's not like you won't hear from me again. I'm sure you will. In the meantime, it has been a long and pleasant trip. In the words of Douglas Adams, "so long, and thanks for all the fish."

Thursday, 16 August 2012

All spruced up

After more than three years of dilly-dallying discussions and meetings, there's finally a nice exterior for us to be proud of: the Swee Cheok Tong 瑞鵲堂 in Carnarvon Lane, George Town. We are considered to be located within the buffer zone of the George Town world heritage site although across the street from us, the houses there are all within the core zone.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Paint ours silver, please!

All over Great Britain, the Royal Mail is painting their post boxes gold in honour of their athletes who have won gold medals at the Olympic Games.

I think our Pos Malaysia should also seek out a post box in Berapit, Province Wellesley, to paint it silver in honour of Lee Chong Wei's valiant effort in the badminton final.

If they can't find an appropriate post box there, I dare say they can choose one of the several heritage ones on the island.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

One more chess story....

I have been spending the last few days doing something which lately, I've become quite unaccustomed to: writing about chess. "What?" I may hear you say, some with glee and some with dismay. Why are you again writing about chess? Are you getting your column back?

No, the reality is far, far from it. I am not getting my column back. Period. That part of my life has ended. For good, I would believe. This would just be a one-off story that I had been asked to do as a favour for the organisers of this year's Malaysia Chess Festival which starts on 20 August 2012. I have been writing for the organisers since possibly its inception several years ago and it has become a tradition of sorts that I contribute something for their souvenir book.

So here I am again, trying to wrack by brain over the topic. The problem was, you see, ever since I stopped writing for the newspapers in March this year, chess has taken more of a back seat with me. But don't get me wrong. I am still interested in the game. For example, in May I followed the world chess championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand fervently. And every now and then I would still log into the Internet Chess Club to observe the live games from the high-level tournaments. I am still very much into the game although I now keep a distance from the local activities.

But what should I be writing about this time? I tell you, it was an agony thinking about it for the past fortnight. I felt that above all, the topic should be unique and relevant to the readers. I thought about rehashing one of my old newspaper stories but then decided against it at the last moment. Don't know why. I just decided firmly: no.

Then with the deadline looming, I decided to just sit down at the keyboard. Let the inspiration come but it had better be sooner and not later. I sat down and stared at the keyboard and the monitor. Nothing came to my mind. It strayed. I fired up the web browser and began reading the news of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Don't quite knew how long I read but eventually I grew tired of reading too.

Steady, old chap, close your browser. Concentrate on the work at hand, no matter how unpleasant or challenging it has become. I can tell you that the first few paragraphs were so like shit. No substance at all. Nobody would understand it, much less read it. I deleted everything and tried again.

Eventually, the framework for my story formed. Finally, I had an inkling of what I would write. Only then did the muse start to flow. Ideas formulated in the mind. My fingers flew on the keyboard. One by one, words then paragraphs appeared on the monitor. And finally, the story was complete. Exhausted, I saved it up and then sent my story to the organisers immediately.

But I was still rusty. I had a sense that I had missed out on something but for the life of me, I couldn't figure it out. I looked through the story again but couldn't uncover anything amiss. Several hours later, one of the organisers call me.

"Seng Sun, your story lacks a title," he told me. Alamak, so that was it. No title. How can I write something without putting in a title? "Would you want to let me have the title now?" he asked. How could I, when I was now a little unsettled. How to think up a title on the spot? No, I told him, I would have to think about it for a while before letting him know.

And eventually, I did get back to him. Without disclosing what I wrote for the Malaysia Chess Festival souvenir book, I can at least say here that I shall be calling my mini-opus "So long, and thanks for all the fish."

I know that the title is not original but many people are still surprised by it. In particular, I found the organisers were not familiar with it at all, despite one of them being an avid bookworm. For those who knows this title, I've to say that in my younger days, Douglas Adams' books (and others) were great companions to me when I killed time crossing the Penang Channel on the ferry service.

Inexplicably, the title of one of his books has left a deep impression with me. All these years, I've always interpreted it as a great lesson in life. It is so true that if you give fish to a man, he won't go hungry for a day but if you teach him to fish, he won't be hungry forever. I didn't go fishing; in my case, I learnt to write. That is, write about chess.

Monday, 6 August 2012

What I missed yesterday...

Yesterday was a most significant day at the London Olympics and I had to miss all of the action because I was on a trip down to Kuala Lumpur and back. All these I had missed, unfortunately....

