The Penang Story – International Conference 2002

ABSTRACTS : Saturday 20 April 2002

Friday 19 April 2002
Panel 1AChinese Clanhouse Development & Urban History
Panel 1BHeritage, Memory, Imagination
Panel 2AEarly Penang: Trade & Shipping
Panel 2BArchitectural & Social Heritage Conservation
Panel 3APenang As A Regional Centre
Panel 3BSecret Societies

Saturday 20 April 2002
Panel 1A
Contrasting Worldviews: Nusantara & European Perceptions of Colonial Penang
Panel 1BIndian Diaspora
Panel 2AOverseas Chinese Networks & Revenue Farming
Panel 2BEnvironmental History
Panel 3ARoundtable on Historical Recovery
Panel 3BRoundtable on Cultural Diversity

Sunday 21 April 2002
Panel 1APost-Colonial History
Panel 1BEvidence & Interpretation
Panel 2APerforming Arts & Popular Culture
Panel 2BReligious Communities & Historical Minorities


Keynote II

Dato’ Dr. Anwar Fazal, Senior Regional Advisor, The Urban Governance Initiative (TUGI), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 
The Life and Death of a City – the Story of George Town, Penang, Malaysia
George Town, the capital (if there is such a thing) of the State of Penang, Malaysia, was granted city status in 1957 by Queen Elizabeth II. When the two municipalities, the City Council of George Town and the Rural District Council were amalgamated into the Penang Island Municipal Council, what happened – no more city status, no more mayor, perhaps no more George Town even? It’s curious that such an important issue has been treated so callously and carelessly. It is part of a deeper malaise and demonstrating a lack of informed leadership, disconnected and disinterested in history and heritage. The pathetic treatment of street names in Malaysia suggests that we have a serious problem. What can we do? Where can we go?
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Panel 1A
Contrasting Worldviews: Nusantara & European Perceptions of Colonial Penang
Chair : Dr. Sumit K. Mandal

Ms. Christina Granroth, Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (speaker profile)
Title : Early Penang in British writing: ethnographic knowledge and the tropical picturesque
This paper looks at representations of landscape and people in early descriptions of Penang. Examining British travel accounts and official reports, the paper argues that the deployment of the language of the picturesque in combination with established perceptions of the Malay introduced a new phase in British knowledge of the Malay peninsula.

In describing the beauty and diversity of the scenery British visitors to Penang painted a new picture of the ‘other India’: a tropical but still wholesome Eden. In this creation of a ‘tropical picturesque’, Penang came to stand out in contrast to the India proper. This picture was further enhanced by British perceptions of Penang’s indigenous inhabitants. The European stereotyping of the character of the Malay during the eighteenth century had created a people that fitted well into a romantic notion of boldness, courage and adventure. This environmental and ethnographic distinctiveness, the paper suggests, contributed to inspire the early scholars to more systematic enquiries into Malay culture and history. Raffles’ fascination with Malay history was partly propelled by a romantic yearning for a glorious past. The wider influence of his scholarship, however, would be seen in the promotion of official British interest in the region.
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Mr. Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, API Fellow, Malaysia (speaker profile)
Title : Perceptions of Penang from across the Straits of Malacca
Although the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 divided the peninsula and the island of Penang from the rest of the archipelago into British and Dutch sphere of influence, it did not altogether prevent people from across the Straits from doing trade, taking wives, migrating and making comparisons of their now split worlds.

The Islamologist Snouck Hurgronje, in a supplement to his Aceh report of 1892, wrote that: ‘For the Atjehnese Penang is truly the gateway to the world; yes, the world itself… The Atjehnese, who frequently go to Penang, fall under the influences there which bring them anything but closer to the Gompeuni (sic). They are also led to compare Penang with the abnormal condition of their own country, or with that of neighbouring Netherlands possessions, and these comparisons are very detrimental to our Government. Exclusively on the experience of Atjehnese in Penang rests the general conviction in Atjeh that the rule of the English would be infinitely preferable to ours… In view of all this…no difficulty or sacrifice can be too great for us to give the Atjehnese in their own country what Penang is for them now, and at the same time to open a direct route to Europe for their products’.

