Penang Water Garden Not Wheelchair-Friendly

The Ministry of Tourism Malaysia spent RM7mil on the expansion of the Penang Botanic Gardens. It was completed last year. Two controversial arches were built at a cost of RM150,000 at the Penang Water Garden located beside the car park and just outside the old garden gates. Those two arches were later demolished following public outroar that they were unsightly and does not blend into the landscape. One of the arches was said to be tilting. The ministry allocated another RM70,000 for the demolition works.

News report mentioned that Penang Water Garden houses a complex of seven ponds, that altogether, cover the size of half a football field. This part of the expansion costs RM1.5mil. The ponds were cultivated with giant Victoria amazonica water lilies, lotuses and water plants. The Penang Water Garden is said to be the largest water garden in Malaysia.

No way for wheelchair user to get up the kerb and to the ramp at Penang Water Garden
No way for wheelchair user to get up the kerb and to the ramp at Penang Water Garden.
Photo by Wuan.

The Water Garden consists of several levels. There were two gentle ramps connecting the different levels. What exasperated me was that there were no ramps for wheelchair users to go up the kerbs from the road. One would expect that the Ministry of Tourism, Department of Irrigation and Drainage and other agencies responsible for this project would have the mind to include proper accessible facilities for disabled people visiting the gardens.

Unfortunately, RM220,000 was frittered away in building and then demolishing the arches while access needs of disabled visitors were not given due consideration at all. This is most disappointing especially when the Penang Botanic Gardens is popular among Penangites and tourists alike, and also the fact that the Persons with Disabilities Act has been in force since 2008.

FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment In Malaysia

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.

FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment in Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia
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!

FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment in Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia
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.

The Monkeys Of Penang Botanic Gardens

Long-tailed macaque of Penang Botanic Gardens
Long-tailed macaque of Penang Botanic Gardens.

My cousin Ah Huat is a few years older than me. He was a head taller and scrawny, and tanned from running around the kampung under the hot sun most of the time. We lived just a five-minute walk apart, near to the Ayer Itam market and Kek Lok Si Temple.

Ah Huat’s mother is Mum’s second sister. I call her Jee Ee. When Mum’s chores for the day were done, she would take me on the short walk to Jee Ee’s place. While the two ladies chit chatted, I would follow Ah Huat as he went traipsing with the other kids in the neighbourhood looking for adventures to while the day away.

Dad invited him to go with us to Penang Botanic Gardens one day. Dad parked the car at the usual spot opposite the Cactus House. Ah Huat and I scampered all over the slope the moment we got out from the car. Our squeals could be heard across the lush vale as we quickly worked out a sweat with all that running.

Dad and Mum hiked up a short distance to their favourite place under some shady trees and made themselves comfortable. From where they sat, they had a vantage point of the undulating terrain and its surroundings. There were not many people that day. Ah Huat and I had a free run of the entire slope.

A troop of monkeys appeared from out of nowhere. Their noisy chatter broke the serenity and caught our attention. One of them jumped onto the car bonnet and began playing with one of the windscreen wipers. Dad cautiously approached the car and tried to shoo it away.

The monkey stood on fours and bared its fangs. Dad started clapping loudly and then waved his hands to scare the monkey off. We watched in horror as suddenly, without warning, the monkey yanked loose one of the wiper blades and ran off with it. Ah Huat, who was nearest to the car, raced down from the slope and went after the monkey who had by then made its way across the road towards the river.

The rest of the troop scattered upon seeing Ah Huat charging towards them. I was close behind Ah Huat with Dad fast catching up. A few monkeys together with the one with the blade scuttered up a tall tree, away from our reach and raising a ruckus as they peered down at us from the branches they were perching on.

Dad grabbed some broken branches from the ground and hurled them at the monkeys with the hope that the blade would be thrown back at us in retaliation. The monkeys were too high up. They continued to peer down at us, occasionally waving the blade and screeching noisily, seemingly mocking Dad’s futile effort.

After what felt like a very long time with Dad trying everything he could think of to make the monkey throw the wiper blade down, he gave up. My neck was already aching from looking straight up. We walked back to the car, stealing back glances, hoping against hope, that the monkey would somehow throw the blade down.

The windscreen looked odd with the blade missing from the wiper arm. Dad checked the remaining blade to make sure it was properly secured. There was nothing else we could do. The thieving monkey spoilt the day for us. As Dad drove off, I stole a last glance at the monkeys on the tree. The culprit was still holding on to the blade.