Lee Chong Wei's heart-breaking loss to his perennial rival, Lin Dan, in the badminton men's single final.

Andy Murray's superlative win against Roger Federer in the tennis men's single final at the ersatz Wimbledon.

Usain Bolt defending his title with consummate ease against the toughest opposition in the athletics men's 100 metres final.

Oscar Pistorius making an historic run on artificial limbs in the athletics men's 400 metres semi-final race.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Oscar Pistorius ready for the London Olympics

I first blogged about the 25-years-old Oscar Pistorius four years ago. It was in May 2008 and I had heard about this disabled runner from South Africa whose ambition was to take part in the able-bodied Summer Olympics. At that time, the Beijing Olympics was just around the corner and Oscar Pistorius was working hard to qualify as the first paraplegic to participate in the Athletics competition.

How was Pistorius a paraplegic if that was indeed his ambition? Wouldn't it be a dichotomy for that to happen. For you see, Pistorius is an amputee. He was born without fibulae in his legs. It was a very rare medical condition. Without the fibula, it would be impossible for a person to walk, let alone run.

When Oscar was 11 months old, his parents had to make the difficult yet brave decision to amputate the young boy's legs below the knees. Now he was really disabled but it was the only way to give him the independence and make a life of his own in the future. As he grew, he was fitted with prosthetics that allowed him to grow up almost like a normal boy.

He played rugby, water polo and tennis during his schooldays, and even took part in Olympic wrestling. While undergoing rehabilitation after a serious rugby knee injury in 2003, he was introduced to running in January 2004 and since then, he never looked back. His favourite event today is the 400 metres race and he holds the world record time of 10.91 seconds for a 100-metre race for a disabled person. Mighty impressive!

So how does Pistorius do that? How does he run as a double amputee? The artificial limbs he uses are specially designed for people like him. They are a pair of J-shaped carbon-fibre prosthetics called the "Cheetah Flex-Foot" manufactured by an Icelandic company. With these fitted on, Oscar has basically become the fastest physically disabled runner in the world.

In 2007, the IAAF amended their regulations to prevent anyone with "any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device" from taking part in able-bodied competitions as they considered the use of such prosthetics gave an unfair edge over normal athletes. At that time, Pistorius was already eyeing participation in the Beijing Olympics and he felt the ruling was unfair to him.

He took the IAAF to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won an appeal against their amendment. But there was now another challenge for him. In order to qualify for the Olympics, he had to meet the IOC's qualifying marks. In this, he failed narrowly to achieve and thus was not selected to run by the South African Olympic Committee.

Nevertheless, he still could run in the 2008 Beijing Summer Paralympics. In the heats of the 100 metres, he set a Paralympic record with his time of 11.16 seconds. Later, he snatched gold in the 100 metres final in a time of 11.17 seconds. Days later, he won a second gold in the 200 metres event in a time of 21.67 seconds which was another Paralympic record. He completed a hat-trick by winning gold in the 400 metres in a world-record time of 47.49 seconds.

In the years since Beijing, Pistorius has gone on from strength to strength. He competed across a number of able-bodied races in 2011 and thrice, he posted times under 46 seconds in the 400 metres. After that, he set a personal best of 45.07 seconds in the 400 metres. And only last month, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee finally handed him a place in the South Africa Olympic team.

He will thus become the first double amputee runner to take part in the Olympic Games. In London, he will compete in the 400 metres and the 4x400 metres relay races. This is a culmination of Pistorius' dreams and we can watch history unfolding today after 5.30pm local time here in Malaysia.

Oscar Pistorius is the finest reminder that astonishing physical accomplishment is not limited to only able-bodied people. It does not matter whether his artificial limbs provide his with an unfair advantage - in fact, the consensus seems to be that they may make him slower to start than able-bodied runners, thus canceling out any boost later - the point remains that being able to run on them is a major success for disability awareness. Regardless of his results in London, people around the world are set to see disabled persons in a different light.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

A heritage square for George Town

I just heard that are plans, real plans, to develop the Sia Boey area in George Town as a cultural heritage square. Don't let it be hot air; make it come to fruition fast.

To many of us in Penang, the most recognisable landmark in Sia Boey was the famous market along Prangin Road. Unfortunately, the building now stands abandoned after the Penang Island Municipal Council forced the wet market to close and the traders to relocate elsewhere several years ago.

Then there were also the wholesale shops that used to line Prangin Road and McNair Road. Not forgetting too the small traders and the 24-hour foodstalls in Maxwell Road that catered more to the businessmen and traders but which found a ready clientele from other people that dropped into Sia Boey. I used to remember people gulping down on their food as they squatted on long benches.

