Penang [State of Malaysia] #92 (1986)

Penang #92 (1986)

Penang #92 (1986)

As a part of Malaysia, the State of Penang is often referred to by the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang, which means ‘the island of the areca nut palm’ (Areca catechu of the Palmae family). The name Penang may refer either to Penang Island or the State of Penang. Penang is also known as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, 东方之珠 and Pulau Pinang Pulau Mutiara (Penang Island, The Island of Pearls). Penang is shortened as “PG” in English, or “PP” in Malay. The state consists of consists of Penang Island, a narrow strip of the Malay Peninsula now called Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley), and a handful of smaller islets. Its capital city, George Town, lies at the northeastern tip of Penang Island; it is approximately 183 miles (294 km) northwest of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s federal capital, and 76 miles (123 km) south of Bukit Kayu Hitam on the Malaysia-Thailand international border.

With a total land area of just 405 square miles (1,048 km²), Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia by land mass, after Perlis. The Penang Strait is the body of water separating Penang Island and Seberang Perai, and is divided into the North Channel (north of George Town) and the South Channel (south of George Town). At the channel’s narrowest section, George Town on Penang Island is separated from Butterworth on the mainland by a mere 1.9 miles (3 km). Penang Island is irregularly shaped, with a granitic, hilly and mostly forested interior. The coastal plains are narrow, the most extensive of which is in the northeastern cape. The topography of Seberang Perai, comprising more than half of the land area of Penang, is mostly flat save for Bukit Mertajam, the name of the hillock and the eponymous town at its foot. It has a long coastline, the majority of which is lined with mangrove. Butterworth, the main town in Seberang Perai, lies along the estuary of the Perai River and faces George Town

Known as the Silicon Valley of the East for its industries, Penang is one of the most urbanized and economically-important states in Malaysia. Founded by the British in 1786, George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a thriving tourist destination. In addition, Penang has the third highest Human Development Index in Malaysia, after the State of Selangor and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur. Its heterogeneous population is highly diverse in ethnicity, culture, language and religion. A resident of Penang is colloquially known as a Penangite (in English), Penang Lâng (in Penang Hokkien) or Penangkaran (in Tamil).

Penang, with the rest of the Federation of Malaya, gained independence from the British Empire on August 31, 1957, and subsequently became a member state of Malaysia in 1963.

From independence until 1969, the state was administered by Chief Minister Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee from the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), one of the three principal political parties which made up the Alliance Party ruling coalition. In 1969, however, Penang was captured by the Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia party which garnered 16 out of 24 seats in the State Assembly. Its founder, Tun Dato’ Seri Dr Lim Chong Eu became Penang’s second Chief Minister. Following the May 13, 1969, riots which ensued from the General Elections, parliamentary rule was suspended and the government was taken over by the National Operations Council. Only in April 1971 was the democratic government restored. Gerakan joined the ruling coalition on February 13, 1972, and continued to govern Penang until March 2008 when it was completely annihilated at both state and parliamentary levels.

The island’s free port status was revoked in 1969 which dealt a considerable blow to Penang’s trading industry which was followed by massive unemployment as high as 14.5%. Despite this abrupt setback, the then Chief Minister Lim Chong Eu built up the Free Trade Zone in Bayan Lepas at the southeastern part of Penang Island, around the airport. This move is now seen as monumental to the economic growth of modern Penang, turning it into one of the largest electronics manufacturing bases in Asia and the ‘Silicon Valley of the East’.

During Lim’s tenure, a number of major infrastructural projects were undertaken. In 1985, the Penang Bridge that links George Town and Seberang Perai was completed; it was the longest bridge in Southeast Asia until 2014 when it was superseded by the Second Penang Bridge. Somewhat less successful was the Komtar project, launched in 1974 as part of his vision to reverse George Town’s then declining fortunes. The tallest skyscraper in Penang was constructed in the expense of hundreds of shophouses, schools and temples, as well as whole streets. However, instead of arresting George Town’s decline, Komtar itself became a white elephant by the early 2000s.

The pre-war houses in the historic center of George Town was protected from urban development by the Rent Control Act which prohibited landlords from arbitrarily raising rentals as a measure to provide affordable housing to the low-income population. Its eventual repeal in 2001 visibly changed the landscape of Penang’s demographic pattern and economic activity: it led to overnight appreciation of house and real estate prices, forcing out tenants of multiple generations out of their homes to the city outskirts and the development of new townships and hitherto sparsely populated areas of Penang; the demolition of many pre-war houses and the mushrooming of high-rise residences and office buildings; and the emptying out and dilapidation of many areas in the city center.

Unperturbed development sparked concerns of the continued existence of heritage buildings and Penang’s collection of pre-war houses (Southeast Asia’s largest), leading to more vigorous conservation efforts. In 2004, widespread dissatisfaction with the decline of Penang led to a media campaign to return Penang to its former glory.

