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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi

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If there's one place in Penang that can literally make you fall on your knees upon seeing it, then it must be Cannon Square's exquisite Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi 龙山堂邱公司.

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, George Town, Penang

Completed in the year 1906 at the height of the Khoo clan's eminence in early Penang society, the Khoo Kongsi is widely hailed as Southeast Asia's grandest and most elaborate Straits Chinese clanhouse. Nearly everything was shipped from China: construction materials, master craftsmen, artisans, and sculptors. One of the trishaw drivers there even told us Indians were involved in the construction of the Khoo Kongsi. Being my top favourite of all the sights and sounds along the heritage trail, I'm dedicating this whole entry to this fantabulous place.

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, George Town, Penang

Interestingly, the present building is actually a scaled-down version of the original clanhouse. The previous one was razed by fire (allegedly struck by lightning) on Chinese New Year's Eve, and legend has it that its ostentatious extravagance and resemblance to Beijing's Forbidden City imperial palace complex had provoked the wrath of the Chinese gods.

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, George Town, Penang

I can't really find words to describe the splendour of the clanhouse. Not even pictures! In order to understand what I'm trying to convey, you must make a trip here and feel the aura yourself. The magnificence of the Khoo Kongsi is unparalleled of any heritage buildings I've seen thus far. The only thing I can say is that I was truly overwhelmed by its opulent showcase of classical Chinese architecture. Made me feel like singing Take My Breath Away...

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, George Town, Penang

If you happen to miss the previous parts of my PENANG HERITAGE TRAIL travel series, do check these out...

PART I. : Francis Light's footsteps: Penang's colonial legacy
PART II : An island's love affair with Great Britain
PART III: Abodes where angels dwell
PART IV: Pearls of the Nanyang Dragons

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pearls of the Nanyang Dragons

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Penang is like a twin of Singapore. You see... Both are island-states. Both are cosmopolitan and densely populated. Both were founded by the Brits. Both were former British Straits Settlements. Both boast a rich colonial and ethnic heritage. Even the Democratic Action Party (DAP) which holds the majority of seats in Penang traces its history back to the days when it was the Malaysian branch of Singapore's ruling People's Action Party (PAP). And most significant of all, Penang has a Chinese-majority population, just like Singapore.

According to the 2007 demographic statistics, ethnic Chinese accounted for 43.4% of Penang's total population, well over ethnic Malays (40.2%) and Indians (9.9%). This makes Penang the only state in Malaysia where ethnic Chinese forms a plurality. Indeed, you don't need more proof on this. Just walk around its vibrant capital and you'll understand why.

Despite its multicultural façade, George Town is essentially Chinese. Prosperous Chinese businesses and kopitiams (coffeeshops) flank the streets and alleyways of this city. In George Town, chances of you spotting a slitty-eyed Oriental face compared to an olive-tanned indigenous Malay are more than enough for you to strike a jackpot in lottery. Hence it's apt to call George Town the Chinatown of Penang.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, George Town, Penang

Born into a poor Hakka family in Tai Pu, Guangdong Province, China, Cheong Fatt Tze 张弼士 was one of the many rags-to-riches legends typical of the early Nanyang Chinese community. He migrated to the Indonesian island of Java in the mid-19th century and eventually moved his base to Penang after he prospered in his expanding trading empire. During his time in Penang, he brought in teams of master craftsmen from China to build for him this distinctive indigo-blue mansion that boasts 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases, and 220 vernacular timber louvre windows. Today, it's one of the 3 stately Chinese-style dwellings remaining outside of China, and is the only one in Southeast Asia. In the year 2000, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion won the most coveted Award of Excellence in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation.

