The wheelchair rolls well on smooth surfaces. Roads, pavements, grass and pebbled paths is another story. The small front caster can easily get caught between bumps and cracks. Apart from making it difficult to push, they make rides bumpy which in turn causes spasms of the legs. Traversing these surfaces could quickly damage the wheelchair as well. I avoid such terrains as much as possible. For someone who likes the great outdoors, it is indeed a difficult choice for me to make.
This is the same dilemma wheelchair users all over face when we want to go off the beaten path, until the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment was invented, that is. When I ordered the Tilite ZRA Series 2, I got the FreeWheel shipped together with the wheelchair to save on freight charges. With the FreeWheel hooked to the footrest, going across grassy fields or sandy beaches became a breeze. This practical mechanism is the brainchild of Pat Dougherty, a wheelchair user himself, who saw the need for an easier way to get the wheelchair across challenging terrains.
Peter Tan with Tilite ZRA Series 2 and the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment in Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia.
Photo by Wuan.
The FreeWheel’s design is simple and ingenious. It consists of a 12.5 inch wheel attached to a fork. Attaching the Freewheel to the wheelchair is easy once the clamp is properly adjusted to fit the footrest. Swing the wheel out and place the clamp over the footrest. Pull the lever back and the FreeWheel is securely clamped to the footrest. Push the wheelchair forward to turn the wheel back. This lifts the front casters one inch off the ground. And all is good to go!
Closer view of Peter Tan with Tilite ZRA Series 2 and the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment.
Photo by Wuan.
On my recent trip to Penang, I used the Freewheel at Gurney Drive, the Botanical Gardens and several other places. The ride was certainly smoother even over rough roads and paved walkways. Moving around was a joy. In tight spaces like at the food courts, I simply unclamped the FreeWheel, stored it by attaching it to the perch fastened to the back rigidizer bar. With the FreeWheel out of the way, I manuevered around crowds with ease. With the FreeWheel, I do not have to think twice about where I can go now. Using the wheelchair when I am out and about has become less inconvenient. Truly, the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment is the best thing since sliced bread for wheelchair users. Thanks, Pat, for a wonderful invention.
Tags: accessible tourism, FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment, Gurney Drive, Gurney Hotel, Pat Dougherty, Penang, Penang Botanic Gardens, rigid wheelchair, titanium wheelchair, ultra lightweight wheelchair, wheelchair user Malaysia
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.
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
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tags: choon peah, choon piah, Gunung, Gunung Jerai, Gurney Drive, Gurney Hotel, Indian rotiman, mee sua tau, Penang Senior Citizens Association, Pulau Tikus, roti babi, sunrise, tsunami, Wat Chayamangkalaram
Sunrise over Penang.
0750: A sunrise is a beautiful sight to behold. Wuan and I woke up early to catch one. The dawn sky was beginning to brighten. The sun was already a few degrees above the horizon. Scattered clouds obscured it partially. The sight of its shimmering reflection on the sea spread warmth inside us. Waking up a wee bit earlier was worth the effort. It was indeed a magnificent spectacle, especially from where we were, high above everything else with an unimpeded view all the way to the horizon.
Breakfast at Gurney Hotel Coffee Bean.
0917: One of the things I did not do the last time we were at Gurney Hotel was discovering how an egg benedict really tastes like. We headed down to Coffee Bean which was just beside the hotel. I do not know if their Eggs Ben is the same since I do not know one from the other. It was not exceptionally good but times better than the awful hawker food we had at the food court opposite Eon Bank at Burmah Road the evening before. Wuan had Chicken Sandwich which was slightly nicer than the eggs I had.
Old lamp post at Gurney Drive.
0950: Having filled our stomachs, we headed out to explore the length of Gurney Drive, again. It was low tide. The sea had retreated a good 60 meters out. The exposed mud emanated a stench not unlike that of a sewer. The sun was pleasantly warm against my skin. I have not felt this kind of sensation for a long time and loved every second of it. It was fun going out with Wuan again after such a long time being apart from each other. She asked me what that structure that was standing forlornly by itself at the edge of the beach was. It used to be a lamppost. Most of the others had toppled over through years of neglect and erosion of its foundation by the sea.
Egret looking for food at Gurney Drive.
0958: Wuan spotted a lone egret wading close to shore looking for food. We were all excited. We have never seen one at such a close range. Wuan climbed down to the beach to take closer shots. I jokingly told her that I would keep a lookout and warn her of any foaming white tide rushing towards us. She went up right to the shoreline of the rising tide and started snapping. The bird was not intimidated by her presence. At one stage, it even stopped what it was doing and seemed to strike a pose just for Wuan.