This paid off on July 7, 2008, when George Town was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, alongside Malacca. It is recognized as having “a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia”. The newly elected Pakatan Rakyat state government also spearheaded the subsequent efforts to clean up of George Town, and improve traffic flow, pedestrianization, cultural and environmental aspects. As a result, George Town was also ranked as the most liveable city in Malaysia, the eighth most liveable in Asia and the 62nd worldwide by ECA International in 2010.

Penang suffered some damage from the December 26, 2004, Indian Ocean Tsunami which hit the northern and western coasts of the island, though nothing in the scale of neighboring Acheh or Phuket. The tsunami claimed 52 out of the 68 lives lost in Malaysia, mostly picnickers and fishermen. Some 1,600 people were evacuated. Economically, the fisheries and aquaculture were the worst-hit sectors, with losses in the order of tens of millions of ringgit.

 

In 2015, Penang island as a whole was accorded city status by the Malaysian government. Thus, George Town is the only city in Malaysia to have been conferred city status twice, first by the British monarch, and later by the Malaysian government.

On Penang Island, apart from the three largest ethnic communities — Chinese, Malays and Indians — there are also significant Eurasian and Thai minorities. Many of the Thais and the Eurasians, in particular, still reside at the Pulau Tikus suburb. Another well-known subset of Penang’s population has been the Peranakan, who inhabited Penang Island for centuries. Penang currently has a sizable expatriate population, especially from Singapore, Japan and various Asian countries, as well as the United Kingdom. Nearly 7% of Penang’s population consisted of foreigners, reflecting the well-established allure of Penang amongst expatriates. Most expatriates settle around George Town in their retirement years as part of the Malaysia My Second Home program; the northern suburbs of the city, such as Tanjung Bungah where 5.7% of its residents are foreigners, are particularly popular.

During the colonial era, apart from the Europeans, Eurasians, Siamese and the already multiracial local citizenry, there were also Burmese, Filipino, Sinhalese, Japanese, Sumatran, Arab, Jewish, Armenian and Persian communities. Notably, the tiny German community was commercially significant, with most Germans in Penang plying their trades as merchants and establishing mercantile firms. Although many of these other communities no longer exist today, their legacies can be seen at some of the streets and places around George Town, such as the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple, Crag Hotel, Armenian Street, Acheen Street, Gottlieb Road and the Jewish Cemetery.

The Peranakan, also known as the Straits Chinese or Baba Nyonya, are the descendants of the early Chinese immigrants to Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Nyonya is the term for the women and Baba for the men. They have partially adopted Malay customs and speak a Chinese-Malay creole of which many words contributed to Penang Hokkien as well (such as “Ah Bah” or “Baba” which refers to a man). The Peranakan community possesses a distinct identity in terms of food, dress, rites, crafts and culture. Most of the Peranakans are not Muslims but practice an eclectic form of ancestor worship and Chinese religion, while some were Christians. They prided themselves as being Anglophone and distinguished themselves from the newly arrived Chinamen or sinkheh.

While the Peranakan culture is still a living one, it is almost extinct today due to the Peranakans’ re-absorption into the mainstream Chinese community. Many follow otherwise Westernized ways of life. Still, their legacy lives on in their distinctive architecture (exemplified by the Pinang Peranakan Mansion and the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion), cuisine, elaborate costumes like the nyonya kebaya and exquisite handicrafts.

There are many similarities between Penang, particularly George Town, and Phuket, Thailand, where I live. The fact that Captain Francis Light tried to get the British East India Company to colonize Phuket while he was stationed on the island, the extant colonial architecture (termed “Sino-Chinese” on Phuket) and Peranakan culture are just a few of the many parallels. People of Chinese ancestry make up a significant part of the population on Phuket, many of whom having descended from tin miners who migrated to the island during the nineteenth century. The Peranakans here are known as “Phuket Babas” in the local tongue, constitute a fair share of members in the Chinese community, particularly among those who have family ties with the Peranakans of Penang and Malacca.

Scott #92 was released on October 25, 1986. The 15-cent stamp features getah (Malaysian for “rubber”), or Hervea brasiliensis — the Pará rubber tree. This is a tree belonging to the family Euphorbiaceae and is the most economically important member of the genus Hevea because the milky latex extracted from the tree is the primary source of natural rubber. The 1986 state definitives featured agricultural produce and fruit, seven low values for each state and eight medium and high values inscribed Malaysia for use in any state. The low values were identical for each state, except for the state name, state crest and ruler, or state crest only for those states without a ruler.

