AMU2455 Entry 1: Penang and the Environment
In week two of the programme, we visited Penang Island for a total of 5 days and 4 nights, of which 3 days were spent with stakeholders in relation to environmental and cultural conservation on Penang Island. On the first full day in Penang, we visited the Consumer’s Association of Penang (CAP) and we were introduced to the concept of eco-friendly organic gardening and farming using all-natural methods for planting, pest control and fertiliser. After that, we were given a short lecture on waste disposal as an issue in Malaysia, in Penang in particular, where we learnt that many illegal imports of plastic waste had been imported into the country over the past few years which created an environmental issue. (BBC, 2020) Following the visit to CAP, we returned to the hotel for a workshop on the socio-ecological model.
On the second day in Penang, we visited Penang Hill and attended a seminar at the Penang Institute. At Penang Hill, we walked around and had a chance to experience what the Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) thought tourists to the state would like to experience, with the many touristy spots like airbrush tattoo stalls and character-themed areas of the hill being the “highlights” of the hill, instead of the natural cool weather or the flora and fauna on the hill. After that, at the Penang Institute, we were treated to a rather choreographed seminar on three oddly different topics - A presentation about themselves, a talk on Urban Green Zones and a talk on Heritage Conservation. As we asked questions, every response was thrown to their leader, and we realized this was because the Penang Institute is in a way a policymaker for the state government, and therefore every response to any question posed must be politically correct.
Our final day in Penang was spent with the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) for a short period of time, following which we had a walkabout around George Town, where we were tasked to interview locals, and finally we wrapped up the day with a short discussion with the PHT. PHT took us on a guided tour of Penang, visiting mostly gentrified tourist spots with the exception of the Chew Jetty, where some of the descendants of the original settlers remain. After that, our team went for lunch on our own and had a chance to interview the restaurant owner of the restaurant we were eating at. One interesting thing we noticed was that despite a policy by the Federal Government banning straws without the customer requesting one, and a poster on the wall of the restaurant saying so, we were all given straws even though we never asked for one. (Bernama, 2018)
We also had the chance to interview a street food seller. Everyone we interviewed thought that it was a benefit to them that George Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, but this does not necessarily mean that most locals are okay with the large influx of tourists. We had a chance to talk to a few ride-sharing drivers who said that as a driver, while tourists contribute to their earnings, as a local resident, tourists also contribute to traffic jams, environmental pollution and destruction of the local residents’ routines and habits.
In preparing for our presentation, we decided to choose the topic regarding single-use plastics in Penang, after we had experienced the straw incident mentioned above, and we also talked to each other regarding being given free plastic bags in malls as well, which is against the law.
In this short time on Penang Island and after having conversations with various stakeholders, I observed that the levels of enforcement in Penang Island regarding policies is lower compared to Selangor and Kuala Lumpur (where I am from) and that honestly, some stakeholders only care about profiting over protecting and promoting nature, such as the Penang Hill Corporation.
*References list is in submission document