Penang’s 211-year-old temple wins UNESCO cultural heritage conservation award

The following article was prepared by Opalyn Mok for Malay mail on 1st December 2021

GEORGE TOWN, Dec 1 — The Thai Pak Koong (Ng Suk) Temple in Penang received the Award of Merit at the 2021 Unesco Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation today.

The temple was one of nine projects from six countries and the only one in Malaysia to be given the award this year.

The Unesco jury of heritage experts picked the nine projects from Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia out of 39 entries from 12 countries across the Asia Pacific.

Unesco Bangkok announced the list of award recipients at noon today.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, who announced the award in an online press conference today, said the temple’s Fu De Ci Restoration Project was recognised for its excellence in three main areas, namely a full understanding of its history, its technical accomplishments in the project and its sustainability and impact.

He said the last time Penang received the Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation was back in 2008 for restoration works on Suffolk House.

“On behalf of the state government, I would like to congratulate the temple committee on this exemplary restoration project and for winning the Unesco award,” Chow said.

PENANG 01/12/2021: The view of Thai Pak Koong (Ng Suk) Temple, which bagged the 2021 Award of Merit for UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation here at Lebuh King on December 1st. PICTURE BY SAYUTI ZAINUDIN

He also paid homage to the late Tan Yeow Wooi, the conservation architect for the project, who had contributed towards the success of the conservation project.

The temple restoration committee chairman and vice president Datuk Lio Chee Yeong dedicated the award to Tan as he said the architect had conducted an in-depth research into the history of the temple and its architectural style to ensure the conservation efforts were of the highest standards.

“The temple was built in 1810 but a few renovations were done over the years that were no in compliance with strict heritage conservation guidelines so this restoration project was to ensure that everything was done in full compliance,” he said.

Lio said the roof, which was cemented in one of the renovations done about 15 years ago, was torn out and changed to reflect the original architecture from 100 years ago.

“The style of restoration we adopted was according to the early 1900s style and we would also like to thank George Town World Heritage Incorporated for their valuable input in this project,” he said.

The total cost of the restoration was about RM3 million and Lio said they still owed around RM600,000.

He thanked the state government for allocating RM400,000 for the project and a majority of the other funds were contributed by donors.

He hoped the state might consider allocating more funding so that the temple could settle the debt amassed during the restoration works.

“This award is not only for our temple but for Penang and Malaysia to showcase our diverse culture and heritage that can stand out internationally,” he said.