Han Jiang Ancestral Temple (aka Teochew Temple), George Town, Penang

Originally known as the Teochew Kongsi due to its affiliation with the Penang Teochew Association, the lovely 19th-century Han Jiang Ancestral Temple 韩江家庙 is the epitome of Chinese Teochew architecture. Decades of wear and tear in the past centuries finally culminated in a conservation effort to restore the temple to its former glory. In March 2005, Han Jiang Ancestral Temple reopened its doors to the public. The temple's successful haul of the Award of Merit in the 2006 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation made Penang a 2nd-time winner of the prestigious award. Being a Teochew (on my paternal side) and a Hakka (on my maternal side), I can't help but to feel proud of my heritage. It means a lot when your ancestry and heritage are recognized by a heavyweight international organization like UNESCO.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Penang Base, 120 Armenian Street, George Town, Penang

Hidden in a row of brightly-hued pre-war shophouses is the 120 Armenian Street. Inconspicuous at 1st sight, it was here that the Father of Modern China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen 孙逸仙/孙中山/孙文 and his followers planned the unsuccessful 1911 Canton Uprising against the Qing Dynasty of Imperial China. It was also here that Dr. Sun founded Malaysia's longest-running Chinese-language daily, Kwong Wah Yit Poh 光华日报, as a vehicle for spreading nationalistic propaganda among the local Chinese community. It's unbelievable that a humble place like this could give birth to a great revolutionary idea that would eventually put an abrupt end to China's 2-millenia run of successive imperial dynasties. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lum Yeong Tong Yap Temple (aka Yap Kongsi), George Town, Penang

Penang is home to a number of prominent Chinese kongsis 公司 (clan associations), most of which were founded based on a common surname or dialect group. Otherwise known as the Yap Kongsi, the Lum Yeong Tong Yap Temple 南阳堂叶氏宗祠 was built by the Yap clan who hailed from China's Fujian Province. There are 2 'Yap Temples', both internally connected. The ornamented temple building on the corner is dedicated to the clan's patron deities while the pearl-white Straits Eclectic-style building adjacent to it houses their ancestral tablets.

Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple, George Town, Penang

More famously known as the Cheah Kongsi, the Cheah Si Sek Tek Tong 谢氏世德堂 is the oldest of Penang's Straits Chinese clan associations. Completed in the year 1870, the Cheah Kongsi is a hybrid of a Chinese temple, a Chinese courtyard mansion, and a colonial bungalow. The most intriguing things about this place are its entrance and exit. Basically, there's this scarlet-red wall that runs between the kongsi's entrance and exit so that the one going in can never meet the one going out. Interesting huh?

Cheah Si Sek Tek Tong (aka Cheah Kongsi), George Town, Penang

finale's coming up next...

If you happen to miss the previous parts of my PENANG HERITAGE TRAIL travel series, do check these out...

PART I. : Francis Light's footsteps: Penang's colonial legacy
PART II : An island's love affair with Great Britain
PART III: Abodes where angels dwell

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Abodes where angels dwell

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Religion. Faith. Spirituality. These are some of the things that have never failed to fascinate me since I was young. Those who have known me long enough will know my unfaltering passion for religion, a timeless belief system that far transcends our comprehension regarding the origins of life and the world around us. Whether it's creation or evolution, resurrection or reincarnation, it's a never-ending debate.

If Penang is the microcosm of Malaysia, then naturally George Town is the microcosm of Penang. Besides Kuala Lumpur and Malacca, no where else in Malaysia if not Penang that's seen the rich confluence of religions and the traces left behind by the diverse religious communities. Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and even Jews have all thrived on this tiny piece of land surrounded by seas. Each of these communities not only helped Penang to prosper in its nascent years, but also enriched its cultural and social fabric to this very day.

As an architecture undergraduate, I have to say that of all architectural styles in the world, nothing impresses me more than religious architecture. I'm an ardent fan of traditional European architecture (Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassicism), and more often than not, these architectural styles are pushed to greater heights in church buildings (think St. Peter's Basilica and Duomo di Milano). It's interesting to note that the Roman Catholic Church, being a major religious institution, was particularly instrumental in preserving and cultivating European art and architecture during Europe's Golden Age.

The state capital of Penang is itself an architectural gem in Malaysia. Besides boasting some of the most exquisite colonial-era monuments in the country, George Town is also home to a number of historic houses of worship which have continued to serve the city's faithfuls uninterruptedly for centuries.

