Saturday, July 12, 2014

Historic Penang

^ Sitting near the seawall, watching for pirates. 

Exotic spices.
Raiding pirates.
Secret harbors.
Untold riches.
Treachery and lies.
International trading centers.
Hostile takeovers.
Kings and queens.

Although Malaysia occupies a fairly quiet corner of the world today, there was a time when she was a global hotspot.

^ Bet the British colonizers would have loved some wheels like these.

^ Exotic palms watching over the neat and orderly row of trimmed shrubs, which are dwarfed in comparison. This struck me as the perfect metaphor of the local Malays eventually rising up over their prissy colonizers, and the arrangement made me smile

Long story short, the exploring treasure-seekers of the early sailing days wanted to use that short-cut route between Europe and the Far East. So whoever controlled the Straits would also control access to the far-off bounty of silk and spice.

Now, wouldn't you know, there just happened to be an island at the northern end of the Straits. The protected harbor there was the perfect place for treasure-laden ships to ride out the monsoons, and thus became an ideal ambush site for pirates. 

Well. That was a problem.

^ Fort Cornwallis sits right smack dab in the middle of the city.

^ There are a few small splashes of shade on the upper walkways of the fort. I bet that in their heavy wool uniforms, the Brits pushed and shoved each other to get a piece of that cool space.

So the next obvious step was for one of the colonial powers to lay claim to that island, build up a fort, and get some cannons pointed out in the direction of trouble. 

And you can guess what happened next.

Angry natives.
Power-seeking competitors.
An influx of eager settlers.
Natural resources stripped and sold off for profit.
And an ongoing cycle of trickery and violence.

^Ancient cannons and rustic brick walls. These are a few of my favorite things.

 Thankfully, those days are gone. Penang Island is home to a beautiful, modern city, and I spent a long weekend exploring there with my friend, Yuli.

On my first afternoon, while Yuli wrapped up some work at the office, I explored the oldest corner of the city, where the original British fort and some colonial-era buildings still stand. 

^ More historic buildings clustered around a plaza near Yuli's workplace. I enjoyed the beautiful architecture as I sipped my 100 Plus and tried not to pass out from the heat. 

And when I let my imagination run wild, I was transported back to those early days of Penang.

The billowing white sails of ships on the horizon.
The marching footsteps of troops drilling on the fort's green.
The smell of gunpowder from the angry cannons.
The exotic flavors of the pepper, cinnamon, vanilla that were carried away from the island.
The hot, humid, tropical haze that still drifts in from the nearby Indian Ocean.

I think I'm going to like it here.

^ A little sunburned and definitely out of focus, but I'm enjoying my visit, Penang!

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I spent a weekend in Penang, Malaysia and lived to tell the tale. Read the full story here:

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