When I was still in school, up until high school ended, I used to travel to Penang every semester break, whether it was with my grandparents or my grandaunts (just never with my parents because my mom never had the time and my dad has never liked Penang). And every time we went to Penang we would stay in my grandparents’ house, which had been occupied by my youngest grandaunt since everyone moved to Kuala Lumpur. We would go to all the familiar places to eat — the coast road, which everyone else knows as Gurney Drive, Campbell Street, Burmah Road, Macalister Road, Swatow Lane, Dato’ Kramat Road, Tanjung Tokong, and so many, many others — visit the old folks’ family friends in Teluk Bahang and relatives in Green Lane, and at night, I would learn to play mahjong by watching them.
That was the life I had, the only life I knew to live, in Penang.
How it has all changed.
Now, for what could possibly be the first time in my life, I am staying in a hotel in Penang with two girlfriends, hailing cabs and trying to find my own way around the island. And even though this is a place I consider my hometown — more so than Kuala Lumpur itself — I’ve never felt more like a tourist — or more like a stranger — in it. And I know I would give my soul to go back to the old days, when everyone was together (and mobile), when the city itself wasn’t as obscenely commercialized as it is now, before the distasteful fusion of modern architecture with the old began threatening to wipe out what was left of the heritage that formed a big part of the reason I love Penang so much.
Things will never be the same again, and I may never get used to it. But as heartbreaking as it is, maybe it’s all a part of growing up — or growing proportionally older.