For almost 2,000 years, Penang – strategically located between the Melaka Straits and the Andaman Sea – has been a key gateway to southeast Asia, luring merchant adventurers from the Arab world, India, China and Europe. The most recent invasion has been by holidaymakers from East and West, drawn by golden sand beaches, an exotic culture, great hotels and (for most of the year) a superb climate.
Georgetown, the island’s capital, is a creation of British imperialism, founded by a swashbuckling English colonialist, Captain Francis Light, who took possession of the island for the British East India Company in 1786 and launched it on its way to becoming one of the jewels in Britain’s colonial crown. Georgetown became a dazzlingly cosmopolitan melting-pot, and Hindus, Muslims, Chinese and Europeans have all left their mark on one of Malaysia’s most colourful cities. A large number of its people are Peranakans, people of Chinese (mainly Hokkien) descent whose ancestors emigrated under British rule. Others are the descendants of Indian Muslim sepoys, who served in the East India Company’s army, and Tamils from southern India or Bumiputra Malaysians from the mainland.