Georgetown Festival – Tapestry of Culture Day 3

August 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Today is the last day of the Georgetown Festival celebrations that was happening around the city area. The last two days had seen thousands of people, both tourists and locals alike, swarming the city area to participate in the activities and cultural performances that went on. Though not many cultural performances are scheduled to happen today, I would not be surprised if I still find lots of tourists and locals hanging around the city centre to catch any of today’s events.

Georgetown Festival 2011

The Church of the Assumption was the first meeting point for the first 'Living Museum' tour.

According to my already worn-down booklet, there is another Indian Muslim Cultural Celebration that would happen around the Kapitan Kling Mosque area. After watching Chinese, Indian and Malay cultural performances held over the first two days, I thought it would be interesting to see what exactly the Indian Muslim community is all about here in Penang. Today, this community celebrates their contribution to the city’s heritage by hosting a day-long programme of sorts for everyone to see. Some of the events that the people can look forward to catching included a teh tarik competition, interactive demonstrations of Indian Muslim cuisine and many more. There was also a ‘Pallanguli’ Competition held within the premises of the Kapitan Kling Mosque. If you are wondering what ‘Pallanguli’ is, there will be a short explanation about the game later in this article.

Georgetown Festival 2011

This plaque indicates that this building is part of the Sun Yat Sen Heritage Trail tour.

Other than the Indian Muslim Cultural Celebration, there was also a tour that will bring you to the Protestant Cemetery located along Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah. This cemetery is the final resting place for some of Penang’s European pioneers such as Sir Francis Light and James Scott. There were also two other tours, the George Town Shophouse Trail and the Sun Yat Sen Heritage Trail in Penang, that was also open to the public. The one that caught my fancy was The Living Museum: Sharing Our Stories tour. According to one of the facilitators, this year was the first time that the Georgetown World Heritage Incorporation experimented with such a tour.

Georgetown Festival 2011

Ms Anne Cutter relating one of her childhood stories to an attentive audience during the tour.

Under this Living Museums tour, six different houses from different cultural background were made available for the public to participate. Members of the public can choose to either attend the morning session or go for the afternoon session. Participants of this tour would then be taken to the participating family’s house for a private sharing session. As one person can only join one talk at a time for each session, I opted to join the first and the third session.

Georgetown Festival 2011

A calling card is placed on the butterfly's wings should they decide to come and pay a visit when you are not around.

The first session was hosted by Ms Anne Cutter. She is a retired school teacher and has been staying in the same house for over half a century! She related her story of how her ancestors came and settled down in Penang. She also showed us some of her prized photographs – pictures of her parents at their wedding, a picture of her great grandmother who was a Thai princess and many more. She recounted how different the neighbourhood was when she was staying there as a child with her other siblings. She was also kind enough to show us the rest of her house, including her bedroom. Back in the kitchen, Ms Cutter had already put on display some of the items that her parents used to own, like a unique looking butterfly stand and a traditional coffee grinder. The architecture of that house is simply astounding, a rarity in these modern times. Everything in the house is well-maintained, right down to the wooden flooring that is still being used. Ms Cutter resides there with her elder sister now as most of her siblings have migrated to overseas.

Georgetown Festival 2011

The participants of the Living Museums - Christmas at Argus Lane tour.

At the end of the first session, I decided to make my way to the Kapitan Kling Mosque, hoping to catch some interesting information on some of the stuff that will be exhibited. When I arrived at the area, many of them were in the midst of preparing some of the delicious food that will be served to the crowd later in the evening. As I was watching one lady mixing in the ingredients for a different type of flat bread, we exchanged a few words about food and its similarities. It is always interesting to note that no matter what race or cultural background one is from, there are topics like food which never fail to bring two strangers together.

Georgetown Festival 2011

These women are mixing the ingredients for a traditional Indian Muslim type of flatbread known as 'Arasi Roti'.

Remember when I said that there was a ‘Pallanguli’ competition that was being held within the mosque? Well, ‘Pallanguli’ is a game mostly played by Tamil women. It is made up of a board with 14 cups and is played with two people. Each player takes a turn in placing six seeds into each cup. The player that is starting first will pick up the seeds from any of her holes and, moving anti-clockwise will start to place one seed in each hole. This step is repeated until she runs out of seeds. There are rules and regulations to playing this game, something which I will not go into full details. Needless to say, it was fun watching these women play in the ‘Pallanguli’ competition. Somehow, it reminded me of another local game known as ‘Congkak’.

Georgetown Festival 2011

Two women competing against each other in the 'Pallanguli' Competition.

The second session of the ‘Living Museums’ tour was supposed to start at 3.30 pm. We were told to wait in front of the Sri Mahamariamman Temple along Queen Street. The Chettiar house that we will be visiting was located not far away from the temple. The Chettiar house that we will be visiting was hosted by Mr. S.P. Lakshmanan. In his traditional Chettiar office, he had posted up pictures of his ancestors as well as people from the Chettiar community for us to read and understand. There were also some very interesting office equipment, like the Mejai Petti that is still in use. In the old days, it was the traditional style of the Chettiars to sit on the floor and used these sloping top desks as a writing desk. All of their important and necessary documents were also kept within the box. Those days, most of the employees also make the office their home. Therefore, most of the long tables were square and sturdy as it also doubled as their beds at night. Mats were used for them to sleep on, and during the day time these mats were rolled and kept in a suspended compartment on top of the wall and out of sight from their customers.

Georgetown Festival 2011

Mr S.P. Lakshmanan showing one of the participants one of the old stock market reports that he still keeps.

There were also annual reports and stock exchange books dating all the way to 1963 being put on display as well as some original Chettiar documents which were not available due to confidentiality issues. Mr S.P. Lakshmanan also introduced to us one of the first photocopying machines known as the Nagal machine. This ancient looking device could only make one copy from the original document at one time! Imagine how tedious it must have been for them to make copies of their formal letters during those days! Mr S.P. Lakshmanan also gave us a private tour of his office that was located upstairs and explained in detail the work that they do these days.

Georgetown Festival 2011

Participants of the Living Museum - A Traditional Chettiar House tour.

At the end of the ‘Living Museum’ session, I headed back to the exhibition area around Kapitan Kling Mosque. My initial thought was to photograph some of the delicious food that I saw being prepared earlier in the day. Unfortunately, there were too many people lining up to sample all the free food that was being given out to the public for sampling! It was a task to actually squeeze into an available space in between lines, let alone take some shots at the food that was being handed out. I ended up walking around the area and looking at some of the other stalls that were not giving out free food. Though on the brochure it sounded like there were many things to do, in actual fact the cultural exhibition seemed kind of small to me. The main thing is that I enjoyed every bit of it and am looking forward to experiencing it again next year.

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