Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas in Penang

Fort Cornwallis

The State of Penang consists of Penang Island itself and a strip of land on the mainland, Province Wellesley. It is a multiracial state with the largest non-Muslim population percentage in West Malaysia. About half of it's million plus population consists of Buddhists, Hindus and Christians with the majority of these living on the island itself.

The walls of the fort are packed with earth and are about 6 metres thick. If you look closely at the picture below, you'll note a hill on the upper right. I live at the foot of those hills.

There are about 7 Catholic Churches on the Island, with another four on the mainland. There are a large number of non-Catholic Christians as well with Methodists and Anglicans the largest of the mainline denominations (and some Presbyterians, Lutherans, Brethren [Salvation Army, Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons]) and Baptists, FGA's, AOG's and many smaller evangelical free and Pentecostal groups making up the remainder of the Christian population. So, as you can see, it's a very diverse grouping of Christians.

Cannons and gun emplacements defend the fort from a sea attack.


The Christian Federation of Malaysia groups together the Catholic Church, the Council of Churches, Malaysia (the mainline denoms) and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (the Pentecostals). The State Government of Penang celebrates all the major festivals such as Eid, Chinese New Year and Diwali with something called an Open House. Basically, it's a large public party where everyone is invited and there's lots of free food and drinks and entertainment.

Christmas is no exception. In previous years, the Christians use to have a large parade through the streets of downtown Penang. But for the past 2 years, a party was held instead.

Captain Francis Light

The location? Fort Cornwallis, the fort of the first British settlement in the Far East when the East India Company negotiated (tricked?) the local sultan into ceding the island as a port and trading post. Thank God for Captain Francis Light, or else Penang would be a backwater like the rest of Malaysia. The British settlement also allowed Christian missionaries to enter and schools like the Penang Free School established.

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The Entrance to the Fort

Anyway, as I was saying, the location of the Christmas party is in a fort, with walls a few metres thick and about 4 metres high. Indications of a siege mentality? I don't know.

Mark, Angela and our modesty made our way to the Fort early, to try to get good seats... and be closer to the food =)

A special tent was set up for the guests of honour, including the Chief Minister, the Bishop and other Christian leaders.

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The tent was set up in front of the stage

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Although we were early, the place soon began to be quite packed as people poured in and took their seats in front of the stage.

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Note the people sitting on chairs. These naughty people stole chairs from the food tents and were promptly asked to return them. The photos below show the aftermath... people standing chairless. Fatigue soon got the better of them though and they soon sat down.

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The local Churches put on several performances, ranging from dancing kids to Christian rock and carols.

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Note the fellows standing right in front of the stage. Don't they know that it's very very rude and that there are thousands of people behind them being blocked by their... well... anyway.

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As the wait for the Chief Minister wore on, the crowd grew... restless and hungry.

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When the Chief Minister arrived and the speeches started rolling, we made a rush to the food tents. Unfortunately, others had the same idea and we were in a very long line. The food was yummy, but little. We later lined up again at another food counter, but when we arrived, the food ran out.... sigh. Our modesty went home hungry that night.

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Anyway, we tried to make our way out, but the Chief Minister had the same idea and stalled us. But as soon as his car pulled away, however, the heavens began to pour and I were drenched and chilled to the marrow.

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The things I go through to get a story... your humble scribe returned home wet, cold and hungry that night. Not a good combo.

How was your Christmas? Care to share?

5 comments:

Rita said...

A parade in downtown Penang sounds a better idea, atleast there couldn't possibly be a shortage of food with that option.

Our Christmas was very quiet, husband just about managed the dawn Mass (ill with food poisoning) but that was our only contact with the outside world apart from a text from the Cameron Highlands from my family who were living it up amongst the tea plantations for Christmas this year.

Not that I'm glum or anything, but you did ask for other tales of festive happenings....

Best wishes for 2008, Andrew. Your blog means a lot to me in so many ways; good Catholic content, a window on my "home town" and your wicked sense of humour!

God Bless.

Athanasius contra mundum said...

Other than the food and the rain, it sounds like it would have been fun.

Andrew said...

Athanasius, don't forget the people, the location and the entertainment... =))

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