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While development and progress are generally good, several tourists lament how Penang is slowly losing its rustic charm. — TRP file pic
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GEORGE TOWN, March 28, 2015:
Pristine white sandy beaches, good food, rows of pre-war houses with unique architecture awarded with the prestigious Unesco World Heritage Site status reminiscent of that from a movie set…. these are some of the factors which drew German George Hoermann, 58, to Penang after having read about Penang’s attractions on the Internet and travel sites.
However, after just two days of being on the island, the scientist specialising in hydrologic technology said he felt let down and disappointed as “Penang is nothing but just another Disneyland”.
Explaining what he meant, Hoermann said based on his observation, there was just too much development taking place on the island and the heritage houses he had visited gave him the impression it was not “heritage in its true sense”.
“I came here to see for myself the unique architecture and to soak in some sun at the beach in Batu Feringghi, but I am very disappointed.
“Batu Feringghi is dead quiet during the day and the beach there is not like what was described to me. It is dirty and the water is too murky to swim in.
“And as I was walking through the streets of George Town, I noticed many nice buildings with beautiful architecture, but many are empty and in a sad state. There is no real life.
“My wife and I walked along the streets and there are rows after rows of cafés and eateries as well as homes that have been converted into hotels and then in between, there are some shops that are closed down and left in a state of neglect.
“I see more tourists here compared to locals and then there’s the downside of George Town where there are many nice shops or houses, but I find them empty and abandoned.
“Why is this? I’m an avid photographer, but it is sad to photograph this,” asked Hoermann.
He said from his observation, there was an imbalance going on in the tourist attraction places.
“On one side, you have a place full of life with people admiring the paintings, and this place called Acheh Street and Armenian Street are nicely done, but as we walked further out, we found many empty buildings left to rot and they were an eyesore.
“I could sense somehow that this whole heritage area is not ‘genuine’ and it is like a mini Disneyland where people wear costumes with the whole parade going on — that’s what I feel about the heritage site.
“They try to cram in everything together and it ends up looking messy,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said he was delighted to see barber shops, cobblers and furniture makers running businesses in old traditional shops.
“These are the things I wanted to photograph and show my friends back home as they are not available where I come from in Frankfurt,” he added.
True enough, Hoermann’s thoughts echoed that of Penang Heritage Trust president Khoo Salma Nasution, who told The Rakyat Post in a recent interview that if not careful, George Town, especially the heritage area, might lose its soul with original residents left with no choice but to move out, given the major increase in rental there.
She said a recent survey showed that George Town was now occupied by only 9,000 original residents as compared to its previous population of 50,000.
“This has happened to many world heritage sites, where there are more tourists than locals, so tourists end up coming here to see more tourists,” said Khoo Salma.
Hoermann’ partner, Sophia Dazert, said she had not found a clean enough beach for a swim in the sea.
“I am quite disappointed with the beaches that are murky, while the heritage zone is becoming more of a tourist town than a rich heritage area.
“While I am quite happy being here, the environmental aspects and beach cleanliness should be looked into. I’ve been to Phuket and Bali, they are lovely,” she said.
Another tourist from Britain, Mark Hayes, 61, said Penang island had transformed from a laid-back place for relaxation to a fast-paced town.
“Ten years ago, when I was here, the traffic congestion was not so bad. Now it is horrific. As I walk around George Town, I see it has changed so much for the good and for the worse.
“While I have to admit it is cleaner now with more life in town, I miss the old days of Penang, very laid-back and definitely a place for relaxation.
“Now everywhere I turn, I see cars and more cars,” said Hayes.