Ropewalk Bagan – A Treasure Awaiting Hunters

loading Entrance from the parking lot.

This wonderful roofed flea market offers unique trinkets and bargain goods.

Mention flea markets and Lorong Kulit’s Ropewalk immediately comes to the mind of most Penangites.

In the 1970s this famous flea market was actually found at Jalan Pintal Tali, which explains its moniker: “Ropewalk” is a literal translation of that road’s name. The original location was at the intersection of six converging roads, and attracted customers from near and far. It was a hotspot for rare and “hot” items, and a hangout for construction workers on the Komtar building site.

Overcrowding and the increasing number of traders caused traffic jams, however, and so the state government relocated Ropewalk to Lorong Kulit in 1992. It retained its old name and its reputation as one of the island’s earliest flea markets – and still one of the most popular.

Ropewalk’s reputation and history has made the name synonymous with flea markets. This brings us to another Ropewalk: the one at Taman Selat in Butterworth.

Ropewalk across the Sea

Custom jewelry stall.

Ropewalk Bagan is easily accessible, located just a mile away from Penang Sentral just beside the main road. Starting out small in the 1990s, Ropewalk Bagan quickly became popular and now houses over 200 traders selling merchandise ranging from antiques, traditional medicine and jewellery to the latest gadgets, household items and brand new clothes. It was the initiative of the Koperasi Pasar Aneka Taman Selat and since it opened in 2008 has been properly organised and equipped with facilities.

One of the unique points of Ropewalk Bagan is its indoor premises, a contrast with the typical open-air nature of most flea markets.

Having a roof allows the traders to operate for longer hours, unaffected by weather conditions. Other flea markets, such as Ropewalk Lorong Kulit, usually open from early morning until noon – provided it doesn’t rain. Ropewalk Bagan, however, has fixed operating hours – from 9am to 3pm. Some of the traders even work until 6pm.

A haven for collectors of all sorts of unique items, Ropewalk Bagan is frequented by regulars from nearby villages as well as antique collectors and second-hand goods hunters from outside the state.



The Gleam of Brass

Mamu Kassim.

At the furthest corner of the flea market lies a treasure trove of antique brassware. Among some of the unique items that one can find are a cane-sword, teapots, charcoal irons, brooches, tea sets and candle holders. Mohd Kassim Mohd Hanifah, fondly known as Mamu Kassim by the locals, is the proud owner of this little shop. He has been selling brassware at Ropewalk Bagan since it opened, helped by his wife and one of their sons.

Mamu Kassim’s interest in the business developed when he was working at an antiques shop. He began collecting antiques in 1994 and now has more than 1,500 items. Some were bought in Thailand and Indonesia. “There are also people who seek me out when they have antiques to let go,” he adds.

Then, following in the footsteps of his father who used to be involved in gold trading, he decided to sell some of his antiques. He is willing to part with his precious items at a fair price. And his loyal customers vouch for him: his prices are more than reasonable.

Wahab Herbs

Abd Wahab showing dried belalang dewa.

For those who seek traditional medicine, Abd Wahab is the man to see. He finds, processes and sells his own brand of traditional herbs, and has been doing so for 25 years.

Abd Wahab goes into the forest to find the herbs – usually in Kelantan, Pahang and Banding, Perak. According to him, it is necessary to get permission from the Orang Asli who live around the area before searching for herbs: “The Orang Asli are the gazetted owners of all forest products and this is protected under the Forestry Act. Most importantly, they are very familiar with the location. So I and my team will usually hire them as guides,” says Abd Wahab.

Among the rare herbs that Abd Wahab sells are Mahkota Dewa, Kancing Baju Merah, Daun Lima Jari, Tongkat Ali and Nenas Batu. Most of these herbs, according to him, have benefits such as improving blood circulation, relieving muscle ache and reversing fatigue.

Another rare herb that Abd Wahab sells is the Belalang Dewa: “Belalang Dewa only appears once a year. It will appear and vanish just like that. Due to its peculiar nature, old people used to say that it came from heaven. Thus the name,” he explains. Belalang Dewa is used to improve blood circulation. It can be boiled, eaten raw or made into an ointment. Abd Wahab processes the herbs at his house under guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health. His products are accredited by the institution.

Abd Wahab is also active in the agricultural community, promoting the use of traditional herbs and collaborating with Universiti Sains Malaysia’s local traditional herbs R&D team. Researchers typically seek his knowledge on herbs and guidance in locating them.

A committee member of Koperasi Pasar Aneka Taman Selat, he encourages people – especially university students – to hold their programmes on the stage in the building: “The crowd is quite large and it is a good opportunity for promoting Ropewalk Bagan.”

Oldie but Goodie

And what would a flea market be without second-hand clothes or shoes?

These items are known as “bundle” by the locals. In the old days, clothes and shoes were sold on mats, stacked together and bought in bundles. There are many types of bundle collectors, from those who look for cheap and quality clothes to those who collect vintage and rare clothes such as band T-shirts, football jerseys and rare shoe brands.

The bundle shops are located far inside the market. They are managed by a few seasoned collectors called “otai”. As their collections include jeans, there is also an alteration shop close by to serve customers who wish to make adjustments to newly bought jeans.

Vintage bundle.

Selection of second-hand shoes and boots.

Fans of old Malay cinema may visit Mazlan Md Noor’s shop. It sells classic posters of Malaysian movie stars such as the late Jins Shamsuddin and Saloma. The stall also has a record player in its collection, which adds a nice touch of nostalgia.

However, despite its wealth of goodies, Ropewalk Bagan is still unknown to many – especially the islanders. “Once my relatives from the island wanted to visit my stall but they couldn’t find the place. I had to instruct them six times before they could get here,” says Mamu Kassim.

Locals like him encourage visitors to come on weekends as all the stalls are open then, even spilling onto the sidewalks and carpark. (Crowds on weekdays are a bit smaller, especially on Fridays and Mondays when most of the stalls are closed). For bargain hunters and leisure shoppers alike, exploring this part of town and combing through the antiques and collectibles are quite the experience.

There is always something special waiting for them.

Mohd Sazni is an irregular flâneur. He likes to read and watch movies. Currently he can be found in a local university in Penang doing film studies.
Razan Rose’ writes to put food on his table. He can be reached at razanrose92@gmail.com



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