Friday, January 1, 2010

PENANG MEMORIES







What a strange coincident. I am posting this from "Tanjung" the city of Georgetown in Penang where I have many fond and memorable memories in my younger days. It was 44 years ago to this date on 31st December 1965 that I arrived here to serve as the "Pengelola Rancangan Melayu Kawasan Utara" (Organiser of Malay Service, Northern Region) Radio Malaysia. Of course I have been here many times earlier.

Those were heady times. Penang was a free port and the largest in Malaya then. It was quite a small city compared to today. Roads were narrow and traffic was pleasant with very few cars on the roads. Public  transportation was ruled by the defunct trolleys or trams. Buses were meant for the outskirts and rural areas of the Island. Taxi was none existence. Main mode of transport in the city was the "becha" (trishaws) which now are novelty for the tourists. 


Come the Haj season, the port would be clogged by the pilgrims and  their families and friends, and Tanjung became the hub of haj in the country. When the airlines took over, the city became subdued. Today nobody associate Penang with the pilgrimage except the occasional flights that depart from Bayan Lepas International Airport.


Penang got its city status in the colonial days, granted by Queen Elizabeth II, the only one in the then Malaya. The island was synonimous with tourism. Everyone talk about the ferry ride.  The ferry service was so popular they have to build a double deck terminal to cater for the increasing no of vehicles and passengers when the ferries were modified to be larger in size. Nobody imagine there would be a bridge spanning the channel between the mainland and the island.  Now they are talking about having another bridge as the present one could not bear the load of vehicles using it. The ferry took a tumble with the existence of the bridge. There is even talk of dispensing with its service.


The free port status made the Customs Department very busy in Butterworth. Today it look after the shipments of cargo at the port and airport among other thing. 


The surprise of yesteryears was the existence of a railway station without trains near the ferry terminal. Even the popular radio quiz has a question on that to the bewilderment of non-Penang contestants. It was a novelty question. Today that building is still in existence but no longer a "railway station". Keretapi Tanah Melayu KTM extended the railway line to Butterworth making Prai terminal and the station on the island redundant, together with the railway ferry which we boarded from its portside.


The tourist attractions then still remain the same today. Going up Penang Hill by the funicular train was a must. Judging by the number of visitors and facilities on the Hill, certainly it has seen better days. Of course the beach in Tanjung Bungah and Batu Feringgi without the present day hotels and apartments is a must for those seeking a dip in the sea. There is the Botanical Gardens with its tame monkeys and the Snake Temple. The other popular sight is the Fort Cornwalis which the Malays called "Kota Lama". "Kota Baru" (Gurney Drive) was a short one when I first came here and most of the houses were private residences. Today Gurney Drive is a metropolis on its own, extended till Bagan Jermal, the end point of the bygone days trams. Most of the private dwellings emerged as  business centres, restaurants and food courts. Hotels and shopping complexes are also in existence today. The Catholic college and seminary located at the quite end of the Drive also disappeared to make way for the developement. In those days night life without going to the "Green Parrot" was meaningless for those seeking live music and watering place.


The view from Gurney Drive across the northern part of the island has changed tremendously. It was crowded with fishing villages. Now apartments and condos rule the skyline. The beach front at Tanjong Tokong has been reclaimed and turned fishing village into modern residences.



Of course, the evergreen E&O Hotel on the beachfront of the city is getting stronger by the day now with new management. They use to have Ballroom dancing every night but it seems it is now limited to Thursday night. Tea Dances on weekend afternoons was the vogue then. There were many popular  entertainment and culinary spots of yesteryears that gave way to modern developements, like the Chusan and Springtide among others.


Today the city and its surroundings are shrouded by tall buildings, apartments and condomaniums, beside office blocks, the pioneer being "Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak" KOMTAR which could be seen from a distance, especially when you cross the channel either by bridge or ferry. It is a landmark of Penang, beside the Penang Bridge, the longest in the country.


I spent my first night before reporting for duty at the Cathay Hotel, one of the comfortable hotel then. It  is still there but has become a low budget hotel. I like it because it is walking distance to everything in Penang Road. The only high end hotel then was the E&O. As New Year Day was a public holiday in Penang, I reported for duty on 2nd January 1966, and I stayed in Penang for a good 6 years till 31st January 1972. It was my longest posting outside Kuala Lumpur. The Director then was the ever popular  and versatile broadcaster, Zainal Alam. After his retirement the state conferred him the Datukship.