Cathedral of the Assumption, George Town, Penang
Cathedral of the Assumption

Situated next to the Penang State Museum is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption, one of Penang's earliest religious landmarks. Shortly after his arrival in Penang in the year 1786, Captain Francis Light arranged for the relocation of the 1st batch of Roman Catholics to the island from their old parish in Kuala Kedah. Many of these early Roman Catholics were descended from unions between European settlers and Siamese women. The day they set foot on Penang marked the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, which is how the cathedral got its name. Originally founded at Church Street by Father Garnault in the same year, the church was later moved to Farquhar Street in 1802. The present church building was built in 1860 by Father Manissol and started service 1 year later. In the year 1955, the church was elevated to the status of cathedral of the Diocese of Penang following a Vatican decree.

St. George's Church, George Town, Penang
St. George's Church

On the other side of the Penang State Museum lies the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia. Built in the year 1816 in the Georgian Palladian architectural style, you can actually see why it's one of my personal favourites among Penang's many heritage buildings. When I was there, I couldn't help myself but to whip out my camera phone to snap, snap, snap! A lovely memorial was erected right in front of the main church building to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Captain Francis Light's founding of Penang. One can spot a lil' resemblance between the church and its larger yet younger brother in Singapore, St. Andrew's Cathedral. St. George's Church was the only Penang landmark to be declared one of the 50 National Treasures of Malaysia by the Malaysian Government last year in conjunction with the country's 50th Independence Day.

Goddess of Mercy Temple (aka Kuan Yin Teng), George Town, Penang
Goddess of Mercy Temple

Also known as the Kuan Yin Teng 观音亭, this temple was built in the year 1801 by the early Chinese settlers on a piece of land granted by the British East India Company. The ornate curved-ridge rooftops were decorated with dragons, an unmistakable symbol of classical Chinese architecture. Being a typical Chinese temple, the very 1st thing that you're gonna see is the incense smoke that permeates the air and passes through every little crack and hole. I could hardly open my eyes the moment I stepped inside the temple. I mean, who's got eyes that are truly smoke-resistant?

Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town, Penang
Masjid Kapitan Keling

Within a short walking distance of the Goddess of Mercy Temple stands the majestic Kapitan Keling Mosque, the largest and oldest historic mosque in Penang. Cauder Mohuddeen, a prominent Tamil Muslim merchant who was also the Kapitan Keling (Indian headman), founded the mosque in the year 1801 after the growing Indian Muslim community was granted an 18-acre lot by the then Lieutenant Governor of Penang, Sir George Leith. Over the years, numerous renovation and expansion works have been carried out until the German Eurasian architect, Henry Alfred Neubronner, was commissioned by the Muslim and Hindu Endowments Board to give the mosque a British Raj Moghul Revival appearance in 1910, a look that the mosque has maintained to this day. Besides the large central dome, the other significant feature of the mosque has got to be its minaret. Soaring gracefully into the clouds, the octagonal-shaped minaret is a conspicuous landmark in the historic quarter, and is easily recognized by domestic and foreign tourists alike. In comparison, however, I still think that Alor Star's very own Masjid Zahir has a more striking exterior. Of course must support my hometown lah, right? :P

Acheen Street Malay Mosque, George Town, Penang
Acheen Street Malay Mosque

Tucked away in the wonderful sounds and smells of Little India is the colourful edifice of the Sri Mariamman Temple, Penang's oldest Hindu temple. With a construction history dating back to the year 1833, the temple is an ideal place of refuge for George Town's Hindu population. The 1st time we were here, the temple gates were closed. On our 2nd trip here, we felt a lil' bit luckier to see the gates opened wide. Carvings of Hindu deities adorned the walls and altars of the temple interiors, which were quite a sight to behold. Although this temple is located in the bustling district of Little India, you'll instantly feel a moment of tranquillity once you step inside. It was probably my 1st time ever visiting a Hindu temple and I enjoyed every single bit of it. Quite an eye-opening experience, really...

