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    Posted December 20, 2013 by
    penang, Malaysia
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    Re-purposed buildings

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    Repurposed Buildings: A New Lease on Life


    Fascinating Penang, Malaysia


    I’ve always loved all things retro. Call me old-fashioned but I have a strong liking towards all things historical. There is a mysterious sense of wonderment, anticipation and just plain magic encased in antiquities but my true passion will always be repurposed buildings.


    There are many excellent building conversions all around the world, and noteworthy ones include the Tropical Islands Resort located within a decommissioned Soviet airship hangar in Krausnick and the Hotel Costa Verde in Costa Rica. The former is a breathtaking repurposed building that put other 5-star resorts to shame while the latter is a one-in-the-world exclusive hotel suite build around a salvaged Boeing 727 airplane.


    With all the beauty and awesomeness that surrounds the repurposed buildings mentioned above, I have to confess that my favorite choice lies in my hometown of Penang, Malaysia. Also known as the Pearl of the Orient, Penang Island (or Pulau Pinang by the natives), the island is best known for its rich multicultural history and its status as the “food paradise” in this part of South-east Asia.


    A fresh breath of life


    I was born in Penang and learned to appreciate old things that are rich in historical value. I learned that once gone, these things can never be replaced. Luckily enough, the authorities and community here share the same thought. There are more repurposed buildings here in Penang than other parts of the country. Old theaters were refurbished to become stately museums, colonial buildings that used to house school classrooms became galleries and rundown shop houses became boutique hotels.


    My favorite repurposed building in this island has got to be the Edelweiss Café. 150-year-old pre-war shop lots located at the legendary Armenian Street, Penang, house the famous Edelweiss Café in what was known as the old Chinatown. The café offers affordable European comfort food and a handful of local dishes. When quizzed about the limited local fare in the menu, the owner said that it makes more sense to offer something not readily available on the streets. People would usually only pay above-average prices for non-local cuisines which are already offered cheaply by street vendors, and to this I readily agree.


    I had the pleasure of revisiting Edelweiss Café during a recent trip back to my hometown in Penang. I proudly showed my friends from Boston several historical landmarks in the town but the highlight of the day was when we had lunch in Edelweiss Café.


    “It’s just like an oasis!” one of them exclaimed. I delighted in watching his pleasure as he took in everything, from curious artifacts and antique kitchenware to amusing sculptures like the one of a man fishing from a toilet bowl.

    We spoke briefly to the café’s gregarious owner, Teresa. She was a visionary proprietress with a humble beginning, and has been operating the café for the past two decades and is considered a certified tour guide specializing in heritage tours around Penang Island. She was every bit the gracious hostess and showed off proudly the many little trinkets displayed in the café, regaling us with amusing stories while we savor our delicious meal.


    Why it’s so special to me


    To me, the café looked pretty much the same as it did years ago when I was a child.


    When I was young, I used to wander about the old Chinatown with my sister. Café Edelweiss was a place that offered comfort when I needed it. It was also all the more meaningful because I had my first taste of Swiss delicacies at Edelweiss. I would spend hours reading and drawing there, sipping a tall glass of strawberry milkshake, and years later, I would be doing the same, getting lost in the nostalgia invoked by the sight and scent in the establishment.


    The essence of a repurposed building does not only include the esthetics, but also the true value of history preserved. It is a slice of times gone by, captured and enclosed in an architectural marvel that would forever remain dear to those who know and love it. And I’m glad I’ve found my very own slice of conserved history.


    (Johan Boger)

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