Quick Facts about Penang Culture
- 2 million, 1 million on the island and another in Seberang Prai
- Chinese: 42%
- Malay: 41%
- Indians: 10%
- Peranakans (Baba Nyonyas): 5%
The Baba Nyonyas
The Peranakan, also known as the Straits born Chinese or Baba-Nyonya, are the descendants of the early Chinese immigrants here as well Malacca and Singapore. They have partially adopted Malay customs and speak a Chinese-Malay creole.
The Penang culture of the Peranakan community possesses a distinct identity in terms of food, costume, rites, crafts and culture. Most Peranakan Chinese are not Muslims but practice ancestral worshiping and Chinese religion.
Malay is the national language and also a major part of Penang culture. But English and the Chinese dialect of Hokkien is widely spoken. The English spoken here is a form of Manglish (Malaysian colloquial English). Tamil is also spoken amongst the Indian community.
Buddhism is the main religion in Penang. However, Islam is the official religion of the state. There is also a small community of Jews in Penang, mainly along Jalan Zainal Abidin (formerly Jalan Yahudi or Jewish Street). You will note that the Penang culture is really very varied and interesting.
Undoubtedly the #1 "sport" of Malaysians is eating. We eat, on average 6 times a day. And this is no exaggeration! You can find food almost everywhere and at any time of the day. This is The Penang Culture. You have to experience it to appreciate how lucky we Penangites are.
Many restaurants and coffee shops are open 24-hours. The island is a gourmet paradise. Food lovers from all over the world come to the island to sample its unique cuisine.
It was recognized by Time Magazine in 2004 as having the Best Street Food in Asia. It cites that nowhere else can such great tasting food be found, and so cheaply too. You have to come and try it to believe what a food heaven this is.
The food is a mixture of Chinese, Nyonya, Malay, Indian and Thai ethnic cuisine. The street food is know as hawker food and served by the road side stalls or at coffee shops or "kopitiams".
The best places to savor these hawker food are at New World Food Gallery, Gurney Drive and New Lane.
There is a saying that if you come to Penang and did not try the hawker food, then it's as good as not having been there!
Penang International Dragon Boat Festival
Since 1979, The International Dragon Boat Festival has been held here annually. It was previously held in the sea off Gurney Drive. Today the races are held at the Teluk Bahang Dam.
In addition to the International Dragon Boat Festival usually held around June or July, there is also the Penang Pesta Dragon Boat Race held in December.
A a unique form of the Penang Culture, do observe an interesting event which started in 1919 to celebrate the birthday of Kuan Yin or the Goddess of Mercy. It is today a yearly event.
This is a procession in which teams of people display their skills at balancing 40-foot bamboo flagpoles on their heads, shoulders, hands, knees and buttocks. This colorful procession parades through the streets of Georgetown.
Chingay used to be held annually to celebrate the birthdays of Chinese deities, particularly Guan Yin or the Goddess of Mercy. However, today it is also held during other festive occasions like the new year or during the Pesta Pulau Pinang in December.
Shopping must be the #2 sport of Penang. It is really part of Penang culture. They spend more of their time and money browsing through the many modern shopping malls than they do anything else. Apart from eating, of course!
The best shopping malls on the island are:
- Queensbay Mall, the newest, largest and longest shopping centre
- Gurney Plaza, the most exclusive shopping mall opened in 2001
- Prangin Mall, right in the heart of Georgetown
On the mainland:
- Sunway Carnival Mall at Seberang Jaya
- Megamall Pinang at Seberang Perai
- AEON Seberang Perai City, Bandar Perda, Bukit Mertajam
Must See & Do in Penang
I find the hundred year old shop houses at Georgetown and the old colonial villas, which Malaysians call "Bungalows" fascinating. It forms so much of Penang culture that you have to be here in order to "feel" it.
It attracted many film makers such as Anna and the King and Indochine.
I still find it very fascinating to walk along the mixed heritage buildings around the town and mingle with the very friendly local folks. The old buildings interest me with its faded colors and crumbling walls.
Some shop houses with multicolored tiles and columns brings back the nostalgia of colonial times. This is one of the best ways to enjoy the Penang culture.
Football, badminton and swimming are the main sports played by the locals.
The Penang International Sports Arena or commonly referred to as PISA is located on the southern end of the island where the industrial estates are. It has an indoor stadium and an aquatic centre. It is also the main MICE or Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibition center for the state.
The other 2 stadiums are the City Stadium in Georgetown and the Batu Kawan Stadium in Seberang Perai.
Golf in Penang
The 4 golf courses in Penang are
- the 18-hole Bukit Jambul Country Club
- the 36-hole Bukit Jawi Golf Resort
- the 18-hole Penang Golf Resort and
- the 18-hole Kristal Golf Resort.
Penang Turf Club
The Turf Club, established 1864, is located on the outskirts of Georgetown called Bukit Gantung. It is the first horse racing and equestrian center in Malaysia.
Some of the other sports clubs are:
- Penang Swimming Club
- Chinese Swimming Club (open to the public)
- Penang Sports Club
- Chinese Recreation Club (CRC)
- Polo Club
Tanjung City Marina
Tanjung City Marina, located right next to the Ferry Terminal at Weld Quay can accommodate 140 yachts and boats.
Article extracted from The Star 21 February 2009 Thousands flock to temple to get ‘divine loans’ from deity
GEORGE TOWN: Thousands of Penangites thronged the Goddess of Mercy Temple asking for “divine loans” from the deity on the day when she is said to open her heavenly vault.
Some 20,000 red packets with two one-sen coins each, which had been blessed by monks at the temple, were given out as symbolic “loans” to the devotees yesterday by committee members of the Kong Hock Keong association, which manages the temple.
The red packets will be kept as a good luck charm and the devotees could ask for any number of red packets but they must “repay” the loans taken the following year through donations. With the rising economic difficulty, more devotees flocked to the temple to seek the Goddess Kuan Yin’s blessings.
They came as early as 6am yesterday to queue up in front of the temple at Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling here. By 9am, the committee members had given out almost half of the red packets. The last batch was given out at 7pm. Among the devotees seen queuing at the temple was factory worker Loh Saw Eng, 51, who has been taking the “loans” annually.
“Our fabric factory is asking us to work on alternate weeks effective next month. That means our pay is going down by 50% when we go on unpaid leave,” she lamented. Loh said she would carry the red packet with her and repay it with prayers and offerings to Kuan Yin when her wish comes true.
“I hope the deity will help me during this difficult period,” she said. As for housewife Chew Shu Lee, 30, who made her yearly pilgrimage to the temple, health and happiness are her main prayers. “I did not ask for wealth because I believe the most important thing is to have a healthy and happy family. “I’ve asked for two red packets and promised to repay four times the amount next year if my prayers are answered,” she said.
Kong Hock Keong association executive secretary Toh Kim Kong said the committee prepared an initial 4,000 red packets but had to increase the amount as devotees asked for more than two packets each for better chance. “The money was given by donors and blessed by monks at the temple. The devotees will keep the packets as good luck charms for this year. Many will donate to the temple once their prayers are answered,” he added.
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