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The chariot housing the goddess.

Feature

Taking a Goddess for a Bath

A deity is carried out to sea in Teluk Bahang in a ceremony that is as elaborate as it is breathtaking.

At dawn on February 22, the 120-year-old Sri Singhamuga Kaliamman Temple in Teluk Bahang buzzes with activity. It is the day of the Teppa Tiruvizla, the 43rd floating chariot festival.

A celebration to thank the goddess, Sri Singhamuga Kaliamman, for her good grace and to beseech her to continue providing devotees with protection and prosperity, Teppa Tiruvizla only takes place during Masi Magam, the 11th month[1] in the Tamil calendar. It is a day when temple idols are taken out for a ceremonial bath. Thousands travel from all over Malaysia to take part in the festivities.

priest-chanting-goddess

Priests chanting to the goddess, Sri Singhamuga Kaliamman.

The day begins with morning prayers; the devotees who attend bring milk as an offering to the goddess. In the afternoon, the floating chariot is carefully pushed into the sea by temple president Sadha Sivam, the youth club members and other temple members. Later, after evening prayers, the idol of the goddess is carried to the chariot. Devotees also release miniature chariots alongside the goddess’s chariot, making it quite a pretty view.

According to Sadha, it is no easy task putting together the chariot. “It weighs from three to five tonnes because its base consists of metal drums while the flooring is made of hard wood. All the components need to be screwed together, but before that each drum has to be checked individually to ensure it is safe. It takes about 10 days to complete the chariot. The first time we did this, we used a dragon boat, but it was too big and too difficult to mount the idol on the boat,” he says.

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As the leader, Sadha personally sees to the matters of the event; since he is retired, he also spends most of his time helping out in the temple. He is the fifth president of the temple and has been in the position since 1993.

The Sri Singhamuga Kaliamman Temple was established by K. Kalimuthu in 1896. Initially a small shrine, it later expanded. According to former temple secretary S. Ramanagaran, “Despite being old, the temple is still very sturdy. The temple was last spruced up with tinkering here and there, and a new coat of paint. Apart from that, it surprisingly doesn’t need much work. The renovation projects are usually carried out by the temple and the cost is supported by the devotees and sponsors.” He adds that the state government donated RM10,000 a few years ago.

What makes the temple special is that it is dedicated to Singhamuga Kaliamman, an incarnation of the goddess Amman. According to Ramanagaran, it is the only such temple in Penang. In the past, the area was mostly populated by Indians who were mainly fishermen. They believed that the goddess would protect them from harm when they were out at sea and also provide them with an abundance of fish.

Part of the temple’s appeal is its location – in most temples, the idols of the gods or goddesses would be facing other manmade structures, whereas in this temple the goddess is facing the sea. It is also considered a good omen for fishermen as it gives the impression that the goddess is watching over them when they are at sea.

Today, the temple is also a popular tourist destination; according to temple priest Arumugam Sinayah, travellers from the US, the Middle East, India and Sri Lanka are the most common visitors. The next big celebration at the temple will be Navaratheri, a nine-day festival that is celebrated in the middle of October for the goddesses Parvathi, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. It is said that it was during this time that the goddess Durga finally managed to annihilate Mahishasura , a demon who was tormenting villagers.

There will also be the Maha Kumba Abishegam ritual in another eight years’ time. It is a purification ritual that is performed once every 12 years to consecrate a new temple or re-consecrate an old one. It is believed that by doing so, the power of the deity is reinstated, bringing positive energy to the temple. Meanwhile, Sadha is glad – Teppa Tiruvizla is still celebrated with overwhelming response from devotees, making all the hard work worthwhile.

devotees2

A multitude of devotees surrounding the goddess.

Priscilla Prasanthi is a student currently doing her diploma in Mass Communication. She likes learning new things on a daily basis.
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Statistics

Teluk Bahang in Numbers

pic 68

Land Use in Teluk Bahang

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Source: Department of Town and Country Planning, Penang, Land Use Map 2012 (http://jpbdgeoportal.penang.gov.my/)

pic 70

Religion

There are five places of worship situated in Teluk Bahang.

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Source: Department of Town and Country Planning, Penang (http://jpbdgeoportal.penang. gov.my/)

Economic Activities

pic 72

Sources: JKKKP Teluk Bahang, http://jkkpbahangbay.blogspot.my,2010/12/profail-teluk-bahang.html

In Teluk Bahang, the economic activities are mostly in the public and private sectors, followed by the fisheries and tourism sectors.

Population

Population of Teluk Bahang

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Source: Department of Statistics, Population projections based on 2000 Population Census, adjusted.

 

Population by Gender

pic 73

 

Population by Ethnic Group

pic 75

 

Population by Age Group

pic 76

 

Source: Department of Statistics, Population and Housing Census 1980-2010.

Penang National Park

  • •Formerly known as Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve
  • •Coastal forest, covering an area of 1,200ha
  • Over 1,000 species of plants recorded, dominated by the family Dipterocarpaceae, Legumimoceae, Apocynaceae, Anacardiaceae, Euphorbiaceae and Moraceae.