The paper will explore not only Acehnese perceptions of Penang, but that of other ethnic groups including slaves, sojourners, pressmen, economic refugees, political asylum seekers, Kaum Muda proponents and nationalists. We will tell the ‘Penang Story’ from the writings of Parada Harahap, Is’mail bin Hadji ‘Abdoe’llah ‘Oemar Effendi, Tan Malaka, Abu Bakar anak Raja Pinayongan Lubis, Halalloeudin Hamzah @ Ahmad Noor Abdul Shukor, and others, of their experience of Penang.
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Ariffin Omar, School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang (speaker profile)
Title : British Colonialism and the Marginalization of the Malays in Penang
This paper will examine the impact of British colonialism on the Malay community in Penang. I will begin with the advent of British colonialism. The severing of Penang from Kedah and the political ramifications of such an event. The emergence of Penang as a British outpost and its use by the British to control and influence events in the northern Malay states will be touched upon. The impact of British colonialism on the Malay community in Penang especially on the distortion of its characteristics will be dealt with. How did the Malay community fit itself into the colonial mould will be looked into. The question, did colonialism lead to the marginalization of the Malay community in the various spheres, will be examined. The emergence of a plural society in Penang with all the features and values of a cosmopolitan society must have had an impact on the Malay community. What was this impact? Was it negative or positive? Where were the Malays to be found? What sort of settlement patterns did the Malays choose to reside in? Were they all rural? Or urban or semi-urban?

What sort of occupation attracted the early Malays? Why or what caused them to be within that kind of occupational sector? What were the changes culturally and politically that affected the Malay community in Penang? All these will be examined in my paper.
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Panel 1B
Indian Diaspora
Chair: Dr. M. Nadarajah

Dr. K. Anbalakan, School of Humanites, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang (speaker profile)
Title : Penang Indian Middle Class and the Quest for Ethnic Identity
It may be noted that the group generally known as Indians today is not a homogeneous lot. It comprises a group of people who speak a variety of languages and is also separated by class and caste distinctions. There was no unifying ethnic consciousness among them, even up to the period of Japanese occupation. There existed several groups with different notions of identity and each had strove to maintain and strengthen its own notion. This paper analyses the notion of identity held by the Penang Indian Middle class and traces its struggle, up to the Second World War, to establish a common identity for Indians in this country. Let it be made clear at the outset that the argument is derived from the premise that ethnic identity is neither a naturally given phenomenon nor an unchanging rigid concept, but rather a historical construction which is fluid and ever changing.
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Mr. Himanshu Bhatt (speaker profile)
Title : Little India of George Town
Of the many communal enclaves in modern cities and metropolitan areas across the world, few can today boast of having cultures that are historic yet living, sustaining lifestyles which are virtually unchanged for generations. Fewer still can pride in supporting such cultures that are actually thriving, prospering amid a vast, almost inescapable spectre of globalisation.

The Little India area of George Town is a rare model of such a fascinating and exceptional locale. Bubbling in a hive of commercial activities and traditional habits inherited over generations of Indian settlements in the once bustling port city, the area teems with a living, breathing antiquity that seems to have practically congealed in time. Spice merchants, peddlers, astrologers, goldsmiths, millers, craftsmen, sweets sellers and traditional textile traders ply in the richly concentrated inner city area as their predecessors did more than a century ago, in rows of ageing terrace shophouses designed and built years before. The sheer colour, vestige and energy make the community stand in romantic defiance against the waves of industrialisation and development that have swept through most parts of Penang over the years.

The area has now become a magnet for heritage enthusiasts, international conservationists and tourists. Little India, with its remarkable inner city surroundings that comprise a copious collection of historic attractions of the colonial era such as a 19th century fort, courthouse, church, mosques, Hindu temples and Chinese clan enclaves, entices a great deal of fascination and interest.

