Jo Carroll’s postcard from Penang – with a message

Written by Tony Millett.


I'm in Penang, in Malaysia. Lucky me! While you are struggling with whatever January is throwing at you, I'm in food heaven.

I need to tell you a bit about Penang. When the British came here they needed labourers to build the port and do all the hard graft at the dockside to promote the spice trade. The Malays were busy with their own ways of life, and so the British turned to the Indians and Chinese. In time workers also came from Indonesia, from Sri Lanka, and from the Middle East.

Which means Penang is now a cultural soup of a city. There are mosques and Hindu temples Buddhist temples (which often include elements of Confucianism and Taoism) and churches. (The synagogue closed in 1976.)

Walk down one street and there is the heady smell of incense sticks. Down the next, and you'll find Chinese lanterns swinging between the buildings. The call of the muezzin can be heard from any point of the city. Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu - they live side by side. There are misunderstandings, of course, but these are managed without fisticuffs, and all are equally welcoming to a pale-skinned visitor.

And the food ... each culture celebrates its own food. As a visitor I'm beginning to wish I could eat ten meals a day as there are so many cuisines to choose from.

But it has got me thinking.

Soon Marlborough will have a large new estate on the Salisbury Road. I understand the decision on Rabley Wood View is still pending. In any event this is a significant addition to our population. Those of us who have lived here for years, some for generations, might feel a bit shaken up by it. But it does present us with a choice:

We can grumble about the extra traffic, the pressure on school places, the waiting times at the surgery, the crowds in Waitrose, the parking.

Or we can welcome these new families. They will come with new ideas, new ways of doing things, maybe even new ways of dressing and worshipping. They may unsettle us for a while, but if we let them they may surprise us and enrich our lovely town.

Having seen what an influx of cultures has done to Penang, I'm looking forward to it!

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