This issue proved to be the most complex ever produced by Malaysia, lasting for over 14 years, the last printing in the original format taking place during 2000. The stamps are notable for the perforation, gum and watermark varieties. They were printed in five color lithography — cyan, yellow, magenta and black with grey for highlighting various areas and a brown-grey shade for the background panel. They were printed on phosphorized ‘Multiple SPM’ paper with a wavy pattern, in sheets of 100, 10 x 10 and had pink gum and were perforated 12. The low and medium values were printed by ‘Security Printers Malaysia’ in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur. The four high values were printed by Harrison & Sons in the United Kingdom. The low values had plate numbers, one for each color used for printing, in the top left, top right, bottom left and bottom right of each sheet, in the format 1A, 1A 1A etc., with color dabs above or below each series of plate numbers.

The Pará rubber tree initially grew only in the Amazon rainforest. Increasing demand and the discovery of the vulcanization procedure in 1839 led to the rubber boom in that region, enriching the cities of Belém and Manaus. The name of the tree derives from Pará, the second-largest Brazilian state, the capital of which is Belém.

These trees were used to obtain rubber by the natives who inhabited its geographical distribution. The Olmec people of Mesoamerica extracted and produced similar forms of primitive rubber from analogous latex-producing trees such as Castilla elastica as early as 3,600 years ago. The rubber was used, among other things, to make the balls used in the Mesoamerican ballgame.

Early attempts were made in 1873 to grow H. brasilensis outside Brazil. After some effort, 12 seedlings were germinated at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. These were sent to India for cultivation, but died. A second attempt was then made, some 70,000 seeds being smuggled to Kew in 1875, by Henry Wickham, in the service of the British Empire. About four percent of these germinated, and in 1876, about 2,000 seedlings were sent, in Wardian cases, to Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and 22 were sent to the Botanic Gardens in Singapore.

Once established outside its native country, rubber was extensively propagated in the British colonies. Rubber trees were brought to the botanical gardens at Buitenzorg, Java, in 1883. By 1898, a rubber plantation had been established in Malaya, and today, most rubber tree plantations are in South and Southeast Asia, with some also in tropical West Africa. The majority of the rubber trees in Southeast Asia are clones of varieties highly susceptible to the South American leaf blight — Microcyclus ulei. For these reasons, environmental historian Charles C. Mann, in his 2011 book, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, predicted that the Southeast Asian rubber plantations will be ravaged by the blight in the not-too-distant future, thus creating a potential calamity for international industry.

In the wild, the rubber tree can reach a height of up to 100 feet (30 meters). The white or yellow latex occurs in latex vessels in the bark, mostly outside the phloem. These vessels spiral up the tree in a right-handed helix which forms an angle of about 30 degrees with the horizontal, and can grow as high as 45 feet. In plantations, the trees are generally smaller for two reasons: trees grow more slowly when they are tapped for latex, and trees are generally cut down after only 30 years, because latex production declines as trees age, and they are no longer economically productive.

The tree requires a tropical or subtropical climate with a minimum of about 1,200 millimeters per year of rainfall, and no frost. If frost does occur, the results can be disastrous for production. One frost can cause the rubber from an entire plantation to become brittle and break once it has been refined.

Tapping of a 23-year-old rubber tree on a plantation in Malaysia, circa 1910.

Tapping of a 23-year-old rubber tree on a plantation in Malaysia, circa 1910.

Scott #92 portrays the rubber trees with the latex being collected by the process of rubber tapping. An incision is made in the tree’s bark, which cuts through the latex vessels, from which the product then flows. Timing of the incision must be planned within the planting cycle to optimize the latex yield. Rubber tapping is an environmentally attractive land use. Jungle rubber is essentially old secondary forest, strongly resembling the primary forest. Its species’ richness is about half that of the primary forest. Monoculture rubber tree plantations have far less of an environmental impact than other crops, such as coffee or especially oil palm.

Each night, a rubber tapper must remove a thin layer of bark along a downward half spiral on the tree trunk. If done carefully and with skill, this tapping panel will yield latex for up to five years. Then the opposite side will be tapped, allowing the first side to heal over. The spiral allows the latex to run down to a collecting cup. The work is done at night or in the early morning before the day’s temperature rises so the latex will drip longer before coagulating and sealing the cut.

Depending on the final product, additional chemicals can be added to the latex cup to preserve the latex longer. Ammonia solution helps prevent natural coagulation and allows the latex to remain in its liquid state. Plastic bags containing a coagulant have replaced cups in many plantations in Malaysia. This form of latex is used as the raw material for latex concentrate, which is used for dipped rubber products or for the manufacture of ribbed smoke sheet grades.

Naturally coagulated latex, sometimes referred to as cup lump, is collected for processing into block rubbers, which are referred to as technically specified rubbers (TSRs). The serum left after latex coagulation is rich in quebrachitol, a cyclitol or cyclic polyol.

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