Sri Mariamman Temple, George Town, Penang
Sri Mariamman Temple

Just a stone's throw away from the Sri Mariamman Temple is the blue-and-white Nagore Durgha Sheriff Shrine. Founded in the early 1800s by the Tamil Muslim traders, this shrine is dedicated to Syed Shahul Hamid, a 16th-century Indian Muslim saint whose tradition was kept alive here when his followers brought it all the way to Penang from the town of Nagore in Tamil Nadu, South India. A similar shrine can also be found down south in Singapore.

Nagore Durgha Sheriff Shrine, George Town, Penang
Nagore Durgha Sheriff Shrine

to be continued...

If you happen to miss the previous parts of my PENANG HERITAGE TRAIL travel series, do check these out...

PART I : Francis Light's footsteps: Penang's colonial legacy
PART II: An island's love affair with Great Britain

Sunday, June 08, 2008

An island's love affair with Great Britain

Sony Ericsson K800i


I apologize for the long delay. Been very busy with the 20th Architectural Workshop's preparation works and we only have a few hours left! Time's ticking away and we're all very nervous and thrilled. And the highly-anticipated UEFA Euro 2008! Now let's get to the story, shall we? ;)

George Town is so densely-packed that most streets here are narrow, winding, and crowded. This may pose a problem to drivers looking for a parking space but I somehow find this rather interesting as you can spot a lot of eateries and tourist hotspots along one stretch of road. The compact nature of this city makes you feel that George Town is hip and cosmopolitan and, at the same time, filled with old-world colonial charm.

Padang Kota Lama, George Town, Penang
Across this vast field stands 2 exquisite colonial-era buildings side by side ~ the Town Hall and the City Hall. Both were crown jewels of the British administration in Penang.

Not far away from the Fort Cornwallis lies the heart of Penang's administrative powers during the British colonial era. 1st to be seen is the butterscotch-coloured Town Hall. It's so well-preserved till I almost thought that I've stepped back in time! Besides, there's also a quaint little park next to the Town Hall with a 19th-century Victorian fountain as the centrepiece.

Town Hall, George Town, Penang

At the end of the lane stands the majestic City Hall. Possibly the loveliest and grandest of all British heritage buildings on the island, the City Hall was built in 1903 in the British Palladian architectural style. It's been listed as a national monument and is now home to the Municipal Council of Penang Island.

City Hall, George Town, Penang

You may assume that with these grand buildings here, the place will naturally be a magnet for tourists. Strangely, when I was there, there was barely a soul in sight! And it was not early morning or late evening, but 10AM! =.="

A Gothic statue supposedly representing justice was erected just opposite the Court Buildings

This imposing mansion found along the historic trail is now an institute for higher learning

Then we arrived at the Penang State Museum, a stately building which formerly housed the Penang Free School. The museum is home to a wide range of artefacts and cultural exhibits, and shares the same walls with the Penang Art Gallery.

Penang State Museum, George Town, Penang

Once we entered through the museum gates, we saw cars that were once used by the Governors being exhibited at the museum compound. Just in front of the entrance stands a large billboard telling the history of the museum's humble origins.

Check out those large headlamps!

Since we were required to pay a small fee for admission, we didn't go inside. We also didn't have much time to do so, thus we just wandered around its beautiful courtyard where multiple columns were erected in the Greco-Roman style.

And there was even a bathtub used to grow aquatic plants! This small quarter was like an oasis in this bustling city ~ peaceful and tranquil. Love it!

Esplanade, George Town, Penang
Popular among the locals for evening strolls, the Esplanade was the spot where Captain Francis Light 1st landed on the island.

to be continued...

If you happen to miss the previous part of my PENANG HERITAGE TRAIL travel series, do check this out...

PART I: Francis Light's footsteps: Penang's colonial legacy

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Cliffside Malibu Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Center

Alcoholism and drug addiction are no longer uncommon in this new century. They are so deep-rooted in today's culture that they prevail in all layers of society, young and old. Though time-consuming and tough, people from all over the world have pledged to combat these increasingly serious social ills till the very end. Cliffside Malibu is one of them. The establishment of this residential alcohol and drug rehab is to help addicts regain confidence and start a whole new life again.