When I first met him, my first impression was that he was giving me a cold shoulder. So when I went to meet my 2 officers, the late Ismail Long and Norhashimah Ismail, they relate to me the incident that led to the Director displeasure at the Malay Service. My predecessor, the ever popular "Mak Iti", Siti Hawa Zain of "Kebun Pak Awang" fame, did not see eye to eye with the Director on many issues, especially administrative and financial matters, which led to the communication breakdown between the two.  My boss in Kuala Lumpur knew of the plight but did not brief this junior guy who was still on probation. So I was left to my own design to make ammend of the situation.


The opportunity arose when we were planning for Hari Raya broadcasts schedule. The headquaters in Kuala Lumpur slotted for us in Penang an entertainment special. I gave it a long thought. Making the normal run of the mill entertainment was nothing new to Ismail Long, the producer and the late Wan Ahmad Kamal, the versatile head of entertainment. I sat with them and listen to their ideas. It was just calling the local entertainers. So I told them we have to have a real special one. I pop the question, "How about the Pengarah taking the lead?". They were dumbfounded knowing the background we were in. So I told them this is Hari Raya, season for forgiveness. I will approach the Pengarah myself. They gave me their blessing.


I made an appointment to see him in his office on the second floor of the RTM headquarters at Burmah Road. He was quite cordial, perhaps he was in good mood. I thought this is my lucky day to have a chat with him. After some pleasantaries he asked me about my background and work experience.  Then came the real business. I gave a direct proposition, "we plan to have a Hari Raya Special in Malay" with him in the lead. He was surprise and modest about it, saying it has been a long time that he has done a programme, and never in Malay. I told him he still has his "peminat" (fan). He look at me for assurance, and I told him there was no difference whether the programme is in English, Chinese, Tamil or Malay. So why not give it a try. He agreed and his condition was simple. He will do everything from writing the script and choosing the personnel in the programme. That answer was expected. So I said thats not a problem and we shook hand. He wanted Ismail and Wan Ahmad Kamal to be his special assistant for the production. That make our work simple.



So we worked hard for well over six weeks on that. The cream of artistes and performers from the Northern Region were included. The legendary and well known composer Jimmy Boyle and his trio was the main musical accompaniment. There was the asli group led by a Pak Ya (I just Met a Pak Mat who said he was one of the group member; he said the real name of Pak Ya  was Yahaya Ibrahim, and the group could possibly be "Dendang Sukma"), the Bintang Radio Champions  of the Northern Region consisting of S.Ahmad and Suria Mohd Nor (Langgam Section), Nazri (Asli), M.Harris (Sariosa) and the comedian group consisting of Zainal Abidin Zain and  Zainuddin Arshad. There were other well known personalities of the bygone days taking part including A.R.Sinwan, the first National Bintang Radio Champion. S.Ahmad, M.Harris and the comedian group did us proud by winning the National Contest in Kuala Lumpur later. Suria and Nazri were runner-up. The winnings made the Director proud of the Malay Service. Special thanks must go to Jimmy Boyle for coaching the singers in his spare time. The comedian was coach by the Director himself. Zainal Abidin Zain later entered politic ending as Deputy Minister of Defence and later Home Affairs. He was conferred the Datukship for his contribution to the public in Bagan Serai.



For the recording at the Penang Chinese Girls High School, PCGHS, Gottlieb Road Hall, a stone throw from our headquarters, the acting Head of Malay Service, Haji Dol Baharim was a guest, beside local dignitaries. Haji Dol Baharim at one time serve in Penang and his wife's house was a few doors away from the school. Later I was informed he did not get along too well with the Director when he was here. I did not see sign of unpleasantaries between the two. They talked happily like old friends.


The demand for the free passes to see the recording and the rehearsal was overwhelming. We had a full capacity for both. Of course, the full dress was recorded just in case. We did not utilised that as the real show went smoothly and was a success to the delight of all especially the audience. Everyone was patting each others back. We had a good night sleep. The Penang newspapers review later made us proud. Of course from that day the Malay Service became the blue eyed of Zainal Alam, the Director. We had an easy passage.


When I was approached by Encik Aziz Abu Hassan, my Head in Kuala Lumpur to take charge of the Kota Bharu Station, the Director was unhappy and wanted to intervene. I told him its not necessary. Actually prior to my posting I already had an agreement with Encik Aziz, being the most junior officer and on probation at that, should I find my position in Penang difficult he can always recalled me back to Kuala Lumpur, and if its to my liking I can stay on as long as he was the Head. He remembered that agreement. Hence my prolong stay in Penang.   









 

1 comment:

  1. A very nice walk down memory lane. Thank you for sharing!

    ReplyDelete