ONCE UPON A TIME IN PENANG...

Chap Goh Meh

The 15th day of the Chinese New Year (full moon) was always a risky time for beaus looking for their perfect partner. 'Chap Goh Meh' literally translated means the fifteenth night. This was the evening when all the eligible young ladies were allowed out from the confines of their homes, dressed in their bejewelled best. These beauties were always chaperoned by the fiercest looking aunts and amahs (servants), so the ardent gentlemen could but look on longingly at the passing parade.

It so happened on one night like this, that a young man was captivated by the sight of a most delicate beauty who was driving by in all her finery. The young gentlemen quickly jotted down the number of her car, and looked up her father's address in the directory. He then wasted no time in getting his mother to send a matchmaker to his beloved's home to arrange the marriage. What the hapless beau did not realise was that the girl he had seen was not the daughter of the house but a visiting niece. Thus on his wedding day, the poor groom found that instead of the radiant smiling girl he had expected, he was married to her fat and rather plain cousin. It was a small comfort, though, to find out that his wife was rich.

Penang's First Car

There was quite a stir of excitement when the first motorcar made it appearance in the streets of Penang. This celebrated automobile was the property of Mr Woodford, one of Penang's late, great millionaires. Every evening, this gentlemen could be seen, a lonely reticent figure in his car, enjoying his only outing for the day - a drive to the Botanic Gardens and back.

Mr Woodford in his Daimler was a truly unique sight in those days, when the only known modes of transportation were man-pulled rickshaws, gharries, pony-drawn dog carts and later, bicycles.

When motorcars were still a rate sight in Penang, a man waving a red flag had to run ahead of every automobile to warn pedestrians of the approach of the mechanical monster.

Penang's Annual Lease

In order to appease the irate Sultan Abdullah of Kedah, and to keep possession of Penang, Francis Light, in 1791, promised to pay him 6000 Spanish dollars a year. Today, almost two centuries later, the Penang State Government is still paying a yearly token of Malaysian $10,000 to the Sultan of Kedah, in fulfilment of Light's original promise.

Light's most expensive Cannonball

When the 'Prince of Wales Island' was first established, Francis Light set about clearing the jungles of Penang for his settlement. The site where Georgetown is today proved particularly difficult to clear, and Light's men refused to work. Light, however, was not to be denied. He loaded two cannons with Spanish silver dollars which he fired into the dense underbrush of the troublesome site, and the piece of land was cleared in record time!

Strawberry Hill

When Francis Light first came to Penang, the one thing which he missed was his favourite fruit, strawberries, for they could not grow in the tropical heat. When he finally built his home in the cooler climate of Penang Hill, he brought with him some strawberry seedlings which he lovingly transplanted on a ridge close to his house. To his greatest delight, the strawberry plants flourished, and produced some of the most succulent fruit. From that day hence, the ridge on top of Penang Hill has been known as Strawberry Hill.



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