Besides being a rehabilitation center, Cliffside Malibu also offers extended care facility for adults suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, depression, and other co-occurring disorders. Their comprehensive addiction treatment program is formulated by incorporating various effective clinical components that stay true to Cliffside Malibu's very own rehabilitation philosophy.

In order to help patients recover fast from their addictions, a wide variety of recovery activities have been meticulously planned and prepared for them. With a breathtaking view from the rehab that overlooks the sea, a swimming pool, an in-house gymnasium, tastefully-furnished rooms, and comfortable beds, patients are expected to fully recover upon exiting this drug treatment center. To be frank, Cliffside Malibu appears more to me like a summer resort than a rehabilitation center!

What's good about this rehab is that all residents will be assigned to a primary therapist who manages their care throughout the entire treatment course. It also offers each patient an individualized clinical program that includes individual therapy, cognitive-behavioral groups, process groups, and a family program. Furthermore, all of them will be provided gourmet meals, laundry service, transportation, scheduling of appointments, and Internet access to help them stay connected with the world while being isolated away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

You see... Cliffside Malibu does not treat patients with contempt as one would've imagined, but with utmost respect and dignity!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Let's go for an exotic cruise vacation!

When was the last time you pampered yourself on a cruise trip? 5 years ago? 10 years ago? Or never been on 1 before? If any of these is your answer, it's time for you to put aside all your jobs and worries and head for a fantastic cruise trip that you'll never ever forget for at least a decade down the road! Do I have your attention now? :D

If you think that all cruise trips are priced so exorbitantly high and that's what deterring you from going for it, you gotta think again. Here's Cruise Vacation Center, a cruise travel agency specializing in organizing cruise trips to some of the world's most exotic destinations. From Alaska to Costa Rica, Africa to Southeast Asia; you name it, they have it. And did I tell you that they even have Antartica on their list? Sounds unbelievably cool right?

Get on board their Carnival Cruise Lines to have a taste of the Sin City on the sea. Speaking of this, the cruise line features a built-in casino as well as 1st-class Vegas-style shows! Definitely the place to be if you've got some extra cash to splurge on.

Sail to the 4 corners of the world with Cunard Cruise Lines, the prestigious operator of MS Queen Victoria, RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, and the world's largest ocean liner, RMS Queen Mary 2. Get blown away with the ships' unmatched opulence and magnificence, and prepare yourself to be greeted with surprises that you could ever imagine. If you've been yearning to live like a royalty, then this is certainly your best bet. Their ultimate excellence in service and hospitality means that you'll be treated like a king or queen.

Everybody loves the Big Apple, the self-proclaimed Capital of the World. Cruises from New York give you the opportunity to embark on your anticipated cruise trip from America's beloved city. With numerous cruise lines now calling it home, New York City is perhaps the world's best place to start and end your fun-filled voyage. In addition to the global destinations that your desired cruise will get to visit, New York City is a big attraction in its own right. With world-renowned tourist hotspots like the graceful Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Fifth Avenue, Broadway, as well as Lower Manhattan's enchanting skyline, I'm sure they need no introduction here.

So c'mon... Book your cruise on-line now to get special deals that you'll never gonna get elsewhere. You deserve a perfect holiday getaway that you'll cherish for years to come!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

New home, new life

It's June! How time flies...

Once again, congratulations to all of you who made it to the board in the month of May! Keep all the chups and hugs comin'! My blog needs 'em badly! :P

For the uninitiated, read up more here to learn what this monthly buzz is all about.

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DVDs; belated Mother's Day gifts; Great Architects

I hardly survived after having a splurge at Queensbay Mall. RM200 flew away within just a few hours! O.O

What's worse is that both my wallet and bank account were sucked near dry because of that! *sighs*

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In April, we had a major renovation going on in our home. We live in a double-storey shophouse (not running any shop businesses though) where the ground floor was used as a