GEORGE TOWN: It was a case of you don’t know what you have until you lose it, as thousands of Penangites and out-of-towners scrambled to get their last ride on Penang’s open-decked ferries before they go out of service on Jan 1.
So desperate were they, that they were willing to wait for more than two hours, even fighting the need to answer the call of nature.
On the Butterworth side, the queue for cars stretched some 1km away, with cars snaking all the way to the Jubilee clock tower. When they finally got on board, they made a beeline to the ferries’ tiny toilets and had to deal with another long queue there.
For the Cheng Wei Chun family, their wait began at 2.40pm and by the time they drove into the bowels of the Pulau Talang Talang ferry, it was past 5pm.
Cheng was among those who climbed the steep, narrow steps to get to the passenger deck where the washroom is. By the time he got back to his car, the ferry was almost ready to dock and he could not be interviewed.
Others who could speak to the media were disappointed over the retirement of the ferries. Butterworth native Kelly Saw, 41, said it was a big deal for him, as the ferry was the icon of the provincial capital.
He said back in the late 1980s and 1990s, people of Butterworth looked forward to the ferries every weekend for their leisurely activities. Most in the port town did not own a car back then and worked on the island, he said.
“At one point, we only had the Grand and Fajar supermarkets, and the island had many more shopping complexes. We would look forward to our weekend trips on the ferry.
“The ferry is an integral part of Butterworth. Although we have cars now, the ferries were our soul, an icon we are proud of,” he said.
Foot passenger Saw brought along his wife Valerie Loh, 36 and his two young children aged 10 and four on their ferry ride, to have hawker fare at Weld Quay.
While many ferry passengers were seen taking in the cool breeze and snapping selfies and wefies on a hot afternoon, some crowded around artist Khoo Cheang Jin, who is sketching daily life on board the ferry.
He has been on the ferry since Dec 20, trying to capture fleeting moments, from those scanning their temperature at the gates, to the ferry attendants opening up the gates upon docking.
The 57-year-old island-native also said he was saddened over the retirement of the ferries. Recalling older times on the ferry, he said much has changed.
“Twenty years ago, I would have sketched a bigger variety. People chatted, read newspapers, dozed off in cars. Today, all I see is people on their phones,” he said.
For senior citizen Endon Abdullah, 66, the ferry remains a novelty. It was only her second ride on a sea-going vessel in all her life, as she lives in Temerloh, Pahang. Her last such trip on the ferry was in the 1990s.
Kajang-based banker Shahrullrizal Sulaiman, 44, a regular in Penang, said at least one of the old ferries should be maintained.
“Penang people take great pride in their ferries, we should keep it for good. At least run one old ship with 50% capacity,” he said.
One of the old ships will actually continue running at least until July 2022 but it will not have foot passengers or cars. Only motorcycles, bicycles and trishaws will be allowed on board.