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March 10, 2004

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The British founded Georgetown and kept Malaysia as a colony, trading for spices and mining tin. To mine the tin, the British brought large numbers of Indians into the country, forever altering Malaysia's racial mix. Today, Indians account for 10% of the population. During WWII, the Japanese took Malaysia away from Britain, without the British firing back a shot. Malaysian guerrilla fighters fought the Japanese during their occupation and continued the armed struggle against the British (who returned after WWII) until Malaya gained independence in 1957.

We wandered Georgetown's streets, finding remnants of British, Chinese, Indian, and Islamic influence. Malaysia has developed its tourism industry to the point that a free shuttle bus carries visitors to all major sites within town, each one clearly marked by "Heritage Trail" plaques.

Captain Light, a Briton, founded Georgetown in 1786 on what was then an uninhabited island. He fired a canon loaded with silver coins into the forest to encourage settlement. In his last will and testament, he released his slaves and left sizeable sums of money to his favorite concubines.
Chinese merchant houses compete with highrises for space in Georgetown. The Chinese comprise 33% of Malaysia's population and reputedly dominate the business sector. Some Chinese merchants left evidence of their wealth in the form of great mansions.