Source: Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Peninsular Malaysia.

pic 77

Visitor arrivals in Penang National Park from 2005-2013 have been increasing. While the number dropped from 21,763 in 2004 to 12,547 in 2005, this was probably due to ground works and construction of the buildings and facilities that year.

Source: Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Peninsular Malaysia.

pic 78

Teluk Bahang Dam

  • The only dam in Malaysia built within a few kilometres from the sea
  • Built to provide an alternative source of water to the Ayer Itam Dam and Botanic Gardens Waterfall
  • Biggest dam on Penang Island, with height of 58.5 meters, length of 685 meters and storage of 19.24 billion litters

Source: http://www.penang-traveltips.com/teluk-bahang-dam. htm

 

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Cover Story

Make a Date with Nature: Tourism Turns Green with Age

Developing Penang as a preferred destination for travellers requires a balance not only between the old and the new, but between built space and natural environs.

Lined by pristine sandy beaches and covered by flourishing forests overflowing with animals and plants, Penang National Park humbly occupies the north-western tip of Penang Island.

It is Malaysia’s smallest national park (and among the smallest in the world) and contains the country’s only meromictic lake (one of a handful in Asia). In this majestic woodland, two trails intertwine: one heading towards the historic Muka Head Lighthouse and the other towards the long-stretching Teluk Kampi. The latter passes Pantai Kerachut – a favourite among visiting locals – and houses the Penang Turtle Sanctuary, an establishment set up to aid the preservation of a variety of turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs in the area almost all year round.

Legally protected by the National Parks Act of 1980, the Penang National Park is without doubt the cornerstone of ecotourism and forest preservation in the state. And surrounded by lush and untouched greenery, the town of Teluk Bahang has become the destination for tourists wishing to immerse themselves in Mother Nature.

 

 

One of the wading pools at the Teluk Bahang Forest Park.
One of the wading pools at the Teluk Bahang Forest Park.

Laying the Foundation for Forest Reserves

It has been a matter of appreciating what is inherited. Penang Forestry Department director Rusli Tahir provides us with some history: “Both Penang and Malaysia have unique forests that have a history dating back to colonial times.”

In 1901, under the recommendation of Singapore Botanic Gardens director H.N. Ridley, a forestry department for the Federated Malay States was established and permanent forest reserves were gazetted all over Peninsular Malaysia. “Penang and Singapore were not only the administrative bases for the British during that time – we were also the bases for exploring natural resources and fields such as geology, mining and forestry. In the early days, very detailed studies were undertaken of vegetation, tree species, leaves, fruits and so on. It is largely because of their efforts that so much of the peninsula’s forests remain untouched till today,” he adds.

Rusli assumed leadership of the state forestry department five months ago and explains that the department manages 15 permanent forest reserves. “The territory that makes up Penang National Park had been under us, as was also what is now Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve. In 2003, the area was made a national park. Currently, the Penang Forestry Department is also in charge of four recreational forests, one of which is the Teluk Bahang Forest Park,” he says.

Penang Forestry Department director Rusli Tahir (left) discussing the upcoming hiking expedition with assistant district forest officer Mohd Nasri Mohd.
Penang Forestry Department director Rusli Tahir (left) discussing the upcoming hiking expedition with assistant district forest officer Mohd Nasri Mohd.

With five cascading wading pools, a camping ground, a scenic viewing platform and five forest trails, the 32sqha Teluk Bahang Forest Park nicely complements the national park located just five minutes down the road. The forest park has a fair share of specific gems, chief among which is the longest forest trail in the state: a 6km path through tropical rainforest to Penang Hill. “The Teluk Bahang Forest Park is also home to the Ansonia penangensis, a Bufonidae toad that can only be found on Penang Island,” Rusli says.

The site encompasses a landmark establishment – the country’s first forestry museum. It was once a very popular place to visit, housing forestry-related artefacts and equipped to educate visitors on the contributions of the forestry sector to the nation. Forester Zulkiflley Abd Rahman, 52, laments that those days are passed and lists the revival of the museum among the key challenges facing the Teluk Bahang Forest Park.

Falling visitor numbers to the museum echo his concerns. Last year, only 8,225 patrons passed through the doors. “The entrance fee is not an issue. It’s RM1 for adults and 50 sen for children, free for uniform-wearing students with an approval letter from this department. If you have a group of over 15, you even get a 20% discount for each adult! Other ecotourism attractions just down the road charge entrance fees that can hardly be considered cheap, and yet, people are joining long queues to get in,” Zulkiflley notes.

Torch ginger found at TSG.
Torch ginger found at TSG.
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Rusli says that the Penang Forestry Museum’s difficulties take several forms. “When the museum first opened, there wasn’t much choice for entertainment. Now, we have a lot of competition and the approach of the forestry museum does not match current trends. We need to introduce new concepts and rebrand the museum to have any chance of attracting visitors back,” he says, adding that the state government has in recent times been supportive and injected money into the museum.

