George Town: From old to modern chic and expensive

George Town: From old to modern chic and expensive

PENANG - In just three months, best friends Catherine Yeo and Christine Ooi found, leased and refurbished a 103-year-old shoplot, opening Moustache Houze, a cake and coffee cafe, in the heart of George Town in July this year.

Their chic cafe in a 2 1/2-storey building in Campbell Street, barely 5m wide, stands out on a street that used to be filled with goldsmiths when it was known as Sin-Kay or "new street" in the Chinese Hokkien dialect.

This is the frontier of George Town where young, independent entrepreneurs like Ms Yeo and Ms Ooi, both 34-year-old marketing graduates who met at a local college, are turning old spaces into modern chic.

"We want to be part of what brings young people back to the older side of Penang," said Ms Ooi, who had been helping out at her family's Chinese eatery before striking out on her own.

These young people are filling abandoned shophouses from pre-war Penang with modern businesses, fuelling an urban renewal, and giving Kuala Lumpur a run for its money as a must-visit cultural destination.

On the flip side, to the dismay of locals, they are also helping to push up property prices to among the highest in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur.

A walk through these streets can evoke a sense of the old meeting the new, five years after the area - roughly the size of Singapore's Gardens By The Bay - was given heritage status by Unesco.

Its buildings are a mix of the Fujian-style "three-bay" houses with a central courtyard and British colonial-style buildings with Indian influences, imported from British India.

And there's whimsy amid the history. In the alleys of George Town the intrepid explorer can find more than 30 art works on walls in the heritage zone with more being added.

Some of the more popular ones are murals by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic for the 2012 George Town Festival.

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