Little India’s unique heritage dates back to the early 19th century when, spurred by British colonialists, traders and labourers from south India arrived in large numbers to work in Penang. Many settled near the island’s port in a meticulously regimented network of streets which were among the earliest parts of George Town planned under the administration of Captain Francis Light, the English founder of Penang. The presentation will take a tour around the area, analyse its history, and assess the future prospects of the enclave and its community.
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Mr. Paul G. Pakirnathan, Inti College Malaysia, Bandara Baru Nilai (speaker profile)
Title : The History of Tamils Festival in Penang
This article explores the history of the most impressive celebration of the Tamils Festival, held in Penang since 1950s. The purpose of this study is to discuss the significance of Tamils Festival and how far it has been influential in uplifting and preserving the Tamil language and culture in Penang and in the building of the comradeship between the Tamil community in Penang. This leads to the discussion of the role of Penang Tamil Bell Youth Club, Tamil Representative Council, Tamil Press and also other Indian Associations in Penang in organizing and holding the Tamils Festival celebration at all levels of township, district and the estates (kampongs) in particular and to inspire in the Tamils a consciousness of their great and glorious language and culture. The main aim of Tamils Festival is the unity of the Indian people. The festival strives to achieve this unity by going to the grassroots of Tamil culture and bringing out its fundamental strands for the education and enjoyment of the people. It is thus an occasion to demonstrate both to the Tamils and to other communities the distinctive contribution that the Tamils make to the cultural mosaic of Penang in particular and Malaysia as a whole.
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Panel 2A
Overseas Chinese Networks & Revenue Farming
Chair: Prof. Wang Gungwu

Prof. Carl A. Trocki, Professor of Asian Studies, Queensland University of Technology (speaker profile)
Title : Koh Seang Tat and the Asian Opium Farming Business 
In the 1870s, Penang merchant, Koh Saeng Tat, began to build a financial empire that marked a true departure from earlier business ventures among Southeast Asian Chinese. His family had been established in Penang since the very beginning of the settlement. He represented the third generation of his lineage in Penang. After developing a network of tin mining and revenue farming concessions in Perak, he took over the opium farms of Penang and became one of the most important figures in the island’s financial world. Not satisfied with this very respectable accomplishment, in 1879, he went one step further and became the first outsider to take over the Singapore opium and spirit farms. This was no easy task, since not only was he an outsider, but he faced deeply entrenched competition from the clique of Singapore taukehs who had controlled the local revenues farming concession for over a decade. He had only a few resources. His great wealth and the support of the British government, who saw him as an opportunity to substantially raise the revenues above the low rate being given by the monopolistic clique of Singapore taukehs. From this time until the abolition of the revenue farming system in Malaya, Penang opium syndicates and financiers seemed to dominate the opium farming business not only in Malaya, Siam, Singapore and Sumatra but also in places as far away as Hong Kong, Saigon and in China itself. This paper will seek to outline the role of taukehs such as Koh and to place him in the context of the wider world of Southeast Asian Chinese business in the later nineteenth century.
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Dr. Wu Xiao An, Visiting Research Fellow, Kyoto University, Center for Southeast Asian Studies (speaker profile)
Title : A Prominent Penang Chinese Towkay From Kedah 1857-1916: A Case Study of the Entrepreneur Choong Cheng Kean
By focusing on a Penang Chinese towkay Choong Cheng Kean, who was a Singkeh from Southern Fujian but rose to the prominence in the Malay sultanate of Kedah, this paper aims to contextualize the Choong family business networks and power relations in the background of the Penang-Kedah linkage. The family’s interactions with the Sultan of Kedah, the Siamese Consul, the British resident council and Chinese community in Penang will be examined by focusing on the opium farm and other businesses such as rice milling.
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Dr. Stephanie Chung Po-Yin, Associate Professor, Department of History, Hong Kong Baptist University (speaker profile)
Title : Chinese Family Business in a Colonial Frontier Society – Eu Yan Sang in Penang 
Eu Yan Sang (EYS) firm, a major manufacturer and retailer of Chinese medicines, is a famous brandname in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. Its asset amounts to about US$ 30 millions, with more than 50 branches and factories set up in different parts of Asia.

