As the end of the afternoon draws close, a soft, golden light creeps through the streets of Penang. It floods doorways and casts walls in pale relief, washing otherwise vibrant colours in dusk’s gentle shadows. I walk the streets with my camera, glad that the searing heat of the day has dulled to a low warmth, the smell of hot tarmac lingering in the air.
I walk with a purpose, an illustrated map in my hands. Squinting into the low hanging sun, I study the painted street signs for Armenian street. Turning the corner I find what I am looking for, two painted children, laughing as they ‘ride’ the bicycle that stands against the whitewashed wall.
The walls of George Town in Penang are colourful with street art, great murals and small illustrations etching the buildings and transforming the crumbling, traditional architecture into a quirky enclave full of history and art. My map pinpoints each piece of art on a walking route, and I follow it through the diverse Indian and Chinese quarters, cutting down covered side streets lined with hawker stalls, circling historic George Town and meandering down leafy lanes to the ocean.
In a place that once was home to colonial British governors, where immigrants from India and China and all over Asia have found a place to cohabit side by side; Penang’s painted inhabitants are a colourful cast of strange creatures, cats and witches running free alongside Ernest Zacharevic’s mischievous children. A Chinese lion peers curiously with huge eyes from behind the 70’s ice-ball stand; a nine year old ninja as tall as a two story house hangs from the window frames, pandas and elephants and a fisherman in a long pole canoe parade through the streets.
I circle around and head back in the direction of my hostel as the last of the light lingers golden on the pavements. Turning the corner, I glance upwards to see a long necked ballerina, balancing on point above the archway that leads to my street, her pale willowy arms raised above her head and her painted face inclined towards the passageway. Transient by nature, the street art in Penang will fade and change over time, but I hope a new wave of painted creatures will take their place in these colourful streets.
The ‘Marking George Town” map is available from the Penang tourism board – I picked mine up from the Roommates hostel in George town.