the Penang shophouse

restored Penang shophouses

I snapped these pigeons  on the pavement directly beneath the open windows of the cinnamon colored shophouse in the photo above them…somebody’s pets, no doubt, (and it looks as though PC and I only just managed to avoid being pelted by stale roti falling from the sky, ourselves.)

I would love to be able to buy, do up, and live in an old Georgetown shophouse…there’s something so quaint about their narrow but deep rooms, the inner courtyards open to the sky, wooden stairs climbing steeply up to the second or third levels. But even if I could find one for sale (owners are not parting with them easily, now that Georgetown is one the World Heritage list) it would probably cost more than I’d manage to save in a lifetime.

A shophouse is a vernacular architectural buildingtype that is commonly seen in areas such as urbanSoutheast Asia. This hybrid building form characterises the historical centres of most towns and cities in the region. —

George Town Shophouses by Daniel Berthold
photo by Daniel Berthold

derelict row of shophouses in the heart of town


I subscribe to one enviable blogging couple, Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman, that has taken the leap into restoring an old shophouse…for their love of Georgetown and all things Pinang. How jealous I am that they get to call this year-round carnival town of flavours, colors and cultures Home! And that they eat, write, travel, stroll around Penang, and take photographs for a living! Sounds damn near perfect, don’t you think?


A Streetcar Named Desir*


Took this the day before I had a decent map of Georgetown, so I don’t even know where this building is—it was a Chinese school. I was just walking along (totally lost, I admit it) when this house loomed up, standing in a wide open lot. Banyan trees have grown up through the house, and there are even a few smaller trees starting up on the roof. It looked amazing. Penang is absolutely chock-full of grand 18th and 19th century buildings like this, one after the other, up and down the streets…many of them restored to their original dignity. No wonder the whole town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A Streetcar Named Desir*

I picked up a few romantic black and white postcards of old Penang at a lovely bookshop along Lebuh Chulia. Each evening I sit and stitch one of them. It’s been a nice way to make the mass-produced postcards my own. Thank you, Shaun Kardinal, for the inspiration!

This one’s for Kris, of an old fashioned trishaw in a narrow lorong (lane). I’ve written “A Streetcar Named Desir” on the back, and that’s not a typo. Desir is Bahasa Melayu for “the sound of leaves being blown by the wind.”

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