Book Launch: ‘Malaysia Bagus!: Travels Through My Homeland’ by Sharon Cheah
“My goodness, where is this place?” friends asked, when they received invites to my book launch at Sekeping Victoria. That’s because it’s the newest and hippest event space in town, and tucked in a grid of streets filled with derelict warehouses and crumbling godowns.
The warehouses and godowns were built for the shipping and trading business that Penang had thrived on. The island was settled as a trading entrepot by its founder Francis Light. While trade had been the reason for the boom of Penang in the 19th century, the sun has definitely been setting on this industry since the mid-20th century. Little wonder then that warehouses like the one we were in had simply crumbled into obscurity.
They are coming out of The Twilight Zone now though. Just look at Sekeping Victoria which has been beautifully “Sek-San”ed. Ng Sek San is one of Malaysia’s premier landscape architects, and quite an eco-warrior. Like a Banksy of the architecture world, He’s been quietly showing Malaysians – and the world – how spaces can be re-designed minimally but cleverly so that they don’t lose their former personality. At the same time, they’re made relevant to today’s new uses .
It was a complete boon to learn that Sekeping Victoria was open for events – when I was planning my book launch in Penang. Because the Penang chapter revolves around the revitalisation of George Town, listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008.
Reading excerpts from the chapter in an old warehouse space, with much of its architecture like its walls left intact and practically untouched was completely poetic.
As I read out loud: “George Town is a city being revitalised, with new businesses taking over old ones and new entrepreneurs coming in to transform old spaces—former budget hotels (some otherwise known as brothels) are being turned into boutique hotels, derelict shophouses into art galleries, and disused warehouses into chic restaurants”—I really could feel that happy vibes were bouncing off the walls.
Just on Victoria Street alone, named after Queen Victoria, there is Sekeping Victoria, and a legal office where one of the partners is an avid art collector, and China House, a hip restaurant/bar/art gallery.
The first launch of my first book—Malaysia Bagus: Travels Through My Homeland—was held in Penang, and the crowd of friends and acquaintances numbered anything from 50 to a 100. About a core of 30-50 people had collected under the thin shadows of spindly trees planted inside the event space, to listen avidly to three guest readers and myself. Moira Toh, my running buddy, kicked off the reading with a Selangor excerpt; followed by Meng Yew Choong, a journalist, who read from Perak. Then Marina Emmanuel, Penang-based but born in Terengganu, read from that chapter. I finished off with excerpts from Penang, extolling her arduous journey towards heritage listing.
I then signed books after the reading. And posed for pictures with many friends and with many books!
Epigram’s design is totally eye-catching—the yellow, especially! Which, to a Malaysian these days, has meaningful connotations.
Our tea was local kuih and yummy orange-almond cake from China House. I was especially delighted to have the launch attended mostly by friends so it was a warm and friendly gathering, with most people knowing one another and even having something like a mini reunion on site! Seven girlfriends from Singapore had also flown up for the event—and since a couple of them were from PR and marketing, I had ample expert advice and help on the side! More photographs of the launch are available here!