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Psy and Penang and what they have in common

Posted on 15 Feb 2013 at 00:28 am by Yeoh Siew Hoon

Try as I have, I can’t seem to get away from Psy.

So there I was on my home island to usher in the snake year with my family and along comes the news that the Gangnam phenomenon had been hired to perform at the Prime Minister’s Chinese New Year gathering in Penang.

For those who are unaware, Penang is like the “crown jewel” of the upcoming Malaysian general elections. It is the opposition state that the ruling party badly wants to win back and they obviously thought the Korean YouTube sensation would pull in the crowds.

Psy was reportedly paid US$1 million for his appearance – this man is having a good year for sure. (Photo from Visit Penang Facebook page)

He however did not make an appearance for the “tossing” of the “yu sheng” salad (a Chinese New Year tradition done for good luck) despite repeated calls by the MC and confusion among the politicians gathered on stage as to whether he would or wouldn’t.

I know all this – no, I wasn’t personally at the concert – because within minutes of the event taking place, the video of this no-show was already making the rounds on YouTube with commentators calling it a “snub” by Psy and the government defending 

And even before that, another video had been doing the rounds – showing the Prime Minister asking the crowd if they were ready for Psy to which he got a resounding “Yes” and then if they were ready for Barisan Nasional (the ruling party), to which the answer was an equally resounding “No”.

These two videos may never reach the same viral proportions of Gangnam but they only serve to underscore the profound impact of social media on our lives, politically and socially, and as sick and as tired I am of Psy, I appreciate the connection between him and Penang at this moment in time.

There is no doubt that Malaysia’s political landscape has been forever changed by social media; ditto with the way celebrities are made and the way we consume entertainment and information; as well as the way places are discovered.

Walking around Penang, I notice a flourishing of small businesses which would never have been able to be discovered by tourists without the social web.

I had dinner at Via Pre, a new Italian restaurant housed in one of those historic buildings along Weld Quay. Sitting on the balcony taking in the evening light, I saw the Superstar Libra take off on her cruise to nowhere.

I popped into the Muntri Mews Café for a refreshing drink after a mid-day tour around the inner city. There are even more inns, lodges and cafes now than before and Seven Terraces, the shophouse conservation project by hoteliers Christopher Ong and Karl Steinberg at Stewart Lane, has soft opened. Only the restaurant and bar however are open to the public – to protect the privacy of guests – so you can’t tour the hotel which I found rather disappointing.

For lunch, I tried the Sire Museum Restaurant (left) which is housed within the former residence of one of Penang’s most famous merchants, Yeap Chor Ee. The family has turned the house into a museum and The Sire serves western food in a wonderful setting.

On the way to the airport, I stopped by Suffolk House (below), the residence in which Sir Francis Light, the founder of Penang, lived and died.

It’s located right behind the high school I went to and during those schoolgirl days, we used to just stare at it from behind closed gates and imagine ghosts wandering in there. Today it’s a restaurant and venue for events and is a fine piece of Anglo-Indian architecture set in an amazing garden. 

The expansion of the airport has been completed as well and departing Penang now is a different experience.

I definitely appreciate the free Internet which I thought somewhat fitting – after all, without the web, there wouldn’t be a Psy and there wouldn’t be the Penang of today.

Gong Xi Fa Cai.

Tags: Penang , Psy , Chinese New Year , places to eat , social media trends