Feel the Pulse in Jelutong


This old suburb has shaken off its rough-and-tumble image, and is ready to become a dynamic township of the future.

A History of a George Town Suburb

Jelutong is named after the Jelutong tree, or Dyera costulata, which grew in abundance when the modern suburb was just a coastal village. The forested area was known for its agricultural activities in the past: the fishing communities and charcoal makers once made their living from the mangrove swamp in Lebuh Bakau off Jalan Jelutong along the coast,1 which was the centre for the making of firewood and charcoal in Penang. Mangrove plants were also used as the foundation for buildings in the swampier parts of the island,2 and the story goes that most wooden pencils in Penang were in fact made from Jelutong wood!3

Located downstream from Sungai Pinang, Jelutong has been inhabited since the eighteenth century, when traders from Aceh and India settled there to sell their wares in an open space called Teluk Jelutong, now called Kampung Pulau ( Jalan Perak) – long before Captain Francis Light’s arrival in 1786.4 In the late eighteenth century, three brothers from West Sumatra travelled to Penang and cleared a few places on the island, Jelutong being one of them. One of the brothers, Nakhoda Kechil, built Masjid Jelutong.5

Penang’s flourishing printing industry saw Syed Sheikh Syed Ahmad Al-Hadi, who was born in Melaka to Yemeni-Arab parents in 1867, opening Jelutong Press in the mid 1920s, which became the biggest Malay publishing house in Malaya. Al-Hadi, a prolific writer himself, published serialised stories and articles on religious reforms, as well as large works of fiction, including the monumentally popular Hikayat Faridah Hanom. 6

Al-Hadi passed away in his house at Jelutong Road in 1934. The press continued to operate until the Japanese Occupation, when it was sold off. Many of its machinery ended up with Sinaran Brothers Press on Lebuh Chulia.7 His house has since been bought over by a vegetarian nun, who uses it as a temple until today.8

Jelutong is also well known for being the parliamentary seat of the late Karpal Singh, the “Tiger of Jelutong”, who presented himself as the voice of his working-class constituents in Jelutong where he served as member of parliament for five terms. After his death in 2014, the IJM Promenade at Lebuh Sungai Pinang was renamed Karpal Singh Drive in his honour.9

Jelutong is also home to a pre-war Japanese cemetery at Jalan P. Ramlee.

A Rough and Tough Past

Vendors selling on the street.

Born and bred in Lebuh Bakau, Sungai Pinang assembly woman Lim Siew Khim knows Jelutong like the back of her hand: “It was filled with squatters living in wooden houses, and development was slower than what it is today.”

According to Lim, some of the buildings are at least half a century old, referring to the old factories and shophouses along Jalan Jelutong. The residents mainly consisted of fishermen, boat makers, and firewood and charcoal makers who traded at the nearby Jelutong market and Kampung Pulau. In stark contrast, today there are only one or two traditional charcoal makers left. Another cottage industry, soy sauce making, is still going strong.

Lim Siew Khim, assemblywoman for Sungai Pinang.

Jelutong was once a notorious area filled with gangsters and known for its rampant crime. Street justice was meted out if anyone broke the rules – “My uncle was beaten when he happened to be in the area when a fight took place,” Lim reveals. It was not until the 1980s that urbanisation erased Jelutong’s criminal notoriety,10 with most of the ruffians reforming and taking up legal businesses.

At present, Jelutong is peppered with high-rise housing developments, driven by private developers and the government. There are several affordable housing projects in the Sungai Pinang area, such as Taman Serina, Pinang Court, Taman Sinar Pelangi, Taman Pelangi Indah and Halaman Kristal. The units range in cost from low to low medium, which means they are affordable for the working class to buy.

Along Jalan Jelutong, there are shiny new shoplots and office spaces, with an ongoing project at Kampung Pisang Awak – comprising seven blocks of low cost, low-medium cost and medium cost housing. On the cards are more low-medium cost and medium cost housing at Jalan Kota Giam, Jalan Jelutong, Jalan Perak and Jalan Hajjah Rehmah. There are also plans to build a 42-storey low-medium costhousing block at Kampung Pokok Asam. It will have more than 750 units and a landscape podium; development is to be completed in 2021. At Jalan Perak, there are plans to renovate the market and equip it with modernised facilities, on top of building affordable homes for residents in the area.

Mohd Ali.

Mohd Ali, a member of the Village Development and Security Committee (JKKK) of Kampung Jelutong, has lived in the area his entire life and is proud of recent developments. He remembers the Jelutong of old, when there were only a few walk-up flats and apartments, and adds that these days, the growth of high-rises is turning the suburb into an urban centre. In his opinion, these new developments will increase the local population, which in turn will help the survival of the township.

