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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 1 (May 1, 1933)

Pulau Pinang

Pulau Pinang

Nestling against the western shore of the Malay Peninsula and protected from the bluster of the Indian Ocean by the hills of Acheen, rests the Island of Pinang—a gem set in a jade-green sea. On the low-lying shore and facing the mainland stands a city, which, even down on its busy wharves, strikes one as being off the beaten track and in one of the world's backwaters. East and West blend with less effort than is usual in cities of the Orient.

Although an ocean port, the dirty docks, long wharf of huge piles, on which are built the ships-chandlers, and gin shops, are wanting. A tin-roofed go-downs, fronts the harbour formed by the league-wide stretch of water extending between the island and the opposing shore. Behind the wharves are the white stucco business streets, the glare from which is softened by the regulation buff of the Government Offices. Crowding these, to the south, are the red-tiled brick buildings of the more lowly Chinese town, while mingling with the surrounding greenery are scattered the attap-thatched homes of the Malays.

From the midst of this conglomeration of architectural contrasts rises the miezzin tower of the mosque, white against the perennial verdure of the hills that form the background. Dotted with white bungalows which climb to the very top of the jungle-clad peak, these hills give a sense of freshness to the scene and combine to make one of the most beautiful of pictures.

Pulau Pinang—Isle of Areca Palms! Twenty years have passed since I first rode along the Quay, perched up behind a perspiring heathen Chinee as he piloted the 'ricksha through the maze of bullock-carts. Squatting on the mud, a clustering mass of stranded tongkangs faced the tall warehouses across the crowded street, along which passed a constant stream of Indian coolies, their glistening backs laden with spices, rubber, rattans, corrugated iron, pieces of machinery, iron piping, and all the products of the East and West.

Hindoo temples, brilliant with scarlet paint and housing idols decked with golden foil and garlands of white flowers; the Malay mosque, gleaming white in the sun, where the devout walk barefoot across the courtyard and the little children learn their letters under the shade of the portico; the Chinese joss houses, mystic with twining dragons and fabulous birds, which offer emotionless nostrils to the clouds of incense and have no ears for the din of clashing cymbals or banging crackers.

Memories of clubs and hotels; the dances by a tropic sea; picnics at the Swimming Club, high on a spur of rock overlooking the blue water. The delights of a lunch in the cool dining-room of the hotel at the top of the Crag, after a morning's stiff climb, have become merged with the flavours of a bachelor curry, eaten in the sweltering heat of a plantation, where we sat with bare arms and chests, and toasted one another in tepid lager.

As the years pass by, the rosy mists of Romance irradiate the picture, where dwell the dim figures of old-time friends, waiting to be called to the front in blurred detail, or relegated to the background as fancy dictates.

Only a picture, but warm with the imprint of a life lived, the memory of a vanished youth.

And mingled with the memory is that piquant sauce—Regret.