Saturday, 10 July 2010

Streets did come alive in George Town

[UPDATED] My wife and I enjoyed ourselves tremendously at the George Town Festival's Streets Come Alive event last Wednesday evening on the occasion of the George Town Heritage Day, organised by the Penang government to celebrate the city's listing as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.

However, amidst all the month-long celebration, one concern persists in my mind. Can all this be sustained? Right now, the government and the organisers are brimming with enthusiasm and they have lots of energy and ideas. There are several events throughout the whole month and I do welcome them but there is potential danger around the corner.

First, the traditional cultural events may run a bit thin eventually. Local residents may find them tiresome after a while if the same cultural stuff is strutted out several times a year with hardly any variation. Of course, overseas visitors may find them all charming and wonderful, but we need the local Penangites to come out and appreciate their culture too.

Penang culture is not all Baba and Nyonya. Even among the Chinese community, many do not have Peranakan ties. So there must be events with their own culture as themes within the George Town Festival. And of course, we have the Malay and Indian communities within the city limits and especially beyond. So it is good that when we celebrate, we are celebrating together. My wife and I had a lot of excitement when visiting the Indian-Muslim section of the street celebrations on Wednesday. Many things were new to us. Even the old, familiar things felt new to us.

When I took to wandering around the streets last Wednesday, my observation was that many of the Chinese and Baba and Nyonya events were close replications of the Chinese New Year open day celebrations. So basically, it is the same stuff being churned out. Now, with Hari Raya just around the corner and Deepavali coming at the end of the year, will the organisers have fresh ideas or will we see the same, similar stuff at the Hari Raya and Deepavali open days too?

You see, that's the real challenge of our cultural heritage. We celebrate together as a whole during the George Town heritage day but we also need to celebrate our cultures separately at the appropriate time, be it Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, Deepavali or even Christmas. Too much of even the same good thing can dampen the enthusiasm of both organisers and local residents. We cannot live on the interest of the foreign or outstation tourists alone.

So there must be continuous change if the government and the organisers want to keep the interest alive. In this respect, I do welcome the efforts of the organisers to bring in the new foreign acts. Patrizio Buanne may be irrelevant to the cultural heritage theme of the George Town Festival but at least, he brings in a welcomed distraction and gives a big buzz to some sectors of the local community. Frankly, I'd like to see more of this happening during the George Town Festival but please do keep the ticket prices reasonable if the organisers want more participation from Penangites. Don't turn events like this concert or the Emily Of Emerald Hill play into ultra-exclusive events where, with non-paying guests greatly outnumbering the paying guests, the latter feel like they are subsidising the former. And believe me, this is a REAL feedback.

Finally, coming back to my theme of maintaining interest in the George Town Festival for the long term, I do remember that we did have the Penang Arts Festival for several years. The month-long festival was held in July too. However, this festival died a natural death after a while. That was a good case study on the sustainability of festivals in Penang. It will do good for the Penang government and the George Town Festival organisers to delve further into the demise of the Penang Arts Festival. Perhaps they can learn a lesson or two from there. For the sake of our UNESCO world cultural heritage status, the George Town Festival must continue, and continue successfully.

In the meantime, here are just a few of the pictures that I took at the Streets Come Alive event on Wednesday. My wife and I concentrated more on the Indian-Muslim enclave along Pitt Street (actually, outside the Kapitan Kling Mosque) although we did wander into the Poh Hock Seah and the Cheah Kongsi along lower Armenian Street and the Khoo Kongsi at Cannon Square. More pictures are available from my facebook photo page.

Wow, that's oil hot enough to cook anything and this vendor simply placed the vadai dough in the oil with his fingers. Vadai is a typical Indian savoury snack that's shaped like a doughnut and usually made from dahl, lentil or gram flour.

Teh tarik demonstration. Pardon the pun but this is always a crowd puller.

The traditional wooden clogs are seldom seen nowadays. Nobody wears them anymore, so there is a greater need to preserve this culture.

Lions resting after their dance

Teochew opera, and very often female performers would take on male roles during some of the performances.

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