Today if anyone were to pass by Sia Boey - Prangin Road is now a busy throughfare that connects Penang Road and Carnarvon Street to the Dr Lim Chong Eu Highway - all that are left are the old wholesale shops along the left side of the road and the abandoned market directly opposite. Incredibly, the Penang Development Corporation then turned the abandoned building into a temporary car park after that. Beside this building is the old Prangin canal. It used to be an important waterway that connected Sia Boey to the sea. Today, it is more like a ditch that needs real rehabilitation.

Beyond the Prangin canal is Maxwell Road. The imposing row of pre-war houses that face the canal used to be a hive of activities too but not today. Until about three years ago, there were still wholesale traders operating from a few of these houses. Sadly, they stand empty now.

To gauge what the Penang state government is planning for Sia Boey, here is the speech by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng at a press conference yesterday:

The Penang State Government and Penang Development Corporation (PDC) are planning to develop Komtar Phase 5, comprising 4.5 acres, into Penang’s new heritage enclave, named Heritage Square. This is in line with George Town’s World Heritage Listing as well as to complement PDC’s revitalisation efforts for Komtar as the socio-civic centre and business hub of the State. This prime 4.5 acres of land in the heart of George Town will predominantly be public space, as part of giving back to city dwellers.

Heritage Square will comprise five major elements:
i. restoration and expansion of “Sia Boey” (Prangin Market);
ii. creation of urban spaces;
iii. creation of a Heritage Celebration Square and an iconic George Town Heritage Centre (GHC);
iv. reinstatement and adaptive reuse of heritage and old shophouses; and
v. restoration of Prangin Canal.

The Heritage Square and Centre will dedicate, consecrate and restore the cultural vibrancy of George Town by promoting the living heritage and street life in the inner city, as well as greening the city, thus ensuring a balanced development for the area.

The project which is at the planning stage, is also aimed at revitalising the Komtar Phase 5 area, and to enhance the heritage value and significance of the site by creating urban spaces and landscapes for healthy urban living.

The components of Penang’s Heritage Square comprise the following:

i) To restore and refurbish the existing “Sia Boey” (Prangin Market) structure. This will revitalise the “Sia Boey” into a retail and tourist site, comprising among others a visitors’ centre, crafts and souvenir retail areas, flowers and food hubs. To expand the “Sia Boey”, market, PDC will build an additional adjacent market to complement the existing one for the same intended use. The restoration and revitalisation of the “Sia Boey” is significant to George Town, as it marked the core zone boundary of the George Town UNESCO Heritage Site;

ii) As George Town requires more public space for recreation, public congregation, celebrations and cultural performances, the urban public space which include same green areas will be to promote the first of its kind in Penang healthy living. The heritage celebration square will also provide a venue for the establishment of culture, arts and traditions in George Town, thus promoting cultural vibrancy and the concept of melting pot of cultures in the inner city;

iii) To refurbish and reinstate the urban setting of the area whereby existing traditional shophouses along Maxwell Road will undergo adaptive reuse into cafes, kopitiams, tea houses, crafts and handicraft centres, mini-museums, boutiques and B&B hotels which are in line with the heritage ambience and theme of the area. To also reinstate urban setting of the area whereby Maxwell Road will now be for limited vehicles usage with emphasis on pedestrianisation;

iv) A five-storey GHC will be created which will further add to the vibrancy of the Heritage Square. This iconic building will serve as a venue for arts, cultural, heritage, community, youth and performing activities. The GHC will be raised above street level to provide street plazas for the public; and

v) To restore the Prangin Canal with plans for hawkers street food zone and street furniture amidst well-landscaped areas.

The Heritage Square Project will complement the adjacent Komtar building which is presently undergoing a revitalisation process initiated by the Penang State Government and PDC which is aimed at bringing back the glory of Komtar, as the nerve centre of Penang.

The Heritage Square is a project not just for the urban community of Penang, but for Penangites and visitors to experience the old-world charm of George Town and its cultural melting pot, is all poised for success. The Penang State Government and PDC which has been the prime mover of urban redevelopment will undertake to work closely with stakeholders and heritage organisations like George Town World Heritage and other NGOs.

In achieving maximum public participation, I have requested that an exhibition be set up in Komtar next week to allow the public to give their views on the proposed Heritage Square so that we can have public input.

The project will also enhance George Town’s position as Malaysia’s most livable city and eighth most livable city in Asia, as well as to reinforce Penang’s position as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a tourism hub of the East.