Thursday, 9 March 2017

Campbell Street in 1963

I must admit that my heart did skip a beat when I first saw this picture which someone had posted in the Penang Heritage Trust (PJT) Discussions facebook page. A scene of Campbell Street in 1963. Campbell Street. So full and vibrant in those good old days. Full of people, full of bicycles, full of motor vehicles. Still a two-way street.

I recognised not so much the road but the RECORDS sign on the left side of the road. How can I ever forget that unmistakeable sign? It belonged to Wing Hing Records. This was the shop of my father's friend, whom he had called Ah Leong. My father used to buy all his records from this shop. And the best part was that his friend allowed him to borrow the popular long-playing records of the day. I would be so happy when he brought home the records because it would mean new music in the house, albeit only temporarily. Later, I would strike up my own friendship with Jimmy, Ah Leong's son, and started borrowing records on my own.

UPDATE: A comment by Chew Weng Huat on the above facebook page went:
The vertical sign boards reflect chinese culture too well, becos few other cultures have individually written characters strung together to make a phrase, in a top to down, then right to left format. 
Even the neon signs in modern cities like Hong Kong, retain this vertical format and density. A ubiquitous feature that immediately identifies chinatowns in South East Asia from "other" towns. 
Alternatively, the super large characters of the shop sign is cast in concrete or plastered onto the rounded or chamfered columns lining the five foot ways in front of the whole row of shops. A good example of signs integrated into a column is visible on the left side: the name of "Wing Hing Phonograph"). 
To me, the column sign is ingenious, as its visibility is much higher than the cheaper, simpler but unidirectional ones painted directly onto flat vertical boards. Moreover the bas relief effect of the characters shows off the calligraphic beauty better than those on the flat boards, yet they dont intrude physically into the crowded street space as much. 
However this chinatown effect has practically disappeared from the largest cities in mainland China. 
Does this say a lot about the cultural difference between the overseas Chinese and the mainland Chinese?

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