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Penang (again)

sunny

After unsettled sleep due to the heat I rose very early and so decided to use the day to full effect. I bussed it down south to the Snake Temple, a Chinese place of worship where the altar was allegedly inhabited by Pit Vipers. They were supposed to be doped up to the eyeballs on all the incense there and so considered fairly benign, some folk even draped the snakes over themselves as a photo op. It was a tad underwhelming then upon arrival to find the main temple building in the process of reconstruction, a secondary shrine boasting vendors not worshippers and not a snake in sight. They were actually housed in a separate enclosure out back which together with all the souvenir stalls outside gave the game away as being a tacky tourist trap more than a pilgrimage site. The one snake on view at the entrance to the enclosure convinced me that one snake is pretty much like another so I resisted the 5 Ringit rip off to see any more.

Onwards then past the airport and it took another 2 buses to get me to Batu Muang at the most south easterly point of the island. I had come here to catch the War Museum which had eluded me on my previous visit. It was actually a 1930s era British fortress, the largest fort the Brits had ever built anywhere outwith the UK, planned with a foresight to the growing Japanese threat. Sited on a hilltop to provide a panorama around the south eastern quadrant, it took 9 years to complete with many underground tunnels and chambers being incorporated, and included advanced features such as a bombproof command centre, anti-radar chemical coating and the ability to recycle air in the event of gas attack. Crucially though, in parallel with Singapore, the supposed attack from the sea meant that the main gunnery couldnt be brought to bear on the ensuing Japanese land assault. With barely a shot fired the Brits evacuated the base over 16 hours on 16th December 1941 through another tunnel leading to the sea. The Japs seized it unopposed and used it as an interrogation and propaganda centre, I saw one cell still with bullet holes in the walls where prisoners had been shot or terrorised. Upon the Jap surrender the fort was abandoned and lay neglected in the forest for 70 years before renovation in 2002. The Brits had dubbed it Bukit Punjab (Punjab Hill) after stationing 1500 Indian Imperial troops here. Armament included 2 15" calibre guns with a 16.5 metre long barrel, they weighed in at all of 100 tonnes each, which were destroyed upon the Brit evacuation.

Unfortunately this place had an inflated foreigner price of an outrageous 4 quid, I ended up paying it in the end but the fact that it was a private moneygrabbing venture left me with a bad taste in my mouth as I walked round. Clambering over massive gun emplacements and peering into tremendously deep lift shafts used for hoisting ammunition from fortified magazines, I could see now why it had taken so long to complete. There was a separate block comprising a cookhouse, dormitory and ablutions for each ethnic group, with the Brits and Punjabis later being joined by Malays and Gurkhas. The rudimentary explanatory signs would have been better done as storyboards and the internal displays were a mishmash of blown up photos in the main, notably of Yamashita, the "Tiger of Malaya" who commanded the Japanese campaign here. He subsequently received the British surrender of Singapore before ultimately being executed for war crimes upon its end.

Perhaps they had priced themselves out of the market, but certainly the location was not convenient for Georgetown, I saw only a lone elderly couple here who could have been British on my walk around and a chatty local Tamil woman I met waiting for the bus at Batu Muang had never visited it.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Malaysia

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