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Reminders of a Glorious Past

Reminders of a glorious past

IF you are taking the morning ferry from the mainland to Penang island, look out for two of China Street Ghaut's most imposing structures - the Malayan Railway Building (or Wisma Kastam as it is known today) and Wisma Yeap Chor Ee.

Against the backdrop of a clear, blue sky, these buildings will capture your imagination.

It may not be as dramatic as the famous Titanic scene where Leonardo DiCaprio uttered that unforgettable (and not to mention cheesy) " I am the king of the world " line, but a feeling of exhilaration will still wash over you.

Tan Yeow Wooi Culture & Heritage Research Studio director W.Y. Tan said in the old days that these buildings were important landmarks for the state's bustling port.

" Traders who docked at the Railway Jetty (which was directly in front of the China Street Ghaut) would be greeted by the amazing sight of two colonial giants.

" Both these buildings were designed with a very unique and exquisite feature - a distinctive arcade (a structure composed of a series of arches supported by columns).

" The Wisma Kastam building's arcade has been renovated but the one at Wisma Yap Chor Ee is still in its original form.

" For decades before Komtar was built, the building with its clock tower (which by the way is still ticking with precision) was the tallest building on the island," he said.

Wisma Kastam which currently houses the state Customs Depart-ment was formerly the Malayan Railway Building that sat alongside trading offices and warehouses built in the 20th century.

The Malayan Railway Build- ing was believed to be the only railway station in the world without a rail. Instead of platforms or trains, it had administrative offices, a ticketing booth and a first-class Railways Restaurant with Bar and Grill.

Passengers bought their tickets at the Penang Railway Station, walked to the Railway Jetty at the end of the China Street Ghaut and boarded the Railway Ferry Streamers to Butterworth to catch the train. Fares to and from Penang were inclusive of the ferry ride.

Built a century ago, the Malayan Railway Building marked the timely completion of the Federated Malay States (FMS) Railway which was mainly used to transport tin and crops.

It was the railway's northern region headquarters. In the late 60s, the state Customs Office occupied the building.

State Tourism Development and Environment Committee chairman Teng Chang Yeow recently announced that Visit Malaysia Year 2007 would see a new four-star hotel occupying the Wisma Kastam site.

Planning permission has been approved and it is now at the building plans approval stage.

By CHRISTINA CHIN

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