Penang Hill is really a group of hills which overlook the rest of Penang and parts of the Malaysian mainland.
Before the invention of air conditioning, it was popular with expatriates, because in the height of the Malaysian summer, it was always appreciably cooler than in George Town (where many businesses had offices). So a number of houses, hotels and a school (Uplands) were built there (you can see the remains in you go there, slowly being overgrown.
The Bellevue Hotel is a remnant of this era and if I were visiting Penang, I might be tempted to spend a couple of nights there, with its lovely view and cooler temperature. Like much of Penang, it evokes another era – perhaps 100 years ago.
There are a number of ways to get to the top of Penang Hill, the most popular is via the funicular railway (state-of-the-art, air conditioned glass carriages fairly rapidly ascending a steep hill. Vehicles must travel up a very steep road called the jeep track (transmissons screaming as they go). But, if you are feeling brave, you could try following one of the many trails which lead to the peak. If you are going to do this, remember it will take 4 or 5 hours walking and scambling through jungle. Leeches.
Once you are at the top, there are various fair type attractions (having your photo taken with a snake or an owl) and food stalls. For people with slightly deeper pockets, there is a restaurant called “Browns”, where they serve a very nice afternoon tea with scones, jam and clotted cream. Again, something which is remeniscent of another time.
I know this photo looks rather fake and “dramatised”, but really the scene did look rather like this.
Penang is a curious place. Despite being a small island off the Malaysian peninsula, the weather could vary widely, even if you were only a couple of miles away. Here you can see a tropical storm brewing, presumably about to descend on Straits Quay. Sudden storms, with very heavy rain are a feature of Penang life.
Once upon a time, Penang was a hub beween the UK and Hong Kong. During the war, various battles were fought in the Straits of Malacca and later it was a submarine base for the Japanese. These days, the harbour mostly handles cruiseships and ferries carrying holidaymakers to Langkawi (which I will probably write about another time).
When I lived there, once a week, I would try to walk from my home to the ferry terrinal. Some days, it would be fiercely bright, making the sea look a light blue and on other occasions, thick clouds would appear and the sea would take on a greener hue (like here).
Sometimes, when you take a picture you are recording history without knowing it.
In this case, the seafront by Gurney Drive has been drained for development.
When I first came to Penang, walking along Gurney Drive into Georgetown was a favourite Saturday morning thing to do. Early on, it was cool and quiet and I would often see other people starting their day.
I always try to keep a camera with me, so that I can take pictures of things I see everyday. In this case, I was riding the bus into town, when a man sat down infront of me. And he held onto the seat handle in an unusual way, which made me notice his hand. It is what it is. So I took a quick picture.
For me, photography is a way of talking about the world. I know it is different for other people.
This picture reminds me of a trip to a few countries in Southeast Asia – in this case to Laos. I has caught an early flight from Kuala Lumpur (perhaps 6.00am) and this was the view out my window a little later. I remember in school learning about meanders in a river, but I don’t think I ever appreciated how lovely they can look in the morning sun.
I used to live in Penang. Street traders are a feature of life there, selling sweets and snacks from the back of a motorcycle. I am told the Roti Man delicacy is an ice-cream sandwich. I wish I had tried it.
Canon EOS 650D and 24mm STM lens. A really good combination for this kind of photography, just right for walking down fairly narrow roads. Nice and sharp into the corners. I did consider posting a black and white conversion, but it felt like I was pushing an “olde worlde” view – which I’m not.
It amazes me how changing a photograph to black and white, can completely change its atmosphere. It was a lovely sunny day, with a blue sky, but here, with the trees cutting the frame into boxes, it feels rather menacing.