Rusli says there are “missing links” in the ecotourism supply chain connecting the Teluk Bahang Forest Park to potential visitors. “We need to do a better job in linking up with tour operators and transport providers. There are also other areas with potential, like our relationship with the Hop-On Hop-Off bus service that stops here and the iTourism Malaysia app that can help promote our forest parks better,” he says. Rusli adds that introducing full-time trained park rangers, akin to blue and green badge guides, or programmes to train locals to be in-house tourist guides would attract enthusiasts.

For the time being, Rusli and his department are looking inward for inspiration. “In conjunction with the International Day of Forests, celebrated on March 21, we are organising an eight-hour expedition to Penang Hill using the longest forest trail in the state. Usually, we organise several hikes yearly for department staff, but this year, we are planning to invite the heads of other government departments, government servants as well as elected representatives to join us on the trek. We want to give them an introduction to the different tree compositions, their names and characteristics.

The Penang Forestry Museum entrance.
The Penang Forestry Museum entrance.

 

“People tend to think that forests are all the same, but that is far from true. What our guests will be able to see are plants from the lowland and hill dipterocarp forests that cover this area,” Rusli says. The expedition will be headed by assistant district forest officer Mohd Nasri Mohd.

Rusli hopes that the expedition will get civil servants to treasure the natural inheritance the state possesses. “You can’t love what you don’t know. Hopefully, this will be an introduction for Penangites to visit and start to fall in love with the living museum we have here,” Rusli says.

Spicing Up Teluk Bahang

While British settlers may have been forestry’s starting point for Rusli, Katharine Chua looks to something even older for inspiration: the spice trade that shaped so much of the country’s history. “The Tropical Spice Garden (TSG) was really the brainchild of entrepreneurs David and Rebecca Wilkinson, who used to live on the existing site. They knew about the importance of spices to Penang as a trading port and also of its agricultural importance to the state, so everything fell into place from there,” says Chua, TSG’s managing director.

TSG managing director Katharine Chua.
TSG managing director Katharine Chua.

According to her, the founders had an innate love for all things green and wild and saw a gap in Penang’s tourism industry. “The land here was already so beautifully formed with a natural source of water from the hills running through the central valley and with the existing terraces developed for rubber tree planting more than 50 years ago. There is, of course, also the amazing view of the sea.

“The Wilkinsons knew that conservation would be an important part of what they were creating and their footprint was only to enhance rather than transform the existing land – something they did perfectly in maintaining the natural beauty of the boulders, letting all the secondary forest trees remain and reusing the reservoirs found on site, among other things,” she notes. The 2003 endeavour became an award-winning ecotourism site for the state, which now houses over 500 varieties of exotic fauna and flora within a 3.2ha setting.

“Audio tours were developed in 2014 to benefit our guests even more. Apart from keeping abreast with the garden signage, we want to give a voice to the plants for guests who choose to wander the gardens on their own. The audio tours are designed to give the guest total freedom to walk wherever they like and to be informed at their own leisure,” Chua says. Such a tour takes two to three hours.

The Pinang Walk in TSG.
The Pinang Walk in TSG.

 

Night walks were started just last year with experts in various fields like herpetology, entomology and birds brought in to train guides. “Night tours are a very different kettle of fish in that guides have to really hone their observation skills, learn the night behaviours of the creatures and know where to expect to find them, provide information on the night plants and, added to this, keep guests safe and on track. It’s a challenge, but the result is worth it: night walks are an awesome little adventure for families and adult groups. Each guest is given a torch so they get to search for interesting creatures. Among those that have been spotted are sleeping bulbul birds, rare banded geckos, flying lemurs, vipers and a host of interesting spiders and insects,” she says.

Chua says the grounds need constant attention. “It’s one thing to create something beautiful and it’s really another to maintain it. We use a lot of wood, so wear and tear sets in for the buildings, the fittings, the signs, etc. You constantly need to stay on top of it,” she says.

As TSG sits on the site of an abandoned rubber plantation, soil conditions are not always perfectly conducive to the growing of certain spices. Towering jungle trees intentionally left untouched to provide shade and relief during hot days also shut out the sunshine needed for the flowering and spice plants to bloom. “Pruning these trees is also very, very difficult! Understandably, no one wants to climb these giants, and the big lorries can’t come in to prune as our paths are narrow.

Go bananas on the Monkey Business attraction at ESCAPE Adventureplay.
Go bananas on the Monkey Business attraction at ESCAPE Adventureplay.

Moreover, old trees do fall and we never know when a tree will give way to termite rot or old age, or in which precise direction it will come crashing down!” Chua exclaims.