Kite seller and customers at Gurney Drive.
1005: We parted ways with the egret and crossed path with a man hawking colourful kites of all sizes. Their long multi-coloured tails fluttered cheerfully in the breeze. Watching those little kites rising and falling with the wind induced a feeling of light heartedness in us. Wuan and I sat there for a while, enjoying both the gentle wind and the sight of the little bits of cleverly crafted paper brightening up our morning.
MPPP enforcement officers at Gurney Drive.
1052: MPPP enforcement officers had set up a roadblock at the junction of Jalan Pemenang. Vehicles were prevented from going up to where Gurney Plaza and the roundabout were. We wondered what the reasons for the roadblock could be. A little further up, we noticed silt collected in puddles on the pavement. It was drying up fast under the heat of the sun.
Bird in mud at Gurney Drive.
1100: Wuan and I debated whether that bird was stuck in the mud and was dead or it was just standing still there sunning itself and waiting to ambush its lunch. We observed it for a while under the blistering heat. When it became unbearable, we moved on. The bird was still as motionless and we were none the wiser whether it was alive or dead. We kept looking back, hoping to catch glimpses of it moving, however fleeting. It was still as stiff.
Cleaning crew at work in Gurney Drive after the Tsunami.
1106: Further up the road opposite Gurney Plaza, it was evident why the road was closed. Another round of cleaning up was in progress. There were water tankers from Propel in their bright luminous orange, one from MPPP in their uniform blue and one from PLUS in white. The technicians manning those vehicles donned jump suits of similar colours while the MPPP crew were ubiquitous in their yellow T-shirts and black pants. There was even a cute little street sweeper truck with brushes on its underside. Upon closer observation, the workers were busy shooting jets of water down drains to unclog the silt and debris that got stuck inside.
Hard at work cleaning Gurney Drive after the Tsunami.
1111: At the roundabout, firemen were hosing down the road while the MPPP crew were busy sweeping away the silt with their lidi brooms. Cleaning what the tsunami left behind was no easy task. A skid loader was also used to scoop up the thick mud in certain spots where it was virtually impossible to hose and sweep the grime away.
Oriental Restaurant at Gurney Drive.
1115: The most obvious sign of the destructive force of the tsunami was the collapsed wall of the Oriental Seafood Restaurant. Tables were upturned and the floor was covered in a layer of thick mud. The height of the tide could be measured by the muddied wooden railings of the covered bridge leading to the restaurant. It must have risen at least 3.5 meters from the seabed when it hit that part of Gurney Drive.
Dried mud at Gurney Drive after Tsunami./em>
1124: The dried mud produced some interesting patterns. How far had those that inundated Gurney Drive travelled? Were they swept in by the force of the tsunami from around the vicinity of the epicentre to Penang or from nearby seas? Are these muds toxic? These questions beg for answers.
Tsunami cleaning crew taking a break at Gurney Drive.
1129: The cleaning crew were stopping work for the morning. Wuan and I guessed we have had enough of the sun too and headed for the cool sanctuary of Gurney Plaza. Those two hours in the sun certainly made us a shade or two darker. And we did not have any sunscreen on. We loitered around the shopping complex, cooling ourselves down and window shopped.
Fish & Co at Gurney Plaza.
1252: Lunch was a shared platter of tuna salad with Wuan at Fish & Co. It tasted a tad too salty. We also had a mocktail called the Pink Passion which smelt faintly of some body shampoo that we had used before. I think I shall stop using fruity fragranced shampoo from now in order not to mess up my olfactory senses again. It really killed the pleasure of that drink. A short while later we hopped over to Nandos and had one half chicken in hot peri peri marinate. Surprisingly, for one who is averse to anything spicy, my mouth was not burning. Nevertheless the chicken was nice. So was the coleslaw.
Casuarina trees along Gurney Drive.
1550: As we made our way back, traffic was at a crawl as the road to the roundabout was still closed. We rested under the shade of a casuarina tree and took in the sights and the salty breeze that was still blowing. People were beginning to fill the promenade. Some couples even sat by the edge of the beach oblivious to the danger and possibility of Penang being hit by those devastating waves again.
Northam Tower by night.
2044: We stayed in almost the entire evening, nibbling on the buns and snacks that we bought from Cold Storage earlier. The television was on. CNN kept running footages of the devastation and flashed the death toll repeatedly. A catastrophe of this proportion was just too overwhelming and difficult to comprehend. The entire world had never experienced a tragedy like this and I hope we never will again.