Sunday, 18 September 2011

Starwalk: not exactly time well spent

Woke up at 4am this morning because we were due to participate in this year's Penang Starwalk. It has been many years - six years, perhaps - that we last took part in this event. The last time we did so, the start and finish of the Starwalk were at the Esplanade. When the event was shifted to somewhere in the south-east of the island, we had not bothered with it at all.

This year, The Star moved their Starwalk back to the city and termed it as their heritage walk, starting from the Penang Time Square building in Dato Kramat Road. The Star even billed it as a walk back in time.

"Discover 200 years of celebrated history as you walk along George Town's heritage trail," said The Star's catch line. Now you know that I've always had a soft spot for Penang's heritage. I needed no second persuasion. The moment I heard about this, I asked my wife whether she would want to take part in the Starwalk again. She said yes and that was that. The only other matter was to ask my friend, Long Kin, whether he wanted to come along too and he said yes.

So there was this six-kilometre route for non-competitors that took us through the maze of George Town's inner city; meant to enable the participants to discover and appreciate the cultural heritage of the city.

But it is debatable whether the newspaper's objective was actually fulfilled. My opinion was that there was too little effort for people to appreciate the history of the heritage sites.

Each one of us was required to have our little booklet (which the organisers called the Heritage Passport) stamped at each of the six heritage sites we passed by -- the City Hall, Fort Cornwallis, the St George's Church, the Guan Yin Temple, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple and the Kapitan Keling Mosque -- but everyone were concentrating more on getting their booklets stamped before continuing with their walk than even to look at the heritage sites at all, and that was the whole pity of the event.

Anyway, we were picked up at about 5am this morning and turned up at the Penang Time Square just before the shopping mall closed their multi-storey carpark. Then after we collected the yellow identification wristband, we met up with the rest of the Rockwills gang before the starter's gun set us off. The stroll itself was uneventful and we finished well within the two hours stipulated for the walk.

Then it was off for our brunch before gathering again at the square to await the lucky draws. Unsurprisingly, we had no luck at all and came away empty handed.

So would I consider today as time well spent? Yes and no. Yes, because I always enjoy walking through the heritage precinct of the city and more so when I can tell stories to people along the way. No, because the wait for the lucky draws is always monotonous and a waste of time, not to mention giving me a big strain on the backbone and knees when I am forced to remain standing on the same spot for hours. I'm sure many others felt the same.

Just for the record, the non-competitor's walk took us along Dato Kramat Road, Penang Road, Burmah Road, Transfer Road, Northam Road, Farquhar Street, Light Street, Esplanade Road, the Esplanade, Fort Road, Light Street again, Pitt Street, China Street, Queen Street, Chulia Street, Pitt Street again, Armenian Street, Acheen Street, Carnarvon Street, Magazine Road, Brick Kiln Road and Kampong Jawa Road.

If the participants had noticed closely, this walk would have taken them past several heritage sites of which I will only mention some of the visible ones along the route (not off the route) such as Birch House, the Nagarathar Sivan Temple, the Sri Kamatchi Amman Temple, the Ong Kongsi, the derilict Loke Thye Kee restaurant, the historical Indian-Muslim bakeries along Transfer Road, the former Shih Chung Branch School, the Leong Yin Kean mansion, the dilapidated Farquhar Street Mission School, the E&O Hotel, the St Xavier's Institution, the Church of the Assumption, the Convent Light Street, the Supreme Court building, the Logan Memorial, the Penang Town Hall, the Penang City Hall, the Cenotaph, the Esplanade field, Fort Cornwallis and its old lighthouse, Cheah Chen Eok's Queen Victoria memorial clock tower, the Legislative Assembly building, the Foo Tye Sin mansion, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce building, the Chung Siew Yin building, the St George's Church, the Guan Yin Temple, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, the Han Jiang Ancestral Temple, the Kapitan Keling Mosque, the Yap Temple, the Dr Sun Yat Sen southern headquarters, the Penang Islamic Museum, the George Town World Heritage Incorporated building, the Soo Beng Dispensary and the old Hin Bus Company building.

If anyone had missed these sites, perhaps it will be useful to retrace the steps of the Penang Starwalk slowly and go soak in the historical atmosphere of old George Town. I'm sure there is something new to learn along the way.


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