Timothy Tye
Sia Boey 社尾

Sia Boey, George TownSia Boey, George Town (6 February, 2013)

Sia Boey (Penang Hokkien: Sia33 Boey4 社尾 ) is the name for a locality within George Town. It means "Town's End" (literally, "tail end of the settlement") in Hokkien. The name came about in the 19th century, when George Town reached only to the Prangin Canal. Until the mid 19th century, the area beyond the Prangin Canal has not been developed yet. There were at that time a few attap houses here that formed a small Chinese village or settlement called Koay Kangnga (Hokkien: Koay1 Kang3nga4 , Chinese: 過江仔), meaning "Beyond the River". It was located where Maxwell Road and Komtar are sited today.

360° Street View of Sia Boey

By the 1870's there were plank bridges across the Prangin Canal. A bridge that linked Beach Street to the path beyond (yet to be called Bridge Street / Jalan CY Choy) was named Anson Bridge, after Archibald Anson, who served as Lieutenant Governor of Penang, Resident Councillor of Penang (1867-1882), and Major General of Singapore (as cross reference, read Governors of the Straits Settlements). The bridge has since disappeared, as the size of Prangin Canal has reduced to a ditch.

Site of former Sia Boey Market, now standing empty and idleSite of former Sia Boey Market, now standing empty and idle (19 March 2010)

From the late 19th century to the turn of the 20th century, George Town experienced rapid growth. The coastline was extended out through land reclamation, creating the Chinese Trades Neighbourhood bordered by China Street Ghaut to the north, Beach Street to the west, Weld Quay to the east and Sia Boey to the south.

The population of George Town also experienced a boom during the final decades of the 19th century, and this transformed Sia Boey area from a quiet riverside produce station into a bustling market area. This market did not materialise overnight, but grew out of the market activity that increased in tandem with the rise in the population of George Town.

Salted fish being dried above the covered Prangin CanalSalted fish being dried above the covered Prangin Canal (4 December 2008)

By the mid 20th century, the very mention of "Sia Boey" conjured images of a neighbourhood of bustling market activity. The Sia Boey precinct begins south of Malay Street, and continues all the way to Magazine Road. Within this area, one find activities related to the wet market, including the drying of salted fish in the open, the gunny sacks filled with onions and potatoes, the shops selling rattan products, basketware, animal feed, fertilizers and pesticides, and so on. These wholesalers occupy the southern end of Beach Street. They either provide auxiliary services to the market activity of Sia Boey or are the main players in the import-export trades of George Town.

By the late 1970's, the urbanisation of George Town began to threaten the very existence of Sia Boey. This is compounded by the stagnant waters of the Prangin Canal, which was deemed unsanitary. By then, much of the canal has been covered up. So it isn't surprising that those who were born in the 1980's and thereafter have no idea where the Prangin Canal is located. (Read also: Forgotten Canals of George Town)

Pre-war shophouses at junction of Tek Soon Street with Maxwell Road, awaiting their 'death sentence'Pre-war shophouses at junction of Tek Soon Street with Maxwell Road, awaiting their 'death sentence' (19 March 2010)

In my opinion, one of the most pitiful travesties was the forced relocation of the Sia Boey Wholesale Market to Macallum Street Ghaut. It entirely destroyed the character of this part of George Town. At the time of the forced relocation, the area was earmarked to be the new transportation hub for George Town.

This never come to pass, and for years, the Sia Boey site was left idle. In the meanwhile, the surrounding shophouses were left to fall apart. As a member (and former Council Member) of the Penang Heritage Trust, I lament the lack of appreciation for the historic value of the shophouses in the area, particularly those along Maxwell Road and Tek Soon Street. These are often left to rot and once they are falling apart, used as an excuse not to rescue them. The act, to me, is like withdrawing medicine from your dying grandmother.

Old Sia Boey Market BuildingOld Sia Boey Market Building (19 March, 2010)

Updates on Sia Boey

8 August: The Star Metro reports the discovery of the foundation of an old building, believed to be an old police station, at the Sia Boey site. Artefacts such as Chinese and European ceramic shards were also found.

7 September, 2015: The Star reports that Sia Boey will be transformed into a premier art district in the country. The development costing RM100 million will preserve the pre-war shophouses in the area which will be restored, and will have art galleries, studios, eateries, schools and work places.

According to Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng, the site will be served by the Light Rail Transit (LRT) which will have its line cutting through the site to give easy access to the public. The Penang Development Corporation signed an agreement with Yayasan Haji Zainuddin to set up an iconic art museum on the site. The museum will be called Ilham Penang. To this end, Yayasan Haji Zainuddin is given a 30+30-year lease on the 0.6-hectare site. Ilham Penang will have 45,000 square feet of gallery space, making it the largest art museum of its kind in the country. Features of the museum include an inhouse café or restaurant, a library, a 200-seat auditorium and storage facilities for artwork. A public exhibition is held at Sia Boey till 13 September, 2015.

1 August 2012: The Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng that the 1.8-hectare Sia Boey area will be turned into a heritage enclave. In particular, the shophouses along Maxwell Road will be preserved, restored and adaptively reused. Prangin Canal will likewise be restored.

31 May 2012: The Penang State Government is attempting to bring Sia Boey back to life. This is a project under Komtar Phase 5, and is implemented under a Business Improvement District Scheme (BIDS) through ThinkCity (the special project vehicle of Khazanah Nasional, the investment holding arm of the Government of Malaysia). Among the proposals being considered was to turn Sia Boey into a town square - perhaps similar to those in European towns - a place where people converge to enjoy various activities.

View of Sia Boey along Prangin Road (Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong)View of Sia Boey along Prangin Road (Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong) (4 December 2008)

What should we do with Sia Boey

My opinion is that the Sia Boey area should be preserved for the enjoyment of all people in Penang. It should never be given away to a developer to build more high-rise condominiums in the city. The Prangin Canal should be uncovered, cleaned up, deepened and perhaps widened, so that pleasure sampans can cruise through it. The shophouses along Tek Soon Street and Maxwell Road should be restored and used for cultural activities. Their history should also be recorded and showcased.

I suppose one person's lamentation is insufficient to save Sia Boey. So I appeal to all stakeholders, every Penangite, to throw his weight behind saving and restoring Sia Boey. No, we can't bring back the wet market, but we could turn Sia Boey into a cultural precinct that is congruent with the expectations of a modern, urban society, one that celebrates its heritage and returns life and character to this part of George Town.

Dilapidated shophouse on Tek Soon Street allowed to fall apartDilapidated shophouse on Tek Soon Street allowed to fall apart (19 March 2010)

Street Art

Nearby Sights

Coffee Shops and Restaurants in Sia Boey

Tek Soon Street looking like a war zone, with shophouses deliberately left to rotTek Soon Street looking like a war zone, with shophouses deliberately left to rot (19 March 2010)

Nearby Shopping

Getting there

From the Komtar Bus Terminal, turn right and walk along Lebuh Tek Soon until Lebuh Lintang. Then turn left, walk along Lebuh Lintang until Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong. Turn right, walk along Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong. Sia Boey is located after the junction of Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong with Lebuh Carnavon.

View Sia Boey, George Town in a larger map

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