Jeff Ooi, member of parliament for Jelutong.

“The Sungai Pinang area is thriving,” says Jeff Ooi, member of parliament for Jelutong. In comparison, the Datuk Keramat and Batu Lanchang areas have a number of family-run businesses and Malay reserve land (tanah wakaf), which prevents it from growing as quickly. Ooi would like to revitalise, rehabilitate and rebuild the cluster houses from the 1970s to accommodate residents who currently live in temporary housing, adding that the five-storey walk-up apartments at Taman Free School and Jalan Jeti Jelutong are no longer suitable for modern living and elderly residents, and there should be some initiative to resolve and improve the facilities in those buildings.

Traffic Woes

 Most of the roads in Jelutong are narrow and old; its main artery, Jalan Jelutong, has been there all along to bear witness to the growth of the town. The Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway, previously known as Jelutong Expressway, was built to connect the city with the south. Before its construction, Jalan Jelutong was used to commute between Bayan Lepas and George Town.

The newly opened Jalan Ahmad Nor.

The expressway has helped reduce traffic congestion in the area. Linking the expressway with Jalan Jelutong is the newly opened Jalan Ahmad Nor – named after a political activist – which helped lower traffic volume by about 15%, according to Ooi. To further alleviate traffic congestion, the local council requires developers to expand, widen and connect the streets, open new roads for public usage, and improve the traffic disposal system. There is also a pedestrian and cycling path to increase walkability and encourage pedestrians to shop at the shophouses along the main thoroughfare.

Sungai Pinang bridge.

While public transportation has improved with the entry of Rapid Penang, a public bus service operated by Prasarana Malaysia, the situation remains challenging: “We can’t stop people from buying and using cars – that is why traffic is always congested,” says Lim. On top of that, cars and motorcycles parked haphazardly along the main thoroughfares, regardless of double lines and road signs, block accessibility and cause congestion. While enforcement is necessary to overcome the issue, the people’s mindset need to change too.

Moving forward, the proposed Bayan Lepas Light Rapid Transit (LRT) line, which is part of the Penang Transport Master Plan, will snake along the coast past Jelutong, and should lessen pressure on automobile usage in general.

When it Pours...

Sungai Pinang.

Jelutong is known to flood, especially in the Datuk Keramat and Sungai Pinang areas. Its location downstream of Sungai Pinang and its old and narrow drainages are the causes for the yearly floods.

The affected parts are the low-lying areas next to the river, and not all of Jelutong itself. As an example, the village of Kampung Rawa is located next to the river, so whenever the tide is high or there is continuous rain, the water level rises and inundates the village. The narrow and aged drainage system is no longer able to handle heavy deluges of water; in addition, rubbish thrown into the drains clog water flow and cause flash floods.

The losses each year caused by floods can go up to RM8,000-RM10,000 per household – and this is just to repair and replace home appliances. Most of the residents are used to the problem, but understandably, they are tired of it. “We usually observe the tide level and weather forecast to prepare for the changing situation,” says Lim, who works closely with the local JKKKs to send immediate relief to the affected areas.

Walk-up flats at in Batu Lanchang.

There are annual allocations for flood mitigation projects to upgrade and refurbish the drainage system all over Jelutong. According to Ooi, until January 2018, about RM7mil had been allocated to upgrade and repair the drains in Batu Lanchang and Sungai Pinang, while at Datuk Keramat, the focus is on upgrading the river banks. The projects are carried out in phases, and once they are complete, the flooding problem in the area should be resolved.

Another public infrastructure that needs urgent attention is the Jelutong landfill. At present, it is used to dispose of construction and demolition waste, including marine clay, which is a potential sea pollutant. Ooi says the dumpsite is no longer fulfilling waste disposal requirements, which need a minimum buffer area of 500m away from residential and public spaces. “The landfill has been there for over 20 years and has grown outwards, polluting our sea,” says Ooi.

There are plans to safely rehabilitate and develop the site – a mixed-integrated development is still in discussion, while a new site for the landfill is yet to be announced.

Managing the Community

Ooi has concerns about gang and drug activities in the area, but by being vigilant and working with the police force, Jelutong is no longer a “black” area. He has invested in drones to monitor suspicious and illegal activities, which he says also helps to provide people with a different perspective of Jelutong.

According to Mohd Ali, Jelutong these days is a safe place: the gangsterism era is long gone, and one hardly hears of snatch thief cases in the area today. On top of that, the JKKK and local forces work jointly to curb social issues and organise night patrols. “We do our part by observing and reporting on suspicious activities. Statistics produced by the police department has shown that crime has decreased, but there’s still the need to change social mentality,” says Lim.

