Sunday, March 12, 2017

Penang changes!

Quite a bit of traffic on the First Penang Bridge
A much less busy scene over on the Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah 
Bridge (which locals prefer to refer to as the Second Penang Bridge!)
Penang never changes -- or, at least, doesn't change much.  That's the sentiment I'd often heard voiced by visitors (especially those from Singapore) but also a fair few local Penangites over the years.  But to judge from the changes I noticed on my most recent visit back to my home state, I have to opine that that's no longer the case, if ever it really was so.  
For example, I remember being incredulous when an old family friend visiting from Singapore remark on how clean Penang's streets were back when both he and I visited my home state last July; this because, my impressions of them in the past was that they often were less pristine than I would have liked.  But while the waters off Penang Island still can leave a lot to be desired, I must admit to thinking on my most recent visit there (from which I just returned yesterday) that it really is true that Penang's streets actually do look pretty good these days, with no noticeable piles or even scraps of rubbish on them -- and, for good measure, quite a few buildings (including regular houses and heritage establishments as well as such as mosques, temples and churches) looking like they've been recently given new coats of paint.
Other positive developments I've noticed this time around include more public buses in service, better equiped bus stops (which now have bus schedules posted on them), and a welcome increase not only in the number of tourists to Penang but, also, more visitors who are happy to explore the street art-rich heritage zone of George Town on foot.  As for new structures: It may have opened to the public back on March 1st, 2014, but the Second Penang Bridge still looks pretty new as well as intimidatingly long (at 24 kilometers in length).  And although it's been some three years since it became operational, it was only on this March 2017 return to Penang that I went on it!

From the looks of it, the Second Penang Bridge has yet to win the affections of local folks.  For one thing, the toll for it costs more than for the First Penang Bridge.  For another, as the friend who drove me along it complained, it's actually quite boring to go along it because, unlike the older bridge connecting Penang Island to the West Malaysian mainland, its higher walls have helped ensure that sights are few and far between on the side!
For my part though, I'm actually in awe of people now having so many choices of route to take between Penang Island and the rest of West Malaysia since, for much of the time that I lived in Penang, there wasn't even a single bridge that connected Penang Island to the part of Penang state that was on the mainland and beyond!  Instead, if one didn't fly out of the airport at Bayan Lepas (on the southeastern side of Penang Island), one only had the option of taking the ferry over to Butterworth.     
In point of fact, construction work on the First Penang Bridge wasn't completed until after I had left Penang to go to boarding school in England.  So I actually haven't even been on that older bridge all that often, never mind this newer one.  But to judge from the amount of traffic along the former, it really is old hat for many folks.  And it actually is funny for me to realize -- and yes, it makes me feel pretty aged -- that for quite a number of Penangites, there never has been a time in their life when there never was a bridge connecting Penang Island to the rest of West Malaysia! ;b  

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