Gurney Drive

Gurney Drive by night
View from our room – Gurney Drive by night.

So much has changed yet so little that I have forgotten about this place. The road is an unceasing torrent of traffic now. The roadside burger stalls with their mouthwatering aroma have long disappeared. Towering skyscrapers stand on plots where grand mansions used to occupy. These are not what Gurney Drive used to be, not how I have remembered it.

Nonetheless, the familiar sights and sounds and sensations are still there. The sea wall, the casuarina trees, the waves lapping against the narrow stretch of sandy beach and the salty taste of humid breeze greeted me as Wuan and I strolled along the seafront promenade. All these are gentle reminders of how much I used to love coming here to just free my mind from all the cares of the world.

Gurney Getaway – Day 4 (December 30, 2004)

Sunrise at Gurney Drive
Sunrise at Gurney Drive.

0707: Wuan caught a few of these remarkable shots of the sunrise while I was still deep asleep. She is definitely a very morning person. All the sunrise shots for this trip were taken by her. She excitedly woke me up just to show me what she had captured. When I looked out the window, the sky was already bright and clear.

Bak Kut Teh at Gurney Drive
Bak kut teh at Zealand Cafe in Gurney Drive.

0856: On the previous mornings, Wuan and I had noticed that the morning crowd usually gathered in the coffee shops selling bak kut teh. This is a popular herbal soup cooked with pork ribs, pork and almost all the innards of a pig. It is served with either white rice or yam rice, crullers (ewe char koay) and bean cake (tau kua). It is true that we Chinese eat almost anything four-legged except tables and chairs. We thought it must be good since there were always sizeable crowds in the shops. However it was not as tasty as we had expected. We must have appeared odd photographing our food before eating it.

Feet of the reclining Buddha at Wat Chayamangkalaram
Feet of the reclining Buddha at Wat Chayamangkalaram in Penang.

0941: We went back to the Siamese temple to take a few shots that we missed for our own personal album. It was already crowded with tourists, mostly Japanese and mainland Chinese. Tsunami or no tsunami, Penang was still full of tourists. This photo is of the reclining Buddha with the motif of a wheel on the sole of his foot. I gathered that the eight spokes of the wheel represent the Noble Eightfold Path (Attha Sila) of Buddhism.

Gurney Drive Penang
Gurney Drive, Penang.

1205: It was time to leave. This had been one uneasy holiday. And I did what most tourists have done more often than me – visit the two Buddhist temples. I believe I have been there as a kid but I do not have any recollection. Now I can be certain that I have been there, thanks to Wuan. Everywhere we went in Gurney Drive, we overheard people talking about the tsunami, the earthquake and the rising death toll. Would we go come back again some time in the near future? Perhaps, just to see the Gurney Drive that I know before it is lost forever to the waves of development.

* More photos in the Gallery.

Gurney Getaway – Day 3 (December 29, 2004)

Sunrise at Gurney Drive
Sunrise at Gurney Drive.

0658: Wuan, as she usually does, woke up just before 7am and took this shot of Tanjung Tokong. Penang too was beginning to stir to life. The tide had receded, leaving bare a swathe of mud from one end of Gurney Drive all the way to Tanjung Tokong several miles away. The reclaimed land near there was beginning to take shape – a stretch of land stood where the sea formerly was.

View of Gunung Jerai from Gurney Drive
Gunung Jerai from Gurney Drive.

0808: It was a beautiful morning. We could see the hazy outline of Gunung Jerai in the distance. I remember having seen the peak from the other side many years ago when I followed Dad on his monthly trips to Kedah. In the plains it rose, a mass of green that seemed out of place among the the padi fields, buffalos and kampung houses.

Nasi lemak breakfast at Restoran Khaleel at Gurney Drive
Nasi lemak breakfast at Restoran Khaleel at Gurney Drive

0823: We stopped at Khaleel for breakfast. That is the only Mamak restaurant the entire stretch of Gurney Drive. We had nasi lemak, teh halia and roti canai. The sambal was exceptionally spicy but the fried anchovies and peanuts was crunchy and nice.

