Georgetown Festival – Tapestry of Cultures Day 1

August 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm

There is always something about culture related events that never fails to catch my attention. Maybe it is the anticipation of discovering new things about our diverse culture… or maybe it is the colourful costumes and lively music that never fails to capture my attention. When I saw an article on the upcoming cultural events that will be taking place from the 7th till 9th July, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to catch some of the interesting events that were scheduled to happen during that time.

The Georgetown Festival 2011 was a month-long celebration that showcased our cultural and living heritage. Georgetown was formally inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 7th July 2008, together with Malacca. This year’s celebration marked its third anniversary of its inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The theme that was chosen for this year is according to the three criteria cited for its listing. Each day of the festival is devoted to one of the criteria, which is the tangible and intangible heritage, multicultural exchanges and architectural landscape.

Georgetown Festival 2011

All is quiet for now at Khoo Kongsi during the day. Come evening time, this place will be packed with visitors who are here for the Georgetown Cultural Show

7th July – Testimony to Multicultural Tangible and Intangible Heritage
All events held on the 7th July revolves around the expression of the city’s living heritage. There will be art and music, food and language exhibitions and performances highlighting the cultural heritage of the various ethnic groups living in Penang.

8th July – Trading Town Forged from Multicultural Exchanges
Georgetown has long been a melting pot of various cultures. On this day, there will be various talks and forums on topics related to the introduction to Georgetown’s multi-faceted history.

9th July – Outstanding Multicultural Architectural Landscape
Georgetown’s unique architectural townscape is a result of a mixture of influences from the many different cultures that live within the city. Activities scheduled for today allows the participants to experience culture from another perspective; through shophouse trails and open houses of heritage buildings where its stories are being told by its living residents.

Georgetown Festival 2011

Some of the participants practising their 'khat' writing skills as part of the Heritage Celebration at Acheen Street Malay Mosque

Many of the events which were listed on the schedule during the three days that caught my fancy. In fact, I could safely say that 60% of the activities that was listed on the information booklet sounded so interesting! There were so many exhibitions, talks and forums, cultural dances and performances as well as food and craft bazaar! One down side to everything is the fact that it will all be held around the same time and in different locations. The challenge now is to find a way to see most of the events without missing the interesting bits. I sound a little bit greedy now, don’t I?

Whenever a person looks at a brochure that is filled with all sorts of activities, it is always a difficult thing to whittle the list down to a manageable chunk. So many to choose from, but so little time! There were the Malay and Chinese cultural performances going on in different locations at almost the same time, an open day entitled ‘Meng Eng Soo Open Day: The Path that Our Sage Predecessors Walked‘, a violin street performance by a Japanese violin prodigy and traditional food and craft bazaar. Unless I possessed the powers of being able to run (or walk) faster than a speeding bullet, I doubt that I could catch all of it at the same time.

Georgetown Festival 2011

The Lion Dance Performance happening in front of Kapitan Kling Mosque was absolutely fascinating to watch!

Playing the part of a tourist when one is actually not can be fun at times. When I visited the George Town World Heritage Inc. for more information, the person in charge gave me some pointers as to which performances that I should not miss. One of the recommended shows was the George Town Cultural Show, held at the Khoo Kongsi. I decided to take up on that person’s advice and planned my other activities around the show. On my way there, I came across a lion dance performance with stilts in front of the Kapitan Kling Mosque. Shutterbugs were already in position with their ultra sophisticated cameras and lenses, all ready to capture the lion’s every movement. The stilts have different heights, with the tallest stilt measuring a good six to eight feet tall. As the two performers move underneath the lion’s cape, they jump and lift each other up to mimic the lion climbing and frolicking between the stilts. Each move requires precision and trust – trust that your partner will not falter in his steps and that he will not drop you in the middle of the stunt. The applause that the two performers received at the end of the show is a statement to their success.

I decided to take a little detour and headed towards Cheah Kongsi, which was located at Armenian Street. Stepping past the entrance, I could already hear lively music played with Chinese musical instruments in the air. I have visited Cheah Kongsi prior to this festival, and it always looked a little bit quiet compared to the other clan houses. But the atmosphere today was so gay and lively, it really does not seem the same. There was a group of young men playing the Erhu, Pipa, Guzheng and Yangqin. The place was decorated with lights all over the clanhouse and the whole place felt like it was Chinese New Year. Further down the road there was a shophouse that was selling all sorts of trinkets, t-shirts, note pads and bracelets. There was also a stack of interesting looking postcards up for sale.

Georgetown Festival 2011

Khoo Kongsi comes alive at night, with its facade all brightly lit

As the time drew nearer to the cultural performance, I made my way back towards Khoo Kongsi. As expected, the place was packed with tourists and locals alike, all of them eagerly waiting for the show to start. After some announcements made by the management the show finally began. It started off with a contemporary dance piece entitled ‘12 Monkeys and More‘. This dance piece consisted of the work of three individuals – Zubin Mohamad from Malaysia, Ghaffar Pourazar from China and Jitti Compee from Thailand. The one thing about contemporary dances is that sometimes it is hard to actually ‘understand’ the message that the dance is trying to convey to the audience. I have learnt that under such situation, it is best to just enjoy the performance. There were also dance routines by both young and old Thai girls. Though it would have been wonderful to stay till the end of the show, I opted for an early night on the first day of the Georgetown Festival…

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