More Georgetown; a touch of incense in the air!

Trip Start Jun 15, 2009
Trip End Jun 14, 2010

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Where I stayed

Flag of Malaysia  , Pulau Pinang,
Sunday, August 9, 2009

As we mentioned before, the wide range of backgrounds and beliefs here has led to a great diversity of temples and cultural headquarters. At times it seems like every street in the old town has at least one temple and many have more. So you can imagine what it is like taking a walk down the street that has actually been renamed 'Temple Street'! (Incidently the street naming here can be quite tricky because each cultural group has its own and different names for lots of the roads). Some of the roads have definite colonial names, for example our hotel is on Argyll Street and some of the streets had names like Pitt, Victoria etc. There are also some strange conjunctions, so one of the main streets in the heart of the Chinese quarter is strangely called Campbell Street. (you may also have spotted a bit of a strange Scottish slant to some of the names but we weren't able to establish any particular reason). 

We were particularly excited by our visits to the Chinese temples. Many of these are part of different Kongsi, which are clan houses, including meeting halls for the family of the same name. These secret societies were very powerful in Geogetown's past and were encouraged by the British for a while as a way of keeping control . A 'Kapitan' was appointed from amongst the worthies in each of the various cultural groups (although the Europeans were deemed to not need one) and they were supposed to deal with transgressions by members of their group, with only serious matters like murder being refered to the governor. Unfortunately it was prone to corruption and it all finally fell apart with fierce and bloody fighting between the different societies. The governor and the army were forced to step in, fined each society a huge sum and used the money to set up an independent police force.

Khoo Kongsi, in some of our photo’s, was completed in 1901 and was, apparently, particularly magnificent. Therefore, no-one was surprised when the roof caught fire on the night it was completed. The builders put this down to divine jealousy of the ostentatious design, and so it was rebuilt slightly less extravagantly! However, as you can see, it is still fairly extravagant! As we were leaving, a wedding party turned up with a very strangely decorated (from my point of view) bridal car. See photo!

Our favourite temple was Kuan Yin Teng, which is dedicated to the goddess of mercy, good fortune, peace and fertility. Here, worshippers burn paper ‘money’, incense sticks, oil by the bottle-full and dragon joss sticks (the same stuff as normal joss sticks but about 10cm diameter) and on sticks about 2.5cm square.. In the past these appear to have got out of control so there is a sign outside requesting that, in the interests of safety, dragon flares no longer than four feet be burnt. The whole place is filled and surrounded by smoke and incense, inside and out! 

We've included a video clip of the temple to give a sample of the clamour with gongs and pipes going like mad while people wander around with handfuls of burning material.As you may have realised by now, health and safety is not usually high on the agenda in this part of the world.
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jenandtony on

Re: Hi guys
Hi Cherry! How lovely to hear from you. Glad Ruby has recovered. I certainly remember your mad grandma. In two days time we're off to see our mad daughter in Oz! Mad weekend!

Lots of love
Jen and Tony x

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