It is a fun challenge to walk around and find all of the well-known ones, some by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, and some by lesser-known artists. George Town’s streets have the ability to surprise and amuse even the weariest traveller, and you never know what you’re going to find around the next street corner.
“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
“Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we may diet.”
― Cathy Hopkins
I’m somebody old enough to remember when the sound of the ice cream man’s bell would bring neighborhood kids out running to the street. Nowadays nobody can hear anything with their ears plugged in to their iPhones.
A beautifully preserved melting pot of cultures, Penang is a city absolutely awash with temples of almost all major religions. Buddhist, Taoist, Islamic, Hindu, Christian, Anglican, Catholic, you name it and Penang has it. The capital city of George Town is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and with good reason. Walking along the streets in the early morning, one feels transported back to the turn of the last century, if not for the concessions to modernity like the cars and satellite dishes hanging out of every other home. The old and ever reliable bicycle is still the preferred and best way to get around the small city, which can be walked in its entirety in a day. However to properly take in the sites, it is best to give some time, maybe 2 or 3 days, to walk around slowly, savoring the city and its flavors, and taking in everything it has to offer. After all, time is on the city’s side. It has aged gracefully and more beautifully than any other city I’ve been.
There is at least one beautifully preserved temple / place of worship on every road in George Town. I have avoided the large monuments and instead have taken pictures of the small, intimate, often ancestral or family-constructed and maintained temples that have been preserved for, and by, the succeeding generations.
street art in George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Walking around the streets of Penang, Malaysia.
In a few days I will be traveling to Malaysia to Penang Bridge International (Half) Marathon. It’s a 21k run (there is a Full 42k too but my wife and friends only joined the Half) across the 13.5 km long Penang Bridge.
Aside from its length, there’s nothing really particularly distinctive about this bridge. But it did remind me of my long-standing fascination with bridges. Ever since I was a kid, I would build bridges, starting with blocks, then on to Lego bricks, then got interested in designing bridges as a student of Architecture in the 90’s. Bridges were fascinating because from the dawn of built structures, they have had only one function: to connect people and places from one point to another. How it did exactly that was up to the bridge designer. There were any number of structural complications possible in any type of bridge; and the structure was always ‘honest’ – simple, direct and to-the-point functional, unlike much of what passes today’s architecture. More often than not, this simplicity made them beautiful. Recent advances in materials technology has allowed bridge designers to make today’s modern bridges even more beautiful and breathtaking than their ancient counterparts. Below are some of the bridges I’ve had the fortune to visit and admire; and some I would like to see and go across before I die.
PONTE VECCHIO, FLORENCE
Visited 2002 – Built in the 13th century to span the river Arno at its narrowest point, its structure uses stone spandrels that have aged beautifully. The most interesting thing about it is the shops that are still built atop its length. These used to be occupied by butchers and tanners but now used by jewellers, souvenir and art sellers. One of Italy’s great romantic bridges.
Visited 2002 – The shortest bridge in this list, this passes from the Rio di Palazzo in Venice over to the Doge’s Palace, which are both currently museums. In 1602 when the bridge was built, this passage was used by for criminals on their way to the prisons. It was imagined by Lord Byron (who gave the bridge its romantic name) that they would take their last view of beautiful Venice from here and sigh before they lost their freedom. There is also a local legend which says that lovers will live happily ever after if they kiss on a gondola under the bridge at sunset. Sounds like a story concocted by some enterprising gondoliers to me.
SYDNEY HARBOR BRIDGE
Visited 1996 – Probably one of the most photographed bridges in the world due to its dominating location in proximity to the Sydney Opera House as well as being the center of Australia’s New Year celebrations each year. I’d seen many pictures of it before seeing it for real in ’96 but nothing really prepares you for the scale of the thing; it looks small in pictures for some reason. I would love to have the opportunity to run or cycle this bridge one day. I think passing over a bridge on foot / bike and having an open view of the sky is really the only way to experience a bridge.
DNA HELIX BRIDGE, SINGAPORE
Visited quite often – I see this bridge almost everyday as it is near my current workplace project. Its a good example of how to overcomplicate something with a relatively simple purpose, but I do have to say it looks great at night, and is one of the most photogenic sites in Singapore.
BARELANG BRIDGE – Indonesia
Visited 2011 – Last year I cycled Batam from end to end with a group of friends. It was around 80km each way and during the ride the weather would change from sunny to downpour and back again. Riding up the Barelang Bridge with the awesome views on all sides was an awesome experience
Wat Arun, ‘The Temple of the Dawn’, Thailand, done in miniature in Lego bricks in Legoland, Malaysia.