Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chinese New Year in Penang - 26th Jan 09


I am so proud that Penang is now declared as one of UNESCO's heritage site! Icing on the cake? Penang Is Voted 2nd By New York Times Readers in "The 44 Places To Go in 2009" (First one is Beirut, Lebanon if you are wondering)

As a Penangite myself and grewing up in one of the pre-war houses, I am proud to be able to live and experience its wonder. I used to complained a lot when I live with my grandparents in the worn out house. We live on the 2nd floor and the ground floor is for business use. The house is next to a mosque. There was a narrow street separating the mosque to the house. At times, we could not hear the daily prayers from the mosque after years living next to it.

The house is dark at night due to lack of electrical points. I need to open the room's window adjoining to the kitchen so that light can shine through to the kitchen at night. I still remember the wet kitchen aka bath area aka laundry area...hey, it's multi purpose! We wore wooden clogs around this area as it's wet most of the time. Granny builds fire using charcoals and cooks all the yummy meals. Up until today, she still refuses to give up on the charcoal era. Gas & electrical cooker is out of the question. Well, I guess nothing beats the old fashion charcoal cooked meals.

From the laundry area, we are able to see Komtar in full view. The tallest building and still is the tallest building in Penang. I went up to Komtar before and used the telescope but each time, I lost the directions once I get hold of those thing. Sometimes, I wonder if anyone could see us minding our business in the kitchen from Komtar. I hope not!

The bathroom downstairs to me, is pretty creepy. It is a shared bathroom. As there were so many people living in the same house, we have a schedule of when to take a bath. It doesnt have any light and once the door is closed, darkness surrounded the place even in a bright afternoon. We only rely on the sunlight through a small opening on the bathroom ceiling. The opening is covered with a tinted plastic, thus blocking much of the sunlight anyway. Apart from the occupants, old houses also has a lot of "other" occupants. I did not mean those things we can't see (Hehe)...I mean insects and rodents. Back in the darkened bathroom, there is a place to hang your clothes.
Sometimes it's too dark, I have to inspect really closely to ensure there is no roaches there. Sometimes, during the "special" season, there will be colonies of roaches at the far corner of the bathroom. I know...some people will squirm at a sight of a roach but life goes on in these old houses.

We only bathe in cold water. The water tank is made of stone. One side of the tank is inside the bathroom and another is outside, thus allowing other occupant to do their washing on the other side. The tank is separated and there's a small hole at the bottom of the separator allowing water to flow from the main pipe from the other side of the tank.

Now, let me talk about the occupants. Up to one time, there were 6 different occupants/families in the house. Each of them rented a room and they move in and out occasionally. My grandparents took a bigger portion of the house and the rest only rented the rooms. Most of the occupants live a lonely and harsh life. They go out early in the morning and only came back looking haggard late at night. There is this guy who is the family of the landlord. He lives alone downstairs. He eats alone and did everything alone. I wonder if he has any friends. I remembered greeting him whenever I saw him as we were taught to be respectful to others. That is all. He said no word.

However, the strangest family would be the one living downstairs too. This is a father-daughter family. The father is a very old man we called him 4-eyed uncle. Not that he has 4 eyes (that would be really strange) but because he wears glasses. His daughter I believe has a strange illness. 4-eyed uncle devoted his life to take care of her full time. She sleeps most of the time in the room. Only sometimes, I saw her coming out to take her weekly bath with the help of her father. Her skin is very pale as she never got any sunlight. She looked as if in a daze and could barely walk. Her father has to do everything for her from feeding to bathing her. Our room was just directly on top of theirs. At nights when I pressed my ear to the floor, I could hear her sing. I can't make out what she sings it's more like some strange humming similar to an old Chinese opera.

There is also a "temporary" occupant who died there. She was the landlord's mother or great grandmother. She was transferred to a small room underneath the stairs on her dying days. As a child, I was scared and I ran very fast upstairs hoping she won't call me or something. One day, she was no longer in the room and instead, there was a coffin outside the hallway. She passed away. I remembered the funeral. A lot of people were there and there were all the traditional rituals and prayers. I remembered our family sat outside to spectate the rituals. After the funeral, everything went back to normal.

But until this day, I am still pretty afraid of the stairs. Back on those days, I have to use the stairs to come downstairs and wait for my school bus. It was still very dark before 7am and there were no lights in the area. I will run very quickly downstairs and towards my grandfather who waited outside with me for the school bus every morning. There are times, I ran a bit too quickly. Trampled and slipped down the stairs..Hehe.. I will then quickly get up rather than sitting there to moan about the pain.

During this CNY, my grandparents decided to celebrate at the old house. Now that I owned a camera, I am able to bring back some memories. The other occupants were gone. Now, left my grandparents staying in the house. I wondered what happened to the rest? I think they must have moved out or passed away. I used the stairs and peered into the room under the stairs. All the doors and partitions making up the room were taken down. It is now an open store area. I went upstairs to meet my grandparents. All my uncles, aunties and cousins were there too. It's strange that each time I came back here, the place looked smaller. I think I have outgrown this place.

I went to the kitchen. The wooden clogs were replaced with rubber flip flops. My grandma's charcoal stove still stands tall in the kitchen. My uncle did a lot of maintenance work around the old house. No more putting pails and buckets for the leaky ceiling when it rains. The place was also repainted and face lifted. I went to the large windows overlooking the entrance. The weed grown junk yard next to the entrance was now transformed into a carpark. My grandparents forbid us to ever wonder into the junkyard last time. There was a small little hut at the end of the junkyard where my cousin and I (when we were still kids) kept wondering what was in there. We never knew until this day...


**In memory of my late grandpa. That was the last Chinese New Year we get to spent with him here**

1 comment:

Hobbeseus said...

This is brilliant indeed.