Chua hopes that TSG will continue to be a green lung that can be enjoyed for generations. “We want to see our gardens become a community centre where like-minded people can gather, learn, share and enjoy a beautiful space, and have their kids breathe good air and play in a safe jungle environment. I like to think of TSG as an outdoor classroom. Nature doesn’t need any props – on its own, it is already the best learning playground, classroom, textbook and gym all rolled into one. It’s absolutely essential for kids to have space to run around freely. And that’s the best way to use the spice gardens – dip your feet in the stream, climb over and under branches and have your feet touch the earth – be free!”

Jungle Play

Another person whose business is to put kids first is Sim Choo Kheng.

Sim helms ESCAPE on Jalan Teluk Bahang. He spent his childhood romping around Air Itam, and this inspired his design for the set-in-nature theme park. “Fun was what we experienced as children and it was a medium for learning life skills. My childhood was spent in Penang and it was the best that any kid could have. This does not mean my parents were rich – far from it – but the outdoor fun was great. The sense of sustainability was created in me through playing in the natural playground of the kampong and the jungle, and my family living within its means and farming only what we needed,” says Sim.

ESCAPE Adventureplay is a call to return to nature.
ESCAPE Adventureplay is a call to return to nature.

 

The adventure land, for him, is a stand against disconnection from nature. “ESCAPE, in one word, is ‘reconnecting’. The visitor does this through his or her own imagination, self-direction and fun. Here, growing up is optional,” he says.

It wasn’t all fun building ESCAPE, and it is hardly an understatement to say that the concept was first met with cautious resistance: environmentally friendly individuals and groups heard the words “theme park” and “Teluk Bahang dam” in the same sentence (ESCAPE sits on 12ha of leased Penang Water Corporation land downstream from the dam) and jumped to conclusions.

But Sim and his team pushed ahead and have won over many sceptics since opening ESCAPE’s doors in late 2012. With nonmotorised attractions, environmentally sustainable drainage and cooling systems and even a link-up with bus service Rapid Penang providing free rides to the park to reduce carbon monoxide emissions from visitors’ cars, ESCAPE has proven that it was never out to make a quick buck at the expense of the environment. Visitors who have shrieked with delight and laughter navigating the Monkey Business rope courses, Jumping Jack trampolines and Gecko Tower climbing structure, and let loose climbing and swinging from trees in Coco Climb and Jungle Swinger have given it their stamp of approval.

Sim Choo Kheng.
Sim Choo Kheng.

The current ESCAPE Adventureplay will soon be complemented with the second phase of the park’s development – ESCAPE Waterplay. Slated for completion by the year’s end, the site will feature water activities of yesteryear. “There has certainly been a delay. I was very keen to open Waterplay but underestimated how unsupportive the financial institutions and ‘the system’ were of this unconventional project. The good news is that despite this challenging situation we are ready to move forward. We have been busy saving trees from other developments, where they would have been destroyed, and transplanting them into the area that will become Waterplay. It may seem a strange concept to be replanting trees and then building a waterpark around them, but unconventional thinking creates unbelievable things,” Sim says.

As for the current adventure park, exciting things are also in store: “The first is extended play into the night – an activity called the Base Camp. It is a call to the wild and an experience of sleeping in the jungle beneath the mottled moonlight from the tree canopy. The second addition is our new Greenie programme for school kids, which teaches children about love and respect for nature through creative activities. They make their own toys, show off their motor skills and cook their meals using non-chemically laced food grown by previous groups. Kids need to fall in love with nature in order to appreciate it and take action to protect it. The way ESCAPE approaches this is to bring the public closer to nature through fun,” he says.

Sim says the opportunities for ecotourism in Penang are tremendous, but balance and responsible decisions are crucial to its development. “I don’t see responsible development to be at odds with an ecotourism effort. In my opinion, ecotourism should be called ‘responsible tourism’ because many eco-products today are simply not eco. It is wrong to identify tourism as ecotourism just because there are trees and monkeys. When I was young, being ‘green’ was absolutely necessary and was never a buzzword. In those days, for example, without the shade provided by the trees the house would be like an oven. So, we coexisted with nature,” he says.

An illustration of the upcoming Boulders Valley Glamping Resort.
An illustration of the upcoming Boulders Valley Glamping Resort.

 

Sim concludes that it is necessary for us to make a break from tourist trends that have exploited nature and the environment. “There has been a revolution over the past few years, and the public is demanding change and taking action to make it happen. Zoos, parks and other places that ‘showcase’ living things that belong in the wild are facing extinction themselves.

"Now, if you like animals and nature you should go to their natural environment. If you’re scared that you may be eaten alive, then watch nature in HD on TV. The trend now is the realisation that you must look backwards and learn, so as to move forward,” he says.

Bringing Glamping to Penang

Another site looking to strike a balance between tourism and environmental protection is Boulders Valley Glamping Resort, the newest player in Teluk Bahang’s e c o t o u r i s m hub. Developed by Amazing Discovery, the upcoming “glamorous camping” attraction sits on the border of the Balik Pulau constituency, covering almost 10ha of rich foliage and 1.2 ha of formidable, rocky giants.

