Georgetown Heritage

Georgetown Heritage

Georgetown's rich heritage has more in store for visitors than simply its fantastic historical buildings.

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The city of Georgetown was granted its UNESCO Heritage status in July 2008, together with Malacca. Walking around the streets of Georgetown, it is no wonder that this city was bestowed with this status. Buildings stand tall and proud, proof of Penang's vibrant and colourful past. But Penang's heritage is not only limited to the buildings and monuments, but is also evident in the lifestyle of its residents.

At first glance, the streets and shops located within Georgetown may seem ordinary. Businesses go on as normal, the doors to their shops or offices are open to greet their daily customers. It is upon closer inspection that one realizes that some of these businesses stock traditional crafts that can hardly be found anywhere else. Handed down through generations from parent to child, these trades have become synonymous with particular families and clans. While some of these family businesses are still thriving, others are not as fortunate. Traditional crafts such as hand rolled prayer incense sticks and even hand made spring roll wrappings are a rarity these days, and these acquired skills will be gone if there is no one to preserve them.

Scattered all around Georgetown are breathtaking clanhouses with ornate decorations and carvings. From afar, these buildings can be easily mistaken for temples as their designs are similar. These clanhouses served as community centres for Chinese immigrants who settled in this city. The clanhouses are still very much an integral part of the people's lives as the achievements of their clan folks are lauded and displayed within the houses for all to appreciate and see. Another feature of Georgetown are the many places of worship dedicated to the religions of the people who settled here. Chinese and Hindu temples, mosques and churches can be found within walking distance from one another in the city, co-existing harmoniously without any conflict whatsoever. These places of worship may seem quiet on normal days, but become the focal points of joyous religious festivals as the faithful congregate to celebrate and commemorate the holy event. Colourful processions, street bazaars and throngs of people from all walks of life are all indicators that the city is hosting yet another religious festival.

Although the rows of shophouses have become an unofficial symbol of Georgetown's heritage, the city's clan jetties are much more intriguing for visitors to the city. The idea of entire communities living in houses built on jetties that extend out at least 20 metres into the sea may seem far-fetched, but for the residents staying there, it is nothing out of the ordinary. True, the houses are built on stilts and the sea is just beneath their floors, but they are simply the homes where they grew up. Perhaps their appeal lies in this sense of normality adopted by the residents. The people are still communal and the entire community will come together during events and festivals. One of the best times to see this is during Chinese New Year, where the Hokkiens offer prayers of food to the gods. Everyone contributes in their own way to prepare the offerings.

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