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.

Gurney Drive Escapade – Day 1

Gurney Drive Penang

When I was a kid, every trip to Gurney Drive with my parents was a treat. Dad would park his car at the stretch where the casuarina trees were. We would then look for the ice cream man, either on his bicycle or cart. We would order ice cream on wafer cones which would either be vanilla, chocolate or corn. We would sit on the sea wall, licking on the ice cream as it began to melt in the sea breeze. Afterwards, we would play around on the white sandy beach, digging for siputs that we took back to fry with soy sauce and chilli.

Gurney Hotel Penang

Wuan, through her office, had booked a two-room suite for two nights at The Gurney Hotel beginning last Sunday. The hotel overlooks the stretch of casuarina trees where I used to frantically lick the ice cream as it dripped down the cone onto my hand and clothes. The ice cream man is no longer there. The beach is no longer there too, being replaced with huge rocks that were dumped there to prevent further erosion of the beach.

The hotel messed up the booking and we were left without a room. Since it was a Sunday, Wuan could not get her office to sort out the mix-up. After much arguing the hotel refused to budge and suggested that we pay for the first night for a studio suite at RM150 nett and then get Wuan’s office to clear up the booking on Monday. All flustered and hungry, we went looking for lunch first before deciding on the next course of action.

The hotel’s coffee house was serving Sunday buffet brunch for RM38 per person. We thought it was rather expensive for the limited amount that was on the buffet train. The waiter there offered to give us a 50% discount. Being the bargain suckers that we were, we decided to eat there. Still, I have tasted better buffet at much cheaper prices and serving more food that I care to eat.

View of Northam Road from Gurney Hotel Penang

Having come all the way already, Wuan decided to stay one night at her own expense and then get her office to sort it out the next day. As usual, we asked for higher floors. Surprisingly, we were given the highest floor which is the thirty sixth floor. The room window overlooked the Penang harbour, the entire old city and the Penang Bridge. The room had all the usual amenities one would find in other hotel rooms with the exception of a Jacuzzi. We rested a while and then decided to have our dinner at Gurney Plaza, which is at the other extreme end of Gurney Drive.

Gurney Drive Penang

The casuarina trees provided some shade from the sun which was still shinning brightly. I remember that fishermen and fishmongers used to sell their freshly caught fishes, prawns and crabs by the promenade. Now, there are mostly loafers and courting couples, people exercising and some who were fishing by the rocks just beside where the waves gently lapped. The view is still remarkable despite the changes but all this will soon change again when sea is reclaimed for commercial intents. When Gurney Drive is no longer there, I still will have these images to remind me when it was such a popular spot among the locals and tourists alike. Among others, Gurney Drive is synonymous with Penang. I cannot imagine a Penang without a Gurney Drive as it is today.

Loke Villa, Gurney Drive Penang

As we neared Gurney Plaza, we could see cars being parked haphazardly. This is a usual sight, especially during weekends. The unique building style of the Loke Villa caught Wuan’s attention and she took a few quick shots from outside the fence. When we reached Gurney Plaza, it was crowded. There was an auto exhibition outside and at the main atrium of the complex. We skirted around the exhibition area and checked out some of the clothes that were on sale at Parkson.

After buying bottled water and some buns from Cold Storage, we surveyed the food outlets that lined the walkway of the complex called the Gurney Place. We settled on La Manila for a wedge of chocolate cake and a grilled salmon set meal with mushroom soup, tea and ice cream. After dinner, it was a leisurely walk back to the hotel as a slight breeze was blowing and the night sight of Gurney Drive was a total transformation from the day with all the fairy lights strung across the road and the many food shops decking out their outlets with dainty lights to attract customers. We did not sleep that well that evening as I was consistently coughing throughout the night which woke Wuan up.