Executive director Lee Woon Poo says that to date, bringing the project to fruition has been an arduous journey. “We have gone through very tedious legalisation processes – a lot of presentations, explanations, counter proposals on how to preserve the environment, all the while complying with present authoritative guidelines without sacrificing our concept for the site.

Amazing Discover executive director Lee Woon Poo.
Amazing Discover executive director Lee Woon Poo.

We make efforts to comply with all technical requirements. Throughout the process, environmental preservation and public safety are always our priority,” she says. “The reason people come is to enjoy the natural environment. Therefore, it is the incentive for the landowner to preserve rather than destroy.”

Preserving, however, is not always the easiest task, especially when one is dealing with enormous, imposing rock formations. “There are technical difficulties in developing projects in remote locations, including the bioclimatic requirements of building in the tropics. Our design objective is to create an authentic eco-resort that maintains the environmental characteristic of the site, including the biological and geological aspects. We plan to achieve this through building elevated pathways, tented camps and structures on stilts, all minimising disturbance to the natural habitat, vegetation, waterways and earth. These structures can be easily relocated without affecting the original state,” Lee says.

Documentation has become a key process to achieve this eco-friendly development, with existing plants and boulders being precisely numbered. “We took one year to do a detailed survey and number the trees and boulders. This is to ensure that the existing characteristics will be well preserved and still be there at the end of the project. The sizes of some of the significant boulders and trees are also being pegged and they will be identified as features of the site, for example, Pride Rock and Cragged Egg. The site is also very big, so, the numbering helps us to recognise our location in the early stages and makes for easy planning,” she adds.

The Penang Butterfly Farm has embarked on a major rebranding exercise and will soon reopen as Entopia.
The Penang Butterfly Farm has embarked on a major rebranding exercise and will soon reopen as Entopia.

Despite the rocky beginning, Boulders Valley Glamping Resort is finally being realised, with a projected opening by the year’s end. “It took two years for the conceptual planning and another two for the legal process. Work commenced in January this year and is expected to be completed within 12 months if everything goes smoothly,” says Lee.

Once it is completed, jungle enthusiasts can look forward to personally-tailored visits, with a variety of nature-related activities including bird watching, walks along the boulders, jungle drives, star gazing and treetop dining. The glamping resort also aims at linking up with other attractions along the Teluk Bahang ecotourism belt, proving that cooperation and mutual respect can go a long way.

Intellectual Tourists

One of the potential sites that Amazing Discovery can reach out to is the nearly completed Entopia on Jalan Teluk Bahang. Hardly a new player in Penang ecotourism, the establishment is actually a rebrand of the iconic Penang Butterfly Farm (PBF) that opened its doors in 1986.

CEO Joseph Goh explains that through hard work and passion over the last 15 years, PBF accumulated extensive knowledge and experience in entomology, specialising not only in Lepidoptera (an order of insects that includes both moths and butterflies), but also in other invertebrates. “We realised we had a limitation in sharing what we have encountered and learned. This led to our intention to rebrand PBF into a new image that focuses on education and learning. Thus, Entopia was born on August 5 last year,” he says.

Entopia CEO Joseph Goh.
Entopia CEO Joseph Goh.

He hopes that Entopia can become a reference point for like-minded farms, gardens, conservatories and museums all over the world. This, he says, is largely connected with the future of the tourism industry as a whole, as increased global connectivity spurs the development of intellectual-centred tourists. “In the future, tourism will be very much knowledge and experience-based as our world becomes highly and efficiently connected.

“We hope that Entopia will add some value to the state’s ecotourism market, which is still a very young industry. There is still a lot to be done. Projects like the Tropical Spice Garden and Tropical Fruit Farm ventured into the ecotourism area some time back, and we hope new players and other unique concepts will further contribute to a more sustainable way of operating e c o t o u r i s m projects,” he says. Outlook for Ecotourism For the state a u t h o r i t i e s , optimism is strong among major actors in ecotourism at present. As state executive councillor Phee Boon Poh says, few places are blessed with the natural inheritance that Penang has. “Within one hour, you can go from the airport to the heart of a tropical jungle. Where else can you find this?” asks Phee, who helms the environment portfolio for the state. He adds that sustainable and balanced development was always a key issue for the state, especially in green areas that are still left largely untouched. “What we are planning in Penang is urban-to-rural migration. To this end, rural areas need to be developed to a certain stage. We all feel that we cannot allow over-development in Teluk Bahang, but at the same time, we cannot deny Teluk Bahang some degree of development. What we need is something sustainable in terms of basic housing, industry and infrastructure,” he adds.

Danny Tan, the tourism promotion manager for state tourism bureau Penang Global Tourism, concurs, stressing that precise planning is important to maintain green areas. “From my point of view, reasonable development is inevitable. However, I don't think we should mix housing and retail development with ecotourism development. For instance, building a giant mall or 40-storey skyscraper next to an eco-park would be rather grotesque.”

An artist impression of one of Entopia's new attractions.
An artist impression of one of Entopia's new attractions.

