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Friday November 30, 2012

Greening the brown and losing the green

Padang Brown and Green Lane are colourful names of places in Penang island. While one may be restored to its old glory, the other looks to lose all meaning of its name.

IT was just after Deepavali and time for the customary pilgrimage home to Penang. And the news was depressing.

The Malaysian football team had just lost 3-0 to Singapore, a loss that led fans to try to attack coach Datuk K. Rajagopal, who needed FRU protection.

So, there I was driving down to town with thoughts of football in my head when I screeched to a halt.

I was passing Padang Brown – and the padang was not there. It was just, well, brown.

All the grass had been torn out and mounds of earth filled the entire area. I turned to a friend and asked what was happening.

“They are building a supermarket here,” he said. I was aghast. A supermarket? At Padang Brown? No one would dare do that. It would be sacrilege, I thought. I was going to raise a ruckus. This had to be fought against.

But thank God for Google and the handy iPad.

No, they are not building a supermarket. They had just ripped the field apart so they could improve the drainage and make it a better field than it was.

Padang Brown, it seems, was often flooded and became unplayable as a football field whenever it rained.

By the end of the year, it is going to be a glorious football field again. I certainly hope so.

Padang Brown, you see, was once the heart of Penang football.

A bequeathal by David Brown, the same man who gave the Kampung Buah Pala folk their little turf of grass before machinations made it national news, the field has great history.

It was here that greats like Ali Bakar, Isa Bakar, Shaharuddin Abdullah and Namat Abdullah were first unearthed as raw gems. The likes of state stars Johari and Rahman Maina came later.

Every day, thousands flocked to the place to watch Penang Div 3 matches and hawkers did great business. The laksa, I remember, was just superb. Of course, some of the hawkers were also bookies, but that’s another story.

There’s also a hawker centre nearby with a monument to Brown. That hawker centre, too, is slowly dying. Back in those days, we kids would help wash dishes there for anything from 50sen to $1.50 and then go out and play games, placing small bets.

Often, the money would be doubled thanks to the bets and there would be enough for a tasty bowl of hokkien mee and a bottle of sarsaparilla (sarsi as we call it now).

As for me, I would sneak out the back door of the house to join the other kids for a game and my father would come looking with a rotan in hand. But the rotan would have to wait.

He would sit with his friends and dissect the game his son was playing, sometimes glowing with pride. And when the final whistle went, out the rotan would come as I fled for home.

My father also took me to the padang to watch political rallies before the days of the “ceramah.” And famous names like former chief minister Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee and Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu and even the Tunku himself spoke to huge crowds from makeshift stages.

So, it is really heartening to know that Padang Brown is being revitalised. A development project there would make any Penangite see red.

But while Padang Brown will be green again, Green Lane, it seems, won’t. The huge, leafy trees that have overlooked the street for decades, are about to go.

They are being chopped down in the name of development, to make way for a wider road.

Green Lane was so named because there was nothing there but the soon-to-be-200-year-old Penang Free School, vegetable farms, fruit orchards and cowsheds. It was, literally, green.

Over the years, hospitals, wats, more schools and even more housing areas have sprouted.

As Green Lane progressed, the trees became fewer and fewer. The state mosque was built and a huge rambutan orchard was gone.

Soon, the last vestiges of those great trees will be gone – some to be destroyed, others to be replanted elsewhere.

And Green Lane will no longer be green. For me, that will be indeed be a black day.

Maybe then, the busy entryway from the Penang Bridge will just have to go by its current name of Jalan Masjid Negeri, a name you won’t find many Penangites using now.

> The bubur cacha stall in the hawker centre where the writer used to wash dishes as a boy is still in business. And the bubur chacha is still as delectable as ever.

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