We spent serious money in New York sending Ava and Kayan to creative classes, such as music and art. Prior to the trip, Ava was in preschool at the oldest community music school in the U.S. We thought all of this would give her some appreciation for the arts, but she often seemed bored or distracted. Perhaps this is usual toddler behavior, but nonetheless, we were pretty surprised when an evening outing in Penang had her singing for a group of strangers and earned us some beer and treats.
In just a week, we’ve seen so many faces of Penang. From vibrant hawker markets to quiet beaches, and a patchwork of preserved monuments echoing European, Chinese, Indian and Arabian histories. It is this patchwork that earns George Town, the island’s capital, UNESCO World Heritage Site status. One such slice of history is the Chew Clan Jetty. In the mid nineteenth century, several clans from Chinese provinces established stilted houses on jetties, each of which was named after its clan. The original immigrants of the Chew Clan were from the Fujian province of China. Today, the jetty’s 75 residences still have families that are related to each other. The jetty retains much of it’s original structure, even as modern George Town grows around. This is likely why we saw a few donation boxes to raise funds to improving the foundation.
Little boats anchored along the jetty serve to shuttle goods between larger boats in the harbor.
I am very conscious of voyeuristic tourism and as we entered the jetty I felt as if we were encroching on private property. The houses are built facing each other with a planked wooden walkway no more than a couple of meters wide between.
Despite my hesitancy, every resident had a jubilant ‘Hello!’ for us. Happiness here seems to be spread all around.
Like most Penang establishments, and despite the strong Chinese heritage of the jetty, the convenience store proudly caters to call ethnic backgrounds.
A group of three elderly men drinking Tiger beer outside a house erupted in cheers of “Merry Christmas!” when they saw us. Ava was most excited about this, as she sings jingle bells all year long and finally had an audience. Ava has shed any shyness she used to have before we started this trip. So she grabbed Kayan’s hand and belted out her full rendition of jingle bells, with a loud and proud “HEY!” at the end of the chorus.
This, of course, put the three men in an even merrier state. One invited us to join for beer, while another rushed into the store across the jetty to buy the kids some treats.
While I am sure the residents of the jetty are welcoming people, the kids were the catalyst for enabling us to have a conversation and be invited into their homes.
Stepping into the jetty off the streets of George Town is like stepping even further back in history. The pace of life is quieter and slower, and guests who offer entertainment are welcome for a drink. As we left the jetty, we realized we weren’t the only ones singing for our supper in George Town that night.