 

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On challenges to Penang’s ecotourism market, Tan says tourist patterns in the state remain largely city-centred. “Ecotourism in Penang is still at the development stage. There are a few projects coming up here and there, but most are still focused at or around the George Town World Heritage Site,” he says, adding that this has resulted in less funding and limited quality ecotourism products.

But no one can deny the potential the industry possesses. State tourism development executive councillor Danny Law Heng Kiang says that the state is working to improve and upgrade ecotourism attractions across Penang. “Penang Hill now has a viewing deck and many more interesting additions. Aside from that, the canopy walk at the Air Hitam Dalam Education Forest has also been upgraded and chalets at the Nibong Tebal Amenity Forest have been upgraded and added to. The state government is also very active in promoting homestay activities. These encourage villagers and the community to participate in the industry. There are currently 11 homestays in Penang and we're looking to add more,” Law says.

With ecotourism sites flourishing in Teluk Bahang and elsewhere around the state, the tourism industry in Penang is looking bright.

Andrea Filmer is a freelance journalist who has lived in the US and Australia but, for reasons unknown to herself, finds it impossible to call anywhere but Penang home.

 

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awesome comments

Other Stories

  1. July, 2016

    Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang

    Intrinsically linked to the water, George Town's waterfront is where it all began – and it still continues to amaze.
  2. June, 2016

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    From affordable housing to quaint homestays and getting in touch with nature and the land, the township is undergoing an interesting revival.
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4PAWS team from left: Stacie Ooi, Foong Mei Heng, Choong Koon Yean, Tina Lim, Tan Wei Jen and Barbara Janssen.

Feature

A Shelter for Strays

Folks at 4PAWS do their best to shelter and care for abandoned dogs.

Amid lush greenery on a two-acre piece of land in Teluk Bahang, the excited barks of hundreds of dogs greeted me on my arrival. Choong Koon Yean, the vice president of the Penang Animal Welfare Society (4PAWS), was getting her registration counter ready. It was a Sunday, and Sundays are busy days at the shelter. It is open to the public then.

The story of 4PAWS, a no-kill not-forprofit animal shelter that houses stray and abandoned dogs, began in 2005 when Barbara Janssen, a German retiree, rescued two puppies from the roadside. She did not stop there, and over the years, the number she gave refuge to grew to over 600.

4PAWS Main Courtyard.
4PAWS Main Courtyard.
 

Choong says that 4PAWS has had to stop taking in dogs after performing a head count; within two years, the total number had tripled: “We have an estimated 600 dogs and that is beyond our capacity to cope. We keep the numbers in check because an overcrowded shelter would compromise the quality of life of the dogs in our care.” Priority is given to badly injured dogs if spaces are created following departures through adoption.

“Society must realise that pet ownership is a commitment. We even have cases of purebred dogs like shih-tzus being abandoned at wet markets. Just because dogs do not speak does not mean they are not part of our family and we can choose to abandon them when it’s no longer convenient for us,” says Choong.

But does providing a shelter for stray dogs perpetuate the problem by making it easier for people to dump their dogs? Could that be the reason why the number of dogs in the shelter has increased tremendously?

Injured dogs are separated in an enclosure to be treated.
Injured dogs are separated in an enclosure to be treated.

Choong does not think so. “The cause of the problem is irresponsible pet owners who made a conscious decision to dump their dogs by the roadside or at wet markets, and pet owners who fail to neuter and spay their pets. The way I see it, the only way to solve the problem is to tackle the root cause. We have to educate the public on pet ownership commitment and on the neutering and spaying of their pets, and introduce stricter laws to protect the animals.”

Recently, the Animal Welfare Bill 2015 was introduced, which brings a new set of laws and regulations into play against animal cruelty – physical and non-physical – and imposes a fine of up to RM100,000 and/or imprisonment for a maximum of three years if violated[1].

But how useful is the Bill?

“It might help against animal abuse and cruelty. In 4PAWS, most of our dogs are abused stray dogs. There are dogs that were hacked on the neck and face, dogs that had lost their eyes, dogs with bad scars from being scalded by hot oil or water… The new bill may help to deter the public from committing such cruelty,” says Choong.

Adopt us!
Adopt us!
 

The cause of the problem is irresponsible pet owners who made a conscious decision to dump their dogs by the roadside or at wet markets, and pet owners who fail to neuter and spay their pets.

“Last year, an irresponsible pet owner left a box of nine puppies outside our shelter under the hot sun without informing us. Our workers were busy cleaning, cooking, feeding and washing for the shelter and did not notice the box of puppies. All nine died, ‘cooked’ inside the box. Selfish pet owners do not realise that failure to spay and neuter their pets causes the abandonment of unwanted puppies, which might result in animal cruelty and contributes to the stray dog problem. This is where I think the Animal Welfare Bill 2015 can help to keep the stray problem under control too; the punishment definitely encourages pet owners to spay and neuter their pets. However, the Bill will be useless if it is not strictly enforced.”

