Little Penang Street Market - Penang, Malaysia

Date: The last Sunday of every month

Time: 10.00am till 6.00pm.

Place: Upper Penang Street

Whenever I travel, it is almost an obsession of mine to scour the area in search of its soul. Be it its history, its beautiful architecture – manmade or otherwise, its legends, its biodiversity, its people and their arts, fashions and passions. Travelling opens the mind and the heart and I set out to achieve that as I sojourn to any place familiar or unfamiliar. Each time, with a little bit of observation, it reveals a different facet.

Penang, falls into the category of one of those familiar places that manages to appeal to locals and visitors time and again and yet funnily enough, retains an amount of pleasant surprises.

The previous trip at the beginning of the year introduced me to a little hideaway stay called Malihom Private Estate in Balik Pulau which also has in its grounds, a marvellous art gallery that is a temporary home to artists from our homeland as well as visiting artists from far off shores. ABN AMRO-Malihom Artist in Resident Program (“AiR Program”) allows the artists freedom to explore by providing them space and environment to create.

Another trip later in the year was not planned. One day, surfing the net for some updated information on what to do in penang, I came across a website called . This piqued my interest and at first I thought, it was just one of those outdated websites and this street market was a one off that happened a year ago etc. As I read on, I realised the date stated was current. It was November and the date for the next street market was to be held on the last Sunday of the month.

With an overnighter packed, the car fuelled up and an ever willing travelling companion, we left KL and arrived in Georgetown some 4hrs later. Having read that the street market was to be held along on Upper Penang Street, we checked ourselves into a hotel along Penang Road for the night.

By 10.00am on Sunday, the canopy was set up, the vendors were ready to greet their customers and the Space where performances were staged were all on cue. The day ran smoothly with a number of performances lined up ~ blues, folk & jazz musicians, the coral singers ready with their repertoire of Christmas songs, and Murut cultural dancers.

kid's session. participative fun for even the youngest

The idea of holding a monthly street market came about when a group of friends got together and hatched a bunch of ideas to bring art and ethnic crafts to the people on the streets. Art seemed to have ascended to a plateau where only the elite were to appreciate. It is one of the most basic and yet powerful tools of expression for any individual. With the belief that through art, one will alleviate oneself through a myriad of ways. One way was to inspire children to participate. The kid’s corner, is where volunteers try out all sorts of ways to titillate their senses and expose hidden talents using all sorts of mediums like finger painting or learning to make paperbags from recycled items, storybook reading sessions

The organisers of Little Penang Street Market also encourage vendors who have talents or skills to participate at the market especially traditional trades. The committee members are very concerned that Traditional crafts were slowly disappearing off our daily use and off the streets. And they are bent on reviving people’s interest in the diverse and vibrant cultural aspects that once provided our people with a strong identity.

Many vendors who supported the street market from its beginning in 2006, have continued their monthly patronage. There have been several who have moved on from there as they were completely inundated with orders from individuals and even companies that appreciate the quality and uniqueness presented. Ambiga Devy, the coordinating director for the market wishes them well in their new directions.

coins dating back to 1862

She hopes that the market will also be a platform for these individuals to meet with potential buyers or even investors so that they will be able to expand on their capabilities. Not all vendors return every month. But there is a stable of 30+ regular vendors selling handmade jewellery, antiquities and collectibles, fused glassworks, ornamental frames, children’s clothing, ceramics, a gallery featuring the month’s artist also available for sale at very reasonable prices, and traditional crafts.

Traditional crafts featured in previous months included Beaded shoes, hand embroidered Penang Nyonya kebaya, Hand-painted Batik, Rattan craft, Silverware, Clogs, Wayang kulit, Henna art. A craft to be showcased later are heritage toys namely toys we use to make to play during school recess and on weekends such as catapults, five stones… lingering memories of good times and school friends.

hand embroidered traditional nyonya kebaya

Heritage food is also on offer at the market and this doesn’t fail to interest visitors with a scrumptious buffet of Lemang, Rempeyek, Malay, Indonesia, Arab & Jawi Peranakan kuih & chutney, Eurasian cakes & chutney, Chinese desserts and home-made bread & cakes. After all, in the 1700s and under the watchful eye of Sir Francis Light, Penang became a favorable trading port and host to mariners and merchants from all corners of the world. Hence quarters were named after these groups eg Arabs, Armenians, Chinese, Europeans, indonesians and Indians who stayed on to trade in Penang and who many later returned home when the port lost its popularity.

The committee also encourages non profit organisations to set up stalls at the street market. Community Works is one such organisation and they work with the Penang Prison, St Nicholas Home for the blind and visually impaired; and

items for sale at the community works' stalls

Positive Women (women with HIV+). Every month, they sponsor a number of stalls at the market, some of which are used to display any handicraft created by these groups. Community Works support disadvantaged women like single mothers, abuses wives, women from low income households or women who have life threatening health problems. Joe Sidek, Dr Gwen Jenkins and friends believe that with a little nudging in the right direction and with the right attitude for a need for change they can go far. They named the project Positive Women.

Community Works has in fact, taken several women under their wing and they have benefited tremendously from their guidance. With 60-year old Iban Luwie Anak Kudie from Sarawak, the organisation has succeeded in lifting her from her situation of despair and helped her stand on her own feet. Luwie specializes in basket weaving and community works has helped her by using her woven baskets as part of their packaging for bath soaps and pleasantries. Community Works also provide those in need of advice in packaging and marketing of their products, of which is on sale at Little Penang Street Market.

Like the name… Community really works. It takes people to work together for a better cause and it takes a lot of effort to ensure the wellbeing of the community. After all, human beings live in social packs and a healthy social pack is a forward thinking society. All it takes is a group of visionaries to realise that and be diligent and patient enough to unite the crowd.