Subtle Penangite traits

The first few things that come to your mind when people mention Penang are probably the plethora of street food, gorgeous heritage buildings, and George Town murals. And if you’ve got a friend who is a Penangite, there is a high chance you’ve had to endure that Penang kia humblebrag about the island’s above-mentioned gems. 

As a Penangite who refuses to relocate anywhere else, here are 10 things about Penang islanders you might not know.

1. Penangites who live on Penang Island identify themselves differently from those who live on mainland Penang

Penangite traits - Penang Island Vs Mainland Penang
Image credit: @eelynnkoay

On the map, Penang is made up of Penang Island and part of the adjoining mainland connected to it via 2 bridges – Penang Bridge and Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge. 

Penangite traits - Penang bridge
Image credit: @moook

But most who live on Penang Island (myself included) usually only head to the mainland if we work there. That’s because we feel that our little island has everything we need, and we’re too comfortable here, so we don’t identify that strongly with mainland Penangites.

That said, Design Village (the outlet mall) and IKEA located in Batu Kawan, both on mainland Penang are embraced as part of the islanders’ “Penang”. Go figure!

Penangite traits - Design Village
Image credit:

2. Parents will “move” to get their kids into their preferred school

Penangite traits - Penang Free SchoolIn George Town, Penang, sits Malaysia’s oldest school, Penang Free School
Image adapted from: @gelorabiru & @azreenizav3max

Parents who want to enrol their kids into Standard 1 have to submit their registration through the Ministry of Education Malaysia’s online registration system (SPAT). They fill in their preferred schools, and their kids will usually get matched to the school closest to the registered home address. 

Penangites are a little bit kiasu (but not too much, don’t worry) in the sense that parents who want their children to get into their preferred school – usually the more renowned ones, because they feel that the kids can get a better education there – will use a family member’s address to register to improve their chances. 

3. We are not big on queuing for food

Penangite traits - Nasi Kandar queue
One of the few queues you’ll find in Penang is the Nasi Kandar queue at Deens Maju
Image credit: @deensmaju

Penangites boast about their food – a lot. Our comment on the food in other states is usually, “Penang wan better.”

But contrary to popular belief, Penangite people seldom queue for food when at home. If we notice a line at a hawker store we intend to eat at, we will quickly change our minds because, “Eh, I heard the chicken rice stall across the road is quite nice. Let’s go there instead!”

The only time you’ll see Penangites willing to join a queue is at a famous Nasi Kandar stall or a new F&B franchise that just landed in town. After all, good food is aplenty in Penang.

4. We hold our purse strings pretty tightly

Penangite traits - price of kopitiam drinks
We may complain about the price of kopitiam drinks, but some, like this one at Batu Lanchang food court serves it with latte art.
Image credit: @acar.chung

Penangites are pretty prudent when it comes to spending money. We will think a couple of dozen times about buying something – be it a beverage or pau – before walking away because we believe there is some other place that will be selling the same item at a lower price. 

Many businessmen find it difficult to market their products in Penang, simply because we are kiam siap (stingy). If the drinks at the coffee shop are increased by 10 sen, you best believe we will be disgruntled about it – although when all is said and done, it is likely that we will still patronise that place.

5. We travel to other states for their famous food too

Penangite traits - Penang Hokkien mee
One of Penang’s renowned dishes, Hokkien Mee
Image credit: @pinanglang_foods

We love our char kway teow and laksa. And not forgetting our brown sugar pau, cendol and ais tingkap. But we will still travel two and a half hours to Ipoh to eat nga choi kai and salted chicken. A 5-hour road trip to Melaka is but a short ride if we can get to taste their cendol gula melaka and gigantic onde-onde.

What I’m trying to say is, we do love food outside of Penang; but we just don’t rave about it too much because we can’t stop bragging about ours.

6. We are always complaining, but it’s only because we want to do better

Penangite traits - Penang complains at Penang Pac
You can sometimes catch satire stageplays of common Penangite complaints on stage at PenangPac. This scene is taken from SyokSendiri, a comedy show that highlights unique predicaments of fellow Malaysians.
Image credit: @penangpac

Penangites are passionate people and highly competitive people. We cannot contain our excitement when we meet a fellow Penangite out of state. And if any other state or country claims to have the best laksa or street food, we’ll protest in uproar – but all in good humour, of course.

Because we are easily fired up about what we care about, we seem to be always complaining. If a new implementation changes the way we live our lives, rest assured we will voice our opinions, even if it’s over trivial matters such as finding only one prawn in our char kway teow (even though we will still go back to the same hawker next time). 

Often, It’s just harmless venting. But there are times when we complain because we feel that there’s always a better way to do things. Right now, we are complaining about plans for a cable car project that’s underway and not approved by the state government yet. And we’re doing so because we think that it may not be great for the environment, which brings me to my next point…

7. We truly want to become a green state

Penangite traits - Baobab tree
You can see this baobab tree at the Macalister Lane intersection in George Town
Image credit: Google Maps

Penangites take pride in our efforts to become a green state. If the local government has any plans to cut down trees, they can be sure that they’ll need to face the wrath of the local community activists first. 

Cases in point: In 2016 and 2018, groups of locals marched in protest to prevent the cutting down of 21 trees to widen the roads. The NGO members hugged trees as a sign of protest, signaling their preference to keep the roads as is. Penang Island City Council Engineering Department then resorted to transplanting the trees with minimal damage to the roots. 

We even have a published book Heritage Trees of Penang where 200 trees and the stories behind them are featured. The oldest planted tree in Penang is a 149-year-old baobab tree that was planted in 1871 by a British explorer named Captain Speedy.

8. Penangites are Penang’s best ambassadors

Penangite traits - I love Penang
Image credit:

I know it’s a little oxymoronic to say this after acknowledging our love for complaining, but Penangites love to sing praises about Penang – when we’re not on our tiny island. 

We praise our good governance, our food, and we make it a hobby to hog conversations and make them about Penang. And no, we’re #notsponsored by the Penang tourism board. 

9. Penang drivers are great at manoeuvring in tight spaces

Penangite traits - Burmah Road
There are supposedly three lanes on Burmah Road, Penang. But the question remains, how many lanes can you see?
Image credit: @yanochka.leo

If you intend to drive around Penang Island, you need to be mentally prepared that there are many narrow lanes here, and that most drivers here will not hesitate to squeeze in tight with the car next to them.

Because of this, a 4-lane road can magically turn into 5 during a traffic jam and make three-point turns in tight spaces – basically, we treat the road like a Tetris game, or a cat who has found a box. Where it fits, the car slides in. 

10. Penang locals double as tourists of the state

Penangite traits - Penang festivals
Image credit:

As a Penangite, I must admit that we have an overwhelming sense of pride when it comes to our state’s gems – be it food, attractions or events. 

I’ve said enough about the food. So I’ll just name-drop the lovely beaches in Batu Ferringhi, Teluk Bahang, and Balik Pulau, and the gorgeous Penang Hill that’s accessible via a two-hour hike or a 5-minute funicular train ride – all of which locals love to visit too. 

Furthermore, locals also often participate in local festivals such as our annual George Town Festival and Penang Literary Festival, along with other street and food festivals too.

Penangite traits of a born and bred Penang kia

With all that said, Penangites are pretty cool people despite our weird, overprotective stance toward our home state. We are a little stingy, but never too stingy to belanja makan at mamak; we are complainers, but boast about our state too; we are somewhat kiasu but our lifestyles are pretty laid back; and we will still travel around Malaysia for food even though we think that our food is really great.

Read more Malaysian perspectives here:

Cover image adapted from: @moook

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