The title of “Yan Sang” was first adopted in the 1870s as the “chop name” (business name) of Eu Kong (1853-1891), founder of the Eu family business, in Penang. The timing of his arrival is significant. After the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the improved navigation route made trips to the East through the Straits of Malacca, with stops at Penang and Singapore, shorter and cheaper. Eu Kong benefited from these changes in at least three different ways: 1) starting from the 1870s, in order to counterbalance French and Siamese influence on the Malaya States, especially in Perak, and to secure stable tin supplies for the rising food canning industry, Britain decided to extend its control into inner Malaya (later the Federated Malaya States) by granting tax farming right to Chinese immigrants and supporting these revenue farmers to set up tin mines in the newly acquired region; 2)starting from the 1890s, the innovation of new transplantation and tapping techniques made rubber planting possible in Malaya. Bicycle manufacturing in Britain, and later the automobile industry in the USA, created a huge market for rubber tyres; 3) the absence of governments’ control (both the British and the Chinese governments) and the lack of formal organization to handle remittance between British Malaya and Southern China before the 1930s made Chinese shop with extensive regional networks (like the EYS medical shop) ready agent in handling remittance. The upward mobility of the Eus illustrates how western colonialism reshaped the investment environment in the region. The Eus’ portfolio of tax farming, tin mining, rubber plantations, banking and remittance is a reflection of the above historical changes. The evolution of the Eus’ family business, therefore, reflects the broader political, cultural and economic interaction between Canton, Hong Kong, Sinagapore and Penang. Eu’s experience that even after the retreat of British colonial rule in Asia, the legal and economic institutions left behind by the British have continued to reshape the structure and behavior of the Chinese family business.
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Dr. Lee Pui-Tak, Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong (speaker profile)
Title : Migration, Trading and Revolutionary: Cantonese Networks in Hong Kong and Malaya
The formation of Cantonese business networks in the nineteenth century, were due to the following key factors: trade, migration, remittance, settlement of accounts, and flow of information. Trade and migration are the two major reasons of generating business networks, particularly of regional networks when the network of trade and the network of migration intersected or overlapped. At first, there was the Amoy network created by Fujian merchants in the eighteenth century and this was followed by the Cantonese network in the nineteenth century. The Sheng-gang-ao (Canton-Hong Kong-and Macau) formed the first nexus of Cantonese network in South China.

Generally, Cantonese merchants maintained more than one home, with homes in different places at the same time and had multiple businesses over the region. They used “associate firms” to expand business not only in the region, but also in Southeast Asia. The Cantonese merchants who had associated with the interest of the British colonial power, traded widely in the sphere of British Asia. They extended their network from South China, Hong Kong to Southeast Asia, Australia and North America.
This paper will discuss: firstly, how Cantonese merchants used “associate firms (lianhao)” as the main business format to create the networks; secondly, how the factor of family constituted the major component of the Cantonese business networks; thirdly, other than business, how revolutionary Cantonese followed and took advantage of this network. The paper will focus on Hong Kong and Malaya, especially Penang.
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Ms. Shinozaki Kaori, Department of Area Studies, Graduate School of Arts and Science, University of Tokyo (speaker profile)
Title : Re-examination of the “Chinese nationalism” and Categorization of the Chinese in Malaya: The Case of the Chinese in Penang, 1890s-1910s 
It is often described that the Chinese in Malaya were strongly oriented towards China before the independence. Their activities were all explained by the “China factor”, described as if they developed only through influences from China. It is also often discussed, how much they contributed to the revolution in China in 1911 and other historical development in China. These points of view are very popular among Chinese scholars, but are seldom discussed by Western scholars. The latter would rather focus on the role of the Chinese community in Southeast Asian context, namely, their role as an informal bureaucracy system to gain revenue for the colonial governments through the operation of opium farms. Both circles hardly link to each other. My paper attempts to try to discuss these topics as a whole and explain “Chinese nationalism” as a result of shifts both in China and Southeast Asia.
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Panel 2B
Environmental History
Chair: Dato’ Dr. Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

