Did you know Penang island is shaped like a turtle? Each of its four flippers at the corner tip on the island, where the northeast corner is the most urbanised.
The southeast corner was once a small fishing village called Batu Maung. I remember this village for its rustic local “choo char” place (literally means “cook and fry”) that specialised in fresh seafood and other local dishes. My parents would take the family there on a weekend. Although I was still young, I do remember the place very well because it was special unlike any other places that I have been. The “choo char” place was built on stilts above sea water hanging on the side of a granite slope with wooden planks connected to the shoreline of trees. It was a favourite family spot for locals. The interesting part of getting to the “choo char” place was carefully track a narrow dirt path and respect the tiny shrine of “Sam Poh Tong” and the “footprint” on the rock along the way. Stories has it that several kids have tripped over the footprint when it was dark because of its uneven surface. This was how I remember the place.
Unfortunately, much has been lost. Batu Maung is not a small village anymore and the biggest disappointment for me was the destruction of the much loved local seaside “choo char” place. The area has changed with new high-rise condominiums, townhouses, gated community, shopping mall and bigger and wider roads.
The good thing is the history of Sam Poh Tong is preserved with a proper temple built in 1993 replacing the tiny old shrine. The coastal view is better now with the fishing trawlers moored side by side and a distance view of the longest bridge in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. The main temple hall now housed the deity and footprint rock. Local fishermen will pray to Sam Poh for a safe voyage and a good catch before they leave.
Local folklore of the footprint among the Chinese is that it came from Admiral Cheng Ho, locally known as “Sam Poh Kong”, a Muslim eunuch explorer from China in the 15th century who led seven sea expeditions across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea between 1405 and 1433. Appointed as Chief Envoy by the Ming Emporer of China, “Sam Poh Kong” led a flotilla of 240 ships with 27,800 crewmen, Cheng Ho’s voyages visited more than thirty countries is a famous great maritime human history.