Well, how about actually getting out of the hotel for a few hours? I told C, as I was sipping on my nth cup of coffee, sweltering under the intense midday heat at the balcony of E&O Hotel right at Georgetown itself. For starters, how about that cemetery right there, pointing down to a plot of land thick with trees just a few meters from our hotel.
|THE OLD PROTESTANT CEMETERY AT PENANG|
I really have no idea what that cemetery was about, or even if it has any historical value at all. All I know was that we’ve been cooped up too long in our room, too daunted by the simmering streets of Penang to explore any further than our own balcony and the indoor swimming pool.
|OLD GRAVES AND CRUMBLING TOMBSTONES|
But we really didn’t travel all the way to Penang just to laze our ass off the hotel, did we? Or, err, did we? Lol. Anyways, what we really promised ourselves this second time was to fully explore the UNESCO World Heritage city of Georgetown. And now that we’re right smack in the middle of it, we didn’t even wanna budge.
|CURIOUS INSCRIPTION ON ONE OF THE TOMBS|
So, finally, after much hewing and hawing, we at last got past the hotel doors and into the streets of Georgetown. The sun instantly baked our skin and drenched our shirt with sweat. Hurrying, we scurried off to the shelter of the cemetery trees and were completely stunned at what we saw.
|TREE-LINED WALKWAY ON THE PERIMETER OF THE GRAVEYARD|
Being the slothful travel researchers that we are, we had no idea that a cemetery as beautiful as this was just sitting right across from where we were staying. A sign says it’s Georgetown’s Old Protestant Cemetery. Blank stares.
|TOMBS OF VARYING SHAPES, SIZES AND DISREPAIR, LITTER THE CEMETERY|
But what we didn’t know was that this is one of the oldest Christian cemetery of its kind, not only in Penang, but in the whole world, pre-dating even Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery where the Doors frontman, Jim Morrison, is buried (among other famous individuals), England’s Highgate Cemetery where Karl Marx is interred and even Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof, the largest cemetery on Earth.
|A FALLEN WHITE FLOWER PERFECTLY COMPLEMENTED THE SOMBER ATMOSPHERE|
Indeed, it’s no Zentralfriedhof, Penang’s Old Protestant Cemetery is quite small—less than a block across. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in character. A grove of gnarly frangipani trees covers the burial ground, graceful stone tombs in varying state of decay strewn across its grassy bed.
|CHECKING OUT THE INSCRITIONS ON THE GRAVE|
While a fourth of the 500 graves in the cemetery were already weathered by time and the elements, there are still those with readable inscriptions. And as we trained our eyes on those that are still legible, we were quite surprised to find details regarding the manner of death of the individuals interred within. Most of those we saw died young, mostly at the age 20 to 30 due to Malaria and other similar disease.
This cemetery is indeed old. It was established in 1786 after Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company wrested Penang from the sultan of Kedah and dubbed it as the Prince of Wales Island. No doubt, he himself was buried here after succumbing to Malaria, along with other notable figures in Penang, a few Chinese refugees from the Taiping Rebellion, some German merchants and two Armenians.
|CONNECTING GATE TO THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CEMETERY|
|CHINESE TOMBSTONES AND ELEVATED TOMBS AT THE CATHOLIC CEMETERY|
And right next to the Old Protestant Cemetery, we found Penang’s Catholic Cemetery. It wasn’t as melancholic as the previous, with only a few old tombs jutting out of its grounds. We scooted right back at the small stone doorway separating the two and for an hour more, scoured Penang’s Old Protestant Cemetery, surrounded by the coldness of the long dead and totally oblivious to the suffocating heat of the living world.
Penang Old Protestant Cemetery
Address: Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah,
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Tourism Office Contact Number: (604) 264-2631
Entrance Fee: None
GPS Coordinates Map: 5.422742, 100.333483