Prof. S. Robert Aiken, Department of Geography, Concordia University, Canada (speaker profile)
Title : Penang Hill: Landscape, Heritage and Conservation
Tropical hill stations owed their origin and early development to colonialism. They were specialized highland outposts of colonial settlement that initially catered to Europeans in search of health, relaxation, and amusement. Today, many such places are popular tourist attractions. Penang Hill was established by the East India Company in the late 18th century, making it one of the earliest imperial outposts of its kind in the British colonies. Always small and only modestly developed, it has never consisted of much more than a mosaic of open and wooded spaces, a network of winding roads and paths, and a collection of named bungalows at staggered elevations, each set in its own compound. Because it has, thus far, largely escaped the consequences of large-scale development, it continues to possess a heritage of considerable natural and cultural value. The paper is divided into three parts: the first describes the evolution and composition of the hill-station landscape; the second deals with natural and cultural heritage and the need to conserve it; and the third argues that any proposal for the development of Penang Hill as a place of resort should pay attention to the principles of sustainable tourism.
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Ms. Nazima Versay Kudus, Universiti Teknologi MARA, and Mr. Mohamad Rashidi Pakri, School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang (speaker profile)
Title : Penang Hill in Colonial Memory: A Critical Perspective
Penang Hill is one of the colonial legacies that still provides a venue of enjoyment for both locals and foreigners alike. It is a special place which not only evokes the image of environmental beauty but also is historically significant. During the hey-day of the British Empire, the Hill provided a comfortable retreat for colonial civil servants, expatriates, writers and travellers. As a hill station, it was a safe relaxing place, reminiscent of the weather of the home country and conducive for social gatherings. The first part of this paper will briefly trace some testimonials as reflected in writings and paintings of the visitors during colonial times. More importantly, the second part will analyse critically the rationale for its establishment in the testimonial writings in the light of our recent encounter within the scope of studies of colonialism by examining the intersections of ideology and colonial institutions. The Hill is seen as an instance of these intersections.
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Dr. David Jones, School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture & Urban Design, The University of Adelaide, Australia (speaker profile)
Title : Colonial Botanic Gardens and World Heritage: the significance of the Penang ‘Waterfall’ Botanic Gardens
The cultural landscape of George Town, Penang, Malaysia, embraces the historic enclave of George Town as well as a range of other significant colonial vestiges adjacent to the entrépôt. Many of these landscapes cannot be isolated from the énclave as they are integral to and part of its cultural mosaic and character. Perhaps the most important are the Penang Hill hill-station landscape and the ‘Waterfall’ Botanic Gardens. The latter is an under-valued ‘garden of the empire’-a garden that significantly underpinned the development and historical and botanical stature of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

This paper reviews the cultural significance of colonial botanic gardens as they were established around the world during the scientific explosion of the late 1800s. It addresses their position within World Heritage listings, and considers the role, significance and importance of the ‘Waterfall’ Botanic Gardens within this context, and within the concept of ‘cultural landscapes’.
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Ric Francis, founder of Perth Electric Tramways, Australia (speaker profile)
Title : Introduction to Penang Transport History: Tramways, Trolleybuses & Railways of Penang 1880s-1963
Penang was one of the first urban centres in Southeast Asia to operate steam trams, electric trams and trolleybuses. The paper will cover various forms of public transport used in George Town from 1880s to 1957 and the role this transport played in the development of the growth of George Town and Penang island.

In George Town, a steam tramway was introduced in the 1880s, at first connecting to Ayer Itam followed by an extension to Waterfalls area. This was the main transport for twenty years bringing all the plantations crops to Weld Quay for export as well as a passenger service into the town centre. Most of the George Town area’s buildings are made from stone quarried in the Waterfalls area.

