Kelawei Road or Jalan Kelawei is a major road out of George Town. Until as late as the 1930's, Kelawei Road was still the main road that extended beyond Northam Road (now Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah). At that time, nothing stood between Kelawei Road and the shoreline. Cantonment Road ended at Kelawei Road, which was already near the shore. It was during the late 1930's that Gurney Drive was built, originally being called the New Coast Road, then then renamed Gurney Drive only in 1952. The land reclamation allowed Cantonment Road to be extended, creating what is now called Jalan Pemenang.
Kelawei Road is an example of the result of having no standard way to spell local names. There is no consensus over how the name should be spelled, with the two main variations being Kelawei and Kelawai. I had originally written that the name Kelawei is actually the British transliteration of "Kuala Awal", the local name for the first northern estuary from George Town. However Syed Imran Syed Ahmad, a reader of The Star, clarified that it was instead named after a tree (see details under updates below). This name comes from the original Malay settlement located along Kelawei Road, a remnant of which, known as Kampung Syed, is near Masjid Jamek Al-Munauwar Kelawei, between Edgecumbe Road and Jones Road.
At the start of Kelawei Road was the extravagant home of Chung Thye Phin, the last Kapitan China of Perak. The mansion, long demolished, stood on the grounds of where the twin condominiums called 1 Persiaran Gurney are located today. Farther west along Kelawei Road takes us to the Burmese and Thai settlements, leaving behind their temples such as the Dhammikarama Temple, Wat Chaiyamangkalaram and Wat Buppharam.
Kelawei Road (22 December 2009)
Beyond lay the Eurasian village or Kampung Serani, at and around what is known today as College Square. The Church of the Immaculate Conception is a reminder of the Eurasian legacy on Kelawei Road. Along the road is the Catholic Cemetery that belongs to the church.
Today Kelawei Road is prime real estate and location for numerous skyscrapers and upmarket condominiums that take advantage of its proximity to the city centre as well as the glorious views the location affords.
Updates on Kelawei Road
8 January, 2014: According to Syed Imran Syed Ahmad, writing to the Star, there was no river in Kelawei, and that instead the name Kelawai refers to the roots or akar of the dedawai tree, Myxopyrum nervosum, which is also known as kelawai. From there, the area became known as Tanjong Kelawei, it being one of the five places on the North-East and South-East districts of Penang Island that bear the word "tanjong" to its name. According to Syed Imran Syed Ahmad, the name Tanjong Kelawai, which referred to a Malay fishing village, eventually evolved to simply Kelawai.
27 July, 2013: Traffic flow on Kelawei Road is made one way, with traffic going from east to west.
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