For those who had been reading this blog for quiet a while now knows that I love to walk around when I’m new to a place. It’s my way of orienting myself with a destination. Getting a feel and really going up close to the locals. George Town is such a pleasantly walkable city. Charming old streets adorned with street art against the beautifully aged walls. I was able to rest that afternoon when I got back from my Historical George Town tour. Revitalized after a few hours rest for my walk at this city’s Street of Harmony. I’m glad to be accompanied this time by Cebuano travel blogger Brennan of Weekend Dispatch who is now based in George Town for work. After his office duties he was glad enough to show me around.
The Street of Harmony
Religion has always been a touchy subject. More often than not, it seeks to divide people than unite due to differences in beliefs. But despite varying faiths people can still unite for a purpose – to escape war, seek refuge and start anew. That’s what the Armenians, Thai Catholics, Indian Muslims and Chinese merchants did way back in the 18th century in Penang. Seeking to show harmony between religions and conveniently connect communities of different faiths, the town planners cleverly established their places of worship along Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling also formerly known as the Pitt Street. Now there’s a church, a couple of temples and a mosque in one street hence the Street of Harmony.
St George’s Church
I met up with Brennan at the St George’s Church. While waiting, I marveled at this 19-century Anglican church considered as the oldest built Anglican church in Southeast Asia. I like the Greek doric columns at the facade. There’s also a memorial pavillion front of the church erected in 1886 in memory of Captain Francis Light. The church was declared as one of the 50 National Treasures of Malaysia in 2007. It would have been interesting to see how it looks inside but it was closed at that moment.
Goddess of Mercy Temple
Just a short 130m walk southwest is the the Taoist temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin. Built in 1728 at the cost of $4,000 Spanish Dollars, it was initially dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of the sea, by Hokkien seafarers. It was in 1824 when the temple was renovated and the deity was changed to Guan Yin and Tua Pek Kong to reflect the growing diversity of the Chinese community.
The temple was quite busy when we came. I was amused with the giant incense sticks. There’s also a play being shown at the temple when we were there. It would be interesting to watch but I couldn’t understand Chinese.
Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Only around 190meters walk, just across the street is the Indian Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Eye catching as always due to its vibrant gopura and the mandala patterned walkway leading to the temple back entrance. The main entrance is on the other side though along Lebuh Queen. The temple has been standing here for more than 200 years as it has been a place of worship since 1801. Didn’t had a chance to explore since it was closed that time.
Kapitan Keling Mosque
Walking 240 meters more is the Kapital Keling Mosque. A gorgeous looking mosque complete with a gated garden and a minaret-like tower detached from the main mosque. We were allowed to explore the mosque. The interiors have high ceilings and I like how each angles lets the light in the prayer area. Kapitan Keling is part of why George Town is under the World Heritage Sites list. It was named after its first superintendent Caudeer Mohuddeen when it was established in 1800s. Keling refers to Indian origin while Kapitan refers to the community.
It was a really pleasant walk at this Street of Harmony. The street doesn’t feel crowded and the vibe is easy going. And it also feels safe to stroll around here. While the four places of worship may be the main point of interest here, there are other interesting stops on the road. A nice little bookstore, a cafe, street art and a few snack shops too.
It pays to go slowly and savor the environment. Admire the confluence of faiths existing in harmony here in George Town.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.