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The Pearl of the Orient is glittering once again

LETTER | Let me put it straight to the point: I am biased, but I am making a qualified statement after a brief visit to Penang last weekend.

Malaysia can be transformed the way how the island state has been transformed within the past one decade since it came under the leadership of the opposition.

My first visit to Penang was way back in 1975. It was my first long-distance trip outstation; therefore, I remember every moment of the trip vividly.

Some of the highlights were the Kek Lok Si Pagoda, Siamese temple, Snake Temple, the Reclining Buddha at Wat Chaiyamangalaram, the Penang Botanical Gardens and of course Penang Hill.

Three decades of lost glitter  

Years later, in the mid-80s, Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak (Komtar) became one of the biggest attraction as it was touted to be the second tallest skyscraper in Asia when its construction was completed in 1985.

In those days, it was the place to visit whenever people visit Penang, especially after watching the movie “The Towering Inferno”. Everyone wanted to know how people would survive on the island’s tallest skyscraper if there was a fire right at the top.

Yes, no one would imagine not visiting and admiring Komtar when touring Penang Island!

Over the years, I have been to Penang on many occasions both for holiday and on work assignments, but these tourist destinations have hardly attracted me anymore.

Sometimes, I would rather take a flight home on the same day instead of spend another night in Penang.

Komtar, for example, was so badly managed that during my last visit in 2009, although we were staying just a stone’s throw away, we did not even bother to take a second look. We only drove past it and I told my wife, “This is it – Komtar!”

After all, even in Kuala Lumpur, none of us would hardly want to walk into the old Puduraya Bus Terminal given its poorly managed facilities. Komtar back in 2009 was no better.

Counting from 1985, over the past 32 years, Penang had gradually lost its glitters as a tourist destination.

Yes, although I did make a few attempts to revisit some of the places that I had visited as a child, there was hardly any major development there on later trips.

Whenever I came to Penang, it was mainly to complete my work assignments, or to visit friends and enjoy the food, rather going to the same old tourist destinations.

As mentioned earlier, in 2009, for example, we only spent a couple of days at beautiful Batu Ferringhi beach at the invitation of Parkroyal Penang, when I was doing an article for Finedining Restaurants and Villas.

We spent another night in Georgetown, where we had a coupon for a night’s stay at Sunway Hotel. The only thing we did was to try out some Penang hawker food at New Lane. That was all about Penang!

Penang regaining its glitter

Within just eight years, I must say I am truly impressed with the transformation that the island has gone through.

For a moment, I was inundated with so many places to visit that we decided Penang was worth another trip to visit all the new places.

Spending one full day at Komtar was not only fun for the children but for the adults too.

Although I have seen numerous exhibitions on dinosaurs, I was truly mesmerised with the Jurassic Research Centre that I think this is a place that is really worth visiting for every Malaysian, young and old alike.

When these dinosaurs are placed in settings outside the building, they give the impression that they are real-life beings; for once, the dinosaurs appear as though they are roaming outside the Komtar building.  

There are also a lot of new museums, but with a brief stay, we only managed to spend the second visiting three of the museums – the Made-in-Penang 3D museum, the Upside Down Museum and the Dark Mansion.

Personally, I am very impressed with Penang’s transformation into a tourist centre within such a short time that I decided to ask Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng for his secret formula in transforming Penang.

Government’s role to facilitate projects

With a simple email response within less than two hours, he wrote: “Many of these projects are public-private-people (PPP) initiatives where funding is provided by private investors, facilitated by the state government and there was also very positive public buy-in from the people.”

This is the principle that has often been preached by opposition lawmakers, that it is never the government’s role to be involved in business, but to facilitate more private investments and businesses.

For this reason, as I understand from Lee Kah Choon, formerly CEO of InvestPenang: “My role now is to help the state, by providing legal and financial advisory to companies.”

Lim added that there are many specialised agencies that look after various sectors including meetings, incentives, conventions, events, manufacturing, tourism and education, which sources both local and foreign participants. 

“Most investment is private, except for education especially in the Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in Malaysia and Industry 4.0. Penang is the first state in the country with its first Digital Library,” he wrote in his response.

Added Lim: “The refurbishment of Komtar which includes the construction of The TOP Komtar consisting of three additional levels costs about RM200 million. It is funded by a public-listed company, Only World Group (OWG).”

With this, Komtar is back into the future, and the Pearl of the Orient is set to regain its glitter.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.