Fully eradicating the drug issue is an uphill challenge, but the local community, along with the police, are working together through activities such as awareness campaigns. To minimise social problems among Jelutong’s teenagers, the local representatives have opened up several activity centres for the youths. At Lim’s constituency at Sungai Pinang, free tuition classes are offered through collaboration with the Penang Youth Community Movement (PEKA) and various talent centres to help underprivileged youths, providing an opportunity for them to learn and discover their talents and potential.

Besides providing educational assistance, outdoor platforms such as futsal courts give youths a place to play and exercise. There is also an upcoming plan to bring traditional sports such as sepak takraw back to the playing field.

A Place with Everything

Jelutong is thought of as a transitional development. It is not as industrialised as Bayan Lepas nor as touristic as George Town, and in terms of income, it has not caught up with the state median line. Some of the residents are slow to take to development, and some still live in poverty. But all this has not stopped Jelutong from growing.

It is an education hub, with primary till tertiary education available in the area and an abundance of secondary schools. Jelutong has 27 schools in its constituency; nine of them are secondary schools, such as Heng Ee High School, Penang Free School and Han Chiang High School.

Lam Wah Ee Hospital.

Besides schools, Jelutong is replete with hospitals and clinics too – from government-owned clinics to the non-profit Lam Wah Ee Hospital at Jalan Tan Sri Teh Ewe Lim. The pharmacies, dentists and specialist clinics along Batu Lanchang have been in business for decades.

With all the development, local representatives are trying to green the environment by creating pocket parks in new housing areas. The latest project is planned for Karpal Singh Drive, where there will be a pocket park complete with WiFi. Apart from that, the Bukit Dumbar Park is a well-loved recreational spot among “Jelutongians” and health enthusiasts, while next to it is the Nicol David International Squash Centre.

Jelutong morning market.

Nicol David International Squash Centre.

Apart from public amenities, Jelutong has more than 200 Taoist temples and other places of worship. During cultural celebrations, Jalan Perak and Jalan Jelutong are often filled with street vendors and parades. Ooi says he was once invited to more than 50 temples in a month for festive celebrations!

Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway.

He has been working on upgrading the Jalan Perak market and cookie-cutter houses in Jelutong in order to build better living spaces for the locals, while at the same time preserving the township’s historical value. “We need proper planning to determine the types of changes we can make for a better Jelutong. We can no longer rely on plans from the 2000s to meet expectations in 2020,” says Ooi.

Pocket park in Sungai Pinang.

He has been working on upgrading the Jalan Perak market and cookie-cutter houses in Jelutong in order to build better living spaces for the locals, while at the same time preserving the township’s historical value. “We need proper planning to determine the types of changes we can make for a better Jelutong. We can no longer rely on plans from the 2000s to meet expectations in 2020,” says Ooi.

With its sky-high residential buildings, Jelutong is fast evolving from a suburb into an urban area. Its abundance of accessible amenities – from its myriad schools to green parks – and interesting history makes Jelutong a place with its very own personality.

And don’t forget about the food - that hasn’t changed, and probably won’t anytime soon. The nasi kandar stalls, burger carts and other street food business are surviving and growing well. Food brings people together, and Jelutong has a grand share of tasty choices.

Noorhasyilah Rosli is a publication graduate who is fascinated by books. She is an island girl who loves her beaches and hills.
1 Salma Nasution, Khoo (2007). Streets of George Town, Penang. Penang: Areca Books, p93.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 http://www.penangstory.net.my/bm-contentpaperabdur.html.

5 Retrieved from Perkisahan Keturunan Raja-Raja Minangkabau dalam Sejarah awal Pulau Pinang: Dato’ Jannaton, Nakhoda Nan Intan dan Nakhoda Kechil, Admad Murad Merican, CENTIS Universiti Teknologi Mara.

6 http://penangmonthly.com/article. aspx?pageid=1273&name=the_word_and_the_ worldpart_one.

7 A Short History of Penang’s Malay Publishing Industry, Caleb Goh, Retrieved from http://penangmonthly.com/article.aspx?pageid=1310&name=a_short_history_of_penangs_malay_publishing_industry

8 Salma Nasution, Khoo (2007). Streets of George Town, Penang. Penang: Areca Books, p94.

9 Penang to rename Jelutong sea front ‘Karpal Singh Drive’, Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, retrieved from http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/penang-to-rename-jelutong-seafront-karpal-singh-drive#HcDhERlIWowBaKFA.99

10 "Jelutong: Home to a thriving coastal village|Wong Chun Wai". Retrieved from wongchunwai.com.

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