Electric Trams came to George Town in 1906, which gave the local population a good public transport. Penang Hill railway opened in the 1920s brought trade down from the Hill as well as transport to

the top for people to enjoy the cooler climate. The late 1920s saw the replacement of trams with trolleybuses, which where in turn replaced with today’s diesel buses. An Electric Railway was run from Weld Quay to the Eastern Smelters Works some 1.7miles away. This operated a goods service in both direction until 1957.
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Dato’ Lee Yow Ching, Director of Water Supply, Penang Water Supply Department. (speaker profile)
Title : A Brief History of the Development of Water Supply in Penang Island
The first form of water supply system in Penang Island, the first in the country, was started in 1804 when water was brought from the waterfalls in the Botanic Garden to George Town serving a population of about 10,000. Subsequently the water supply system has been progressively expanded to meet increasing demand. Currently the water supply is drawn from 3 principal groups of sources: the unregulated river intakes and treatment plants system involving all catchments in the island, the island storage system comprising Air Itam Dam and Teluk Bahang Dam and supply from Seberang Perai including Muda River, Kulim River and Mengkuang Dam System which provides the major source of water. The water supply system has been well managed and the supply has always been able to cope with the demand. Future development will involve the transfer of water from other states. Inter-state cooperation is required to ensure sufficiency of water for Penang.
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Panel 3A
Roundtable on Historical Recovery
Chair: Dr. Cheah Boon Kheng

Dr. Paul H. Kratoska, Associate Professor, Department of History, National University of Singapore (speaker profile)
Title : War and Occupation in Penang, 1941-1945 
The destruction of the Penang Secretariat building by Allied bombing in the final months of the Occupation caused the destruction of the greater part of the British and Japanese records concerning the island, creating enormous difficulties for anyone trying to write a history of the island. For the Occupation records are particularly scarce, and any discussion of the war years must rely heavily on intelligence reports, post-war reconstructions of events, and memoirs. This essay will assess what information these sources provide, and what sort of picture emerges from them.
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Dr. Lee Kam Hing, Research Editor, Star Publicationsr. (speaker profile)
Dr. Badriyah Salleh, General Manager, Malacca Museums Corporation. (speaker profile)
Dr. Tan Liok Ee, formerly Associate Professor, School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang (speaker profile)

Panel 3B
Roundtable on Cultural Diversity

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Christian Giordano, Department of Anthropology, University of Fribourg, Switzerland (speaker profile)
Title : Penang As Utopia: The View from Europe
Looking from Europe, Penang is perceived as a fascinating and mysterious sociolcultural landsacape because of the tolerant coexistence of so different ethnic groups. The paper aims to show, starting from the contrastive comparison of three towns, Riga, the capital of Latvia, Thessaloniki the second biggest city in Greece and Penang, how in these urban settings people are dealing with cultural diversity in blatantly different ways. Riga, Thessaloniki and Penang had paradoxically a similar but not identical historical background because they were important cosmopolitan harbours of three big empires, the Russian, the Ottoman and the British. Nevertheless in Riga and Thessaloniki cultural diversity is still considered as a danger and in the past it was systematically destroyed through strategies of assimilation and ethnic purification. This attitude has to be seen in relation with the rising in Europe of the German concept of “Staatsnation” based on the principle “one (ethnic) nation, one State, one territory”. Penang on the contrary, not being influenced by such an idea, preserves and celebrates until today its cultural diversity. For this reason is Penang for Europeans, who are in an epoch of globalisation and mobility more and more concerned with cultural diversity, a kind of unreachable utopia.
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Dr. M. Nadarajah, Stamford College, Kuala Lumpur (speaker profile)
Title : The Present as Multiple Pasts and Possible Futures: Making Sense of the Penang Experience 
How do we make sense of the Penang experience? How does one arrive at an understanding of the “soul” of Penang? Will there be, in such an understanding, the germ of a framework for a culturally sensitive sustainable urban future? In seeking answers to these questions, the examination of the Penang experience will begin by being sensitive to multiple temporal contexts or “space-time routines”, in the consideration of its pasts, its presents and its possible futures. Neither was there one “Penang” then nor is there one possible future now. Multiple cultural/symbolic universes at various levels and depths of engagement produced “Penang”. The multiple trajectories of Penang’s ethnically rich and sensitive development within a colonial setting and their career within a post-colonial setting offer a unique window to interrogate post-colonial Malaya/Malaysia and cultural sustainability in the age of aggressive globalisation.
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Dr. Sumit Mandal, Research Fellow, Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (speaker profile)
Mr. Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, API Fellow, Malaysia (speaker profile)
Prof. Judith Nagata, York University (speaker profile)