Gurney Drive – A Sea Of Nostalgia

Gurney Drive

There is actually a life for me apart from advocating for an accessible public transport system in Malaysia and working on disability-related projects. This blog however has been telling a different story. Lately, there are only entries after entries of cut and paste news and updates on activities of the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT). Admittedly, these issues take up a fair bit of my time. Nevertheless whenever possible I always try to squeeze in a little leisure time in between to free my mind from too much clutter.

Despite the hectic weekend when we were in Penang two weeks ago, Wuan and I managed to take a leisurely stroll along the promenade at Gurney Drive that Sunday morning. The pungent smell of the sea and mud was unmistakable. The tide was out. Towering casuarina trees standing between the sea and the promenade provided some shade from the fast rising sun. Although much has changed since my preteen days, images of digging for siputs by the beach are still very vivid in my mind. What once was a beautiful white sandy beach is now reduced to a smelly mud plain filled with indiscriminately strewn litter.

Gurney Drive is still one of the few places in Penang that never fails to evoke memories of a time long gone. In the serenity of the morning, I desperately tried to recapture the once familiar sight and sound of the ice cream man. He had a box securely fastened to the back of his bicycle. It would be laden with ice cream on the inside and ice cream cones in transparent plastic bags hanging on the outside. The familiar rhythmic ringing of his bell was such sweet sound to my ears. I thought I heard the ringing again that morning.

It was after looking around in futility for the source of the ringing that I realised the child in me who still yearned for those good old days rang the bell inside my head. Life was less complicated then. Perhaps it was my subconscious way of trying to shut out the rigours of the present. With that realisation the bell stopped ringing. There and then I knew that I have embarked on a journey that is taking me further and further away from this island that I have called home for forty years.

The sea was rushing back in. The salty smell still lingered in my nostrils. The heat from the sun was becoming unbearable. I wished that time would stand still for a moment so that I could savour that one second a little longer. But time and tide waits for no one. All I could do was hope that ten years from now I can still remember the nostalgia I felt that morning. I was overcome by sadness. I realised that each time I return to Penang and leave again, my ties with this island unravels a little more.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

4 thoughts on “Gurney Drive – A Sea Of Nostalgia”

  1. I’m ex-Penangite too. Once in a while I’d go back there for a visit. Reading your thoughts on Gurney just reminds me of those times. Here’s a poem by Chong Peng Khuan, another Ex-Penangite telling about Tanjung Bungah:

    Tanjong Bungah

    A crab side-stepped

    Out of his hole

    Questioned the bright moon

    Hurried into his dark


    The sand was quietly white

    Except for wood

    Rubbing wood

    From boats tied too

    Near the quay

    Fish nets vague and empty as

    The moonlight

    Stood limp

    I flung a spikey shell

    At one

    It dangled

    Plunged into the sea

    Rippled concentric circles

    Of loneliness

    Into moonlight darkness

    Thanks for sharing the poem. Those good old days. I wished we could relive it again.

  2. Dear Peter,

    Good that you could give yourself sometime to get back to your past. I can see how the good work you are doing has charted a new course for you. Your writeup bring my own memories of growing up in Malacca. Unless our memories goes “kaput” it will always be there and when it comes flooding back it is both sweet and painful reminder of what have been. Was planning for a trip back to my class reunion in July 7 and Penang was in my travel plans after that if I had the time. Let see.

    Hope you can make it back. The hawker food alone will be worth the trip.

  3. Hi! Peter
    Isn’t it nice to be able to sample and reminiscence over past experiences. I too had the same feeling when I visited Penang two years ago, after having left there 22 years ago. During my visit I spent most of my evenings sitting and talking over the good old days with a very close friend of mine at Gurney Drive. The only visible changes are those high rise tower blocks standing proudly opposite the sea front and the more fashion conscious young people. My wife and I will be visiting Penang again end of October and it will be her first visit to Penang. I hope I can explain to her how Penang was like as well as you could.

  4. Days are golden when used in the past tense!I remember idling my life away with a close friend who lived along Gurney Drive many moons ago.House’s gone now and a condo stands in its place.We used to go to the nearby Char koay teow and Cuttlefish kangkong by the road junction where Silverton is.Days of reckless abandonment and cramming for exams,lighting fireworks during the new year,ogling at the girls on chap goh meh (that old huh?!!) digging for siput,getting stung by catfish and waking up early to listen to the early morning ebb and sunrise.Now he’s down under and I’m way down goes on and memories are all thats left.

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