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Prangin Road, George Town, Penang

Prangin Road, George Town. From left to right : Prangin Mall, KOMTAR Walk and KOMTAR Tower.

Prangin Road is a major road within the George Town city centre that marks the southern limits of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The straight road runs from northwest to southeast, along some of the more modern landmarks in George Town, such as KOMTAR and Prangin Mall.

Prangin Road sign, George Town, Penang

Prangin Road sign. Officially, Prangin Road has been renamed Dr. Lim Chwee Leong Road, although the original name remains in colloquial use.

The Prangin River that once ran along the length of the road marked the southernmost limits of George Town in the 19th. century. The river was subsequently turned into a vital canal, along which sampans brought goods and produce between the Sia Boey Market and the ships docked at the harbour.

However, by the mid-20th. century, the canal had turned into nothing more than a stinking drain. By 1974, when construction works for KOMTAR commenced, the drain was mostly buried.

In the 1980s, Prangin Road was renamed Dr. Lim Chwee Leong Road, after the father of the second Chief Minister of Penang, who was a prominent paediatrician from Singapore.

Today, the road runs between the junction with Penang Road and Burma Road to the west, above which the Octopus Pedestrian Bridge stands, to the junction with Beach Street to the east. Notably, as Prangin Road marks the limits of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, one can see the older cityscape along the northern side of Prangin Road, compared to the more modern buildings along the southern side.

Etymology

Prangin Road was named after the Prangin River, which marked the southernmost limits of George Town for much of the 19th. century. The river was then converted into a canal, enabling boats and sampans to transport goods and produce between the harbour and the interior of Penang Island.

Notably, the Hokkien Chinese also called this particular area Sia Boey, meaning the tail end of the settlement.

In addition, as the canal was lined with tall casuarina trees, the Malays called this particular area Pokok Rhu, meaning casuarina trees.

By the 1980s, the Prangin Canal had been buried. Prangin Road was subsequently renamed as Dr. Lim Chwee Leong Road, a brilliant paediatrician from Singapore who moved to Penang Island when he was 22. His clinic along Prangin Road, the Soo Beng Dispensary, still stands to this day. His son, Lim Chong Eu, was born in 1919 and would later become the second Chief Minister of Penang between 1969 and 1990.

History

Prangin Road, George Town, Penang (old)

An old picture of Prangin Road

The Prangin River once flowed along the length of Prangin Road and in the early 19th. century, marked the southernmost limits of George Town. The swamps along the river were reclaimed and firmed up to enable urban development along the river banks, while the Prangin River was converted into the Prangin Canal.

Prangin Canal, George Town, Penang

Prangin Canal

The canal was one of the most important waterways in George Town during the colonial era. Sampans would carry goods from the ships docked off George Town along the Prangin Canal to the Sia Boey Market along its southern banks. Fresh agricultural produce were also carried along the canal downstream. Prangin Road was laid out along the canal to enable easy transport and offloading of goods.

Prangin Road, George Town, Penang (old2)

A trolleybus along Prangin Road

In 1914, Dr. Lim Chwee Leong, a paediatrician who had come to George Town from Singapore when he was 22, started his private practice. He set up the Soo Beng Dispensary at the junction between Prangin Road and Carnavon Street. One of his sons, Chong Eu, was born in 1919. Both father and son would later leave lasting legacies around the area.

Soo Beng Dispensary, George Town, Penang

The Soo Beng Dispensary at the junction between Prangin Road and Carnavon Street was the place where Lim Chong Eu's father, Lim Chwee Leong, worked. Prangin Road would later be named after Lim Chwee Leong.

The bustling area around the Sia Boey Market used to be where rows of rickshaws were parked while people loaded their baggage onto each one of them. It is said that when Japanese warplanes began bombing George Town during World War 2, the Japanese pilots mistook the rickshaws for anti-aircraft guns and proceeded to bomb the market, killing and injuring 5,000 innocent civilians, and causing much panic.

Up to the 1950s, the canal was still in use. However, it later fell into disuse and by the 1970s, it was nothing more than a stinky drain.

In the meantime, Dr. Lim Chong Eu, after having quit the Malaysian Chinese Association, the Chinese component party of the ruling Alliance coalition (now Barisan Nasional), established the Malaysian People's Movement Party (Gerakan) in 1968. The opposition party subsequently won the 1969 state elections in Penang and took over the Penang state government from his former party.

Prangin Road, George Town, Penang (3)

Another view of Prangin Road near the Sia Boey Market and facing east. The Sia Boey Market has been covered up, pending redevelopment of the market into a new heritage arts centre.

In 1974, as the Chief Minister of Penang, Dr. Lim Chong Eu initiated his brainchild to rejuvenate the declining city - the KOMTAR project, near the area where his father used to work. While the modern KOMTAR complex was to be built, hundreds of shophouses, temples and schools were to be demolished and the stinking Prangin Drain was to be buried. The Sia Boey Market was also relocated to its present location at Macallum Street Ghaut.

Prangin Road, George Town, Penang (2)

Another view of Prangin Road facing west. Prangin Mall stands to the left. Note the older shophouses to the right.

By the 1980s, the Prangin Canal was mostly covered up for good. Prangin Road was then renamed Dr. Lim Chwee Leong Road, after the father of the then Chief Minister. To this day, the Soo Beng Dispensary, where Dr. Lim Chwee Leong once worked, still stands, and is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today, Prangin Road marks the southernmost limit of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Anyone driving along the busy road will notice the older architecture prevalent along the northern side of the road, in stark contrast with the more modern KOMTAR and Prangin Mall along the southern side of Prangin Road.

Notable Landmarks

From west to east :

Political Representation

Penang State Government

Western stretch between Penang Road and Carnavon Street

N.28 Komtar State Assemblyman : Teh Lai Heng (Democratic Action Party)

Eastern stretch between Carnavon Street and Beach Street

N.27 Pengkalan Kota State Assemblyman : Lau Keng Ee (Democratic Action Party)

Malaysian Federal Parliament

P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)

References

  1. Khoo S.N., 2007. Streets of George Town, Penang. Areca Books.
  2. Hockton, K., Howard Tan, 2012. Penang : An Inside Guide to Its Historic Homes, Buildings, Monuments and Parks. MPH Group, Kuala Lumpur.
  3. http://wongchunwai.com/category/penang-history-my-story/page/6/
  4. http://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2012/08/02/remembering-sia-boey/
  5. http://www.expatgo.com/my/2016/01/13/resurrection-sia-boey-george-town-penang-heritage-arts-district/
  6. http://penanginstitute.org/v3/resources/articles/opinion/175-tun-dr-lim-chong-eu-the-past-is-not-passe
  7. http://www.penang-traveltips.com/prangin-road.htm
  8. http://www.themalaymailonline.com/features/article/exhibition-at-sia-boey-market-site-showcases-past-and-points-at-future

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