Pretty red flowers (Calliandra haematocephala) at Gurney Drive
Pretty furry red flowers called the Dwarf powder puff (Calliandra haematocephala) at Gurney Drive.

0901: Further up the road, Wuan was fascinated by a bush of red furry flowers outside one of the few residential houses left in Gurney Drive. The rest had been turned into food outlets or demolished and condominiums built over them. That was one of the brighter spots in Gurney Drive which had been taken over by the drabness and the concrete rigidity of condominiums. It was like a refreshing oasis of red in a sea of filth and commercialisation.

Indian rotiman with traditional tricycle cart at Gurney Drive
Indian rotiman with traditional tricycle cart at Gurney Drive.

0906: The rotiman playing his trade on a human powered cycle is a vanishing sight in Penang. They used to have a big bell they hit with a rod that produced an unmistakable ring. As kids, we would run out upon hearing that to buy butter buns spread with kaya and margarine. In a few years’ time this image will be but just a memory of days gone by. We could also see the golden pinnacle of a stupa from where we were and decided to make a quick trip there.

Interesting-looking ficus tree Burma Lane
Interesting-looking ficus tree at Burma Lane.

0912: We passed this interesting looking tree and could not resist the photo opportunity. I am not sure if it is a banyan tree. Countless roots appeared from its branches and grew down into the soil to form trunks. The locals here, in their superstitions, would build small shrines to worship spirits that was believed to reside in such trees.

Stupa of the Wat Chayamangkalaram Siamese Buddhist Temple
Stupa of the Wat Chayamangkalaram Siamese Buddhist Temple in Pulau Tikus Penang.

0914: The towering golden stupa seemed out of place amidst the modern structures surrounding it. That is the landmark of the Wat Chayamangkalaram Siamese Buddhist Temple. It houses a reclining Buddha in its main hall. Right across the road from this temple is the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple. Both temples are lavishly crafted in the design their country of origin. These are one of the main tourist attractions in Penang. More images of the temples are available in the Gallery.

Rescue helicopter circling over Gurney Drive after the tsunami
Rescue helicopter circling over Gurney Drive after the tsunami.

1055: On our way back to the hotel, we saw the search and rescue helicopter circling in a search pattern again. It was searching off the sea of Gurney Drive yesterday. We had wanted to photograph it then when it passed closest to us but the digicam battery went flat just at that precise moment. After Wuan had replaced it with a fresh set of batteries, the craft was too far away already. We did not let the opportunity elude us this time.

Cleaning crew clearing the mud from Gurney Drive after the tsunami
Cleaning crew clearing the mud from Gurney Drive after the tsunami.

1111: The cleaning crew were cleaning this end of the road today. They must have been at it for the past three days, making sure that all traces that the tsunami left behind were thoroughly washed off. Like yesterday, they sportingly allowed us to snap a few shots of them at work and gave us the thumbs-up sign afterwards.

Cafeteria at Penang Senior Citizens Association
Cafeteria at Penang Senior Citizens Association.

1400: Lunch was at the Senior Citizens Association Cafeteria somewhere near Pulau Tikus. We had some of the famous local delicacies like choon peah, roti babi and mee sua tau. Wuan had a field day snapping shots of the flowers in the huge compound. There were hibiscus in various colours and shades and several species of heliconias. After lunch, we spent the rest of the day window shopping at Gurney Plaza, again.

Night view of Gurney Drive
Seafront at Gurney Drive by night.

1930: We emerged from the shopping complex into the dusky sky outside. People were beginning to fill the promenade – the evening strollers and those looking to dine there. There were no signs that this side of Penang was hit by a tidal wave. Life went on as usual, almost. The evening scene of Gurney Drive is still as beautiful as it was years ago. But that will soon disappear. The sea is being reclaimed. When that is completed, Penangites and tourists alike will not be able to enjoy the sights, sounds and smell of Gurney Drive like they used to for the past decades. We are losing one of the island’s most enduring symbols to development that most of us are unaware of or are a reluctant partner to.