GEORGE TOWN: A book filled with personal anecdotes and factual gems about the history of Penang has just been released.
Penang’s History, My Story by Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai takes a fresh approach by weaving together the history behind the names of streets here with the writer’s own recollections about growing up in his island home.
Star Publications (M) Berhad group managing director and CEO, at the launch at the E&O Hotel, said it was unfortunate that history as taught in school only brought back unpleasant memories of long hours jotting down notes.
“History should not just be about memorising dates or feature only the stories of politicians who pass themselves off as statesmen,” he said.
“History should include the common people.”
Wong said Penang had many fantastic stories to tell, including how the founder of Singapore Sir Stamford Raffles had worked under Captain Francis Light.
“The country’s only Nobel Prize nominee for medicine, Dr Wu Lien Teh, was the first person of Chinese descent to be accepted into Cambridge University.
“He was recognised worldwide for his pioneering work, especially in battling the plague, but is not even mentioned in our school textbooks today.”
Wong said most Penangites, except for history buffs, were unaware that Thomas Leonowens – the husband of Anna, the educator made famous in the bestselling novel Anna and the King of Siam which subsequently became the hit musical The King and I – was buried at the Protestant cemetery in Northam Road or Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah.
Gurney Drive was named after Sir Henry Gurney, the British High Commissioner who was killed by communists on his way to Fraser’s Hill.
Wong said although the event “is widely known and documented”, many Penangites were probably unaware that Gurney Drive was named in honour of this same person.
He also said there was interesting data about Penang’s sex trade from the late 19th Century to the 1940s.
Cintra Street is known to older Penangites as Jipun Kay (Japanese street) because many Japanese prostitutes used to operate there.
“Many of these prostitutes came from Kyushu in Nagasaki, particularly in the then impoverished areas of Karayuki-San.
“Today, visitors to Tennyo Temple can see hundreds of stone pillars with the word pinang on it, a testimony to Penang’s past link,” he said, citing the work of researcher Clement Liang.
Wong also regretted that China’s founder Dr Sun Yat Sen, who lived in exile in Penang, was not mentioned in school textbooks.
“The present masthead of Kwong Wah Yit Poh – the world’s oldest surviving Chinese daily since 1910 – is a calligraphy personally written by Dr Sun.”
He said another gem was the history of how tycoon Cheong Fatt Tze started the first Chinese school in South-East Asia and outside China, the Chung Hwa Confucian School in Penang in 1904.
“It has been stated that it remains the only overseas Chinese school to be sanctioned by the Qing Dynasty government of China then, which officially presented the royal seals bearing the school’s name through its consulate Cheong Fatt Tze.
Penang’s History, My Story is a compilation of the series Wong wrote from January 2013 till January 2014 in the Metro section of The Star.
Famous sons of Penang including banker and academician Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, lawyer-poet Cecil Rajendra, veteran consumer activist SM Mohamed Idris and historian-heritage entrepreneur Khoo Salma Nasution turned up to support the launch yesterday.
Others present were Star Publications (M) Bhd executive director Tan Sri Kamal Hashim, Naza Euro Motors chief operating officer Datuk Samson Anand George, PKT Logistics Group Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Datuk Michael Tio, E&O group corporate strategy director Lyn Chai, Think City Sdn Bhd chairman Datuk Anwar Fazal, Public Investment Bank institutional and corporate business head Adrian Chen and Rafflesia The Pearl Centre director Winnie Sin.
International shoe icon Jimmy Choo — one of the most famous Penangites — launched the 326-page book, which includes reflections by Wong’s friends and colleagues in The Star who also hail from Penang.
The event sponsor is the E&O Group. Proceeds from the book will go to the Penang Heritage Trust and the Kenosis Home, a drug rehabilitation centre.
The book is available from Star Publications (M) Bhd via the Circulation Department at 03-7967 1388 ext 1026 (ask for Ankal Letchumanan or Andrew Lim). It is also available at major bookstores nationwide.