Running on Kindness

All was not a bed of roses for 4PAWS in the early days. Existing solely on Janssen’s retirement fund and savings, the shelter was on the verge of shutting down in 2013.

To save the shelter, 4PAWS turned to social media for help. Choong and her team of volunteers took over the 4PAWS Facebook page from Janssen, allowing Janssen to focus on running the shelter while they focused on raising funds. “The operating expenditure for this shelter is RM35,000 a month; we always welcome public donations in kind and cash. Our Facebook page helps in getting donations, volunteers and adoptions.” Regular fundraising events are also held to pay for dog food and medical bills.

A busy Sunday for 4PAWS.
A busy Sunday for 4PAWS.

To encourage public involvement and to raise awareness of 4PAWS’s plight, the shelter is open to the public every Sunday. During my visit, volunteers and visitors were seen at the compound socialising with the dogs, walking them and bathing them. 4PAWS volunteer Tan Wei Jen says, “I do it because these dogs are in need of so much love. They can get extremely excited when visitors are here to play with them. Some of the dogs even fight for your attention.”

Faced with an overcrowded shelter, 4PAWS is actively encouraging the public to adopt its dogs. “In 2014 we had 73 dogs rehomed within eight months. In 2015 the number was 142 dogs,” says Choong. “We will continue to encourage the public to adopt our dogs, because whenever a dog is adopted, a space is opened up at the shelter, allowing us to save the life of one more dog.”

Visitors getting ready to walk the dogs.
Visitors getting ready to walk the dogs.

Takafumi Kamei, a Japanese expatriate working in an MNC, adopted a dog named Limou from 4PAWS in January last year. “I moved into a landed house in Balik Pulau and was interested to keep a companion dog. Instead of buying a dog from a pet shop, I decided to adopt instead. I got to know of 4PAWS through the Internet, paid the shelter a visit and brought Limou home with me. I only donated for her vaccination and her spaying – there are no charges as adoption is free; donation is at the discretion of adopters. Limou and I are inseparable now. She gets to exercise more in my yard and she loves durians. I think she knows she’s lucky, and I am happy I saved her life.”

When asked about how the rest of us can be part of the solution, Choong says, “Apart from adopting dogs from animal shelters instead of buying from pet shops, Penangites can help by spaying and neutering their pets. Whenever a dog is adopted from our shelter, although we do not have the authority to enforce mandatory spaying and neutering, we highly encourage new owners to spay and neuter their dogs. If we don’t, then we are perpetuating the problem.”

Waiting to be walked.
Waiting to be walked.

At the end of the day, the onus is on the owner.

4PAWS is located at 429, Jalan Hassan Abbas, 11050 Teluk Bahang and can be contacted at +6016 342 0703 or via email at 4paws.penang@gmail.com.

 
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En route, via Jalan Teluk Bahang: The two-lane, 5km stretch from Batu Ferringhi makes for a short but memorable drive through a rolling seascape canvas – a visual treat well balanced by lush overarching trees on the other side. Contrary to the more hectic Jalan Batu Ferringhi, this stretch is usually quiet and affords one the luxury of a slow, calm drive.

Photo Essay

Encapsulating Teluk Bahang

Nestled in the northwestern corner of the island, Teluk Bahang was once an isolated and underdeveloped fishing village. But the changing fortunes of time have seen this quiet town blossom into a desirable retreat – be it for a respite from George Town’s bustle, a pursuit for the great outdoors or a seafood dinner fit for royalty. Amid the growing tide of development, the Bay of Heat, as it is lesser-known by, exudes a timeless charm – one that appears unfettered by change.

The following series of photographs offers a glimpse of Teluk Bahang through an everyday-life perspective, with an emphasis on the local community and spaces familiar to them.

pic 15

Where four roads converge: The Teluk Bahang roundabout, graced by an unforgettable display of three super-sized carnivorous plants. The Nepentheses albomarginata, gracilis and ampullaria are three species of tropical pitcher plants that are native to the region and can be found on the island. It is from this juncture that one can continue towards Balik Pulau, venture forth into town or return to George Town via Batu Ferringhi.

pic 16

Old amid the new – a traditional rumah kampung (village house) stands proudly just off Jalan Hassan Abas, hidden by foliage. This house is home to a family of four and remains one of the last few well-preserved traditional houses in town. The owner, a welcoming and chatty Encik Rohimi, explains that the house was built in the late 1940s and has been in his family’s care ever since. As is the case with many wooden houses, constant upkeep is required, even more so given the presence of termite colonies in the village.

pic 17

These traditional kampong houses are rich in local history but are slowly becoming a dying breed; these days, most home owners resort to more modern means of expanding their living spaces. For growing families, brick and cement walls are erected around and under the column-propped houses to add room, resulting in a gradual departure from tradition and diminished spaces between the houses. Here, two builders lay out the expansion framework for the house of Rohimi’s neighbour.

pic 18]#

Jalan Teluk Awak and beyond. A biker crosses a bridge en route to Kampung Nelayan. A large segment of this seafront neighbourhood was developed in the early 1960s as part of the Teluk Bahang Fishermen’s Settlement Scheme by the Public Works Department – an effort to accommodate the town’s growing fishing community.

pic 19

Recreational fishing is not an uncommon sight in Teluk Bahang, as many flock towards the town’s various waterfronts during the holidays and weekends to unwind and find delight in the sweeping views of the Malaccan Strait. Here, a couple from Kedah tests the waters off Kampung Nelayan under a searing Tuesday sun.

pic 20

A tale of two jetties: A trusty old sampan separates two neighbouring piers that serve very different purposes - the one on the left is used primarily to shuttle visitors to and from the Penang National Park, whereas the other serves the town’s deep-sea fishermen, vessels identifiable by their bright shades of blue. Two contrasting sectors – both vital organs of the local economy.

pic 21

Where working in underwear is just practical: the lean, sun-glazed fishermen of Teluk Bahang are up early in preparation for the next push out to sea – a rigorous and treacherous affair that yields bountifully.

pic 22

A win-win situation: a few locals visit their regular behind-the-house fishmonger as he lays out some of the day’s freshest catch. This trend is becoming increasingly common in Teluk Bahang and among the island’s coastal communities – where fishermen bypass the middlemen to increase their profit margins and at the same time still be able to sell their catch at prices lower than the market.

pic 23

A makcik, equipped with her own shopping bag, picks out fishes for the coming week. Plenty of pleasantries are exchanged as the fishmonger’s customers pick out their purchases – with a gentle soundtrack of splashing waves from the shore just metres away completing the scene.

pic 24

The Teluk Bahang Market, located a stone’s throw away from the roundabout on Jalan Hassan Abas, is one of the town’s main points of daily convergence – a place where the townsfolk can enjoy breakfast with their family and friends, purchase food supplies and even buy clothing and household items. The place lives on as a cinematic orchestra of everyday life.

pic 25

Stalls set up around the market are no different from those found at a typical pasar malam, or night market. They are a regular hit among locals and tourists for their general affordability, variety and convenience.

pic 26

Inside the wet market: just like in any other, one will find an abundance of fresh produce and meat within its walls. The Teluk Bahang market in particular was designed to be spacious, well-lit and airy, allowing goers the luxury of space and marketing at their own pace. Here, a vegetable seller packs an order for her customer.

pic 27

Beyond the commercial, local markets also hold social significance. They provide a space for townsfolk to meet and keep abreast of developments both within and beyond the area – an opportunity to regale, listen, learn, sympathise, empathise and encourage one another. Put together, these daily moments help solidify a sense of community and belonging.

pic 28

Eighteen years ago, Nurul stepped onto Malaysian shores with hopes of a better life for both his family and himself. Today, he supervises a team of eight other Bangladeshi countrymen as they groom the grassy slopes of the Teluk Bahang Dam, the island's largest man-made reservoir. It takes them a full week of eight-hour shifts to finish the job. He readily shares stories of gratitude – for friends made along the way, bosses who have cared for and taught him, lessons he's learned and even all the good food he's blessed with. Plenty was said about unsavoury brushes with policemen too, but he seems to take it all in stride – with a broad, disarming grin.

pic 29

The view from atop the dam’s sloped terraces. On the right in grey is the up-and-coming Entopia, formerly known as the Penang Butterfly Farm. It is currently undergoing an RM50mil metamorphosis and is slated for completion sometime this year. Punctuating the horizon in white is what used to be the grand Mutiara Beach Resort – once a luxurious retreat, now an abandoned monolith awaiting newer fortunes.

pic 30

Seated on what was once an abandoned rubber plantation is the Tropical Spice Garden, one of Teluk Bahang’s star attractions – a lush sanctuary of over 500 varieties of tropical flora and fauna characterised by an emphasis on spices. Opened to public in 2003, this paradisal and information-rich garden is today one of the region’s leading ecotourism destinations. Particularly noteworthy is the historical component in the presentation of the spices which gives readers an insightful glimpse into the motives of the region’s early colonial masters.

pic 31

With a recorded area of about 2,562 hectares, the Penang National Park is affectionately known as the country’s smallest and youngest national park. Regardless of size, the national park is an underrated ecotourism gem – it is rich in biodiversity, hides a few of the island’s best beaches and is home to a meromictic lake and even a turtle sanctuary.

pic 32

Beyond the tourist attractions, there is also much to appreciate in this sleepy town by wandering around, without real need for an itinerary. Be it a stroll around town or a picnic by the beach, Teluk Bahang is a bay of simple pleasures – for both the young and old.

Born and bred in Penang, Jonathan Lim’s work revolves around stories of people and places. His latest documentary project sees him working with a group of engineers as they bring electricity to an off-grid Bidayuh village in Ulu Padawan, Sarawak. Glimpses of his work can be found at trstls.co.

Back to Table of Contents

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