Banksy has started something. From the back streets of Bristol he has launched a movement that has seen the development of two clear strands - graffiti and street art. People have mixed feelings about graffiti - some see it as vandalism while others enjoy a bit of bright paint along grubby stretches of wall.
Street art is different. And it has found its own expression in the streets of Penang (I hesitate to say 'unique' - just because I've not encountered it before doesn't mean you can't find it anywhere else.)
Many of these images include a static object with the painting attached to it. For example: these children are perched on a real bicycle:
This is my favourite - although some wag has put a cardboard coffee mug on the shelf above this little boy's hand (carefully cropped from this picture) I like to think of him reaching for the stars.
And then there are some huge images, such as this cat, which is almost too big and feels a bit posed to me:
And this rather dreamy face which I love (you can get some idea of the size of this from the windows!)
These are all very modern. They are Penang's way of saying, 'We might be a World Heritage Site but we're not all old buildings and history.' But the history is there, and some of it beautifully preserved. This is the Blue Mansion - once the home of a rich Chinese businessman and now a hotel with tours for tourists.
Like many Chinese buildings it stretches back with a series of internal courtyards. The guide told us, at some length, about the beliefs underpinning the design of these buildings. Many of them revolved around the need to make money and display it, such as a conviction that by building steps up into your living quarters you could ensure that your income would rise. Any rain that fell into courtyards should drain away slowly - and then the family would hold onto its income and money wouldn't leak away. I confess it feels like superstition to me, but there's no escaping the fact that this mansion belonged to a very wealthy family. (And I've no doubt some of my belief systems look equally unlikely to some Chinese people.)
That said, I didn't take photos of the steps nor narrow drains, but instead tried to capture the ornate railings and sense of serenity in this little courtyard. Which, for me, was far more significant than any thoughts of money.
And that little boy is reaching up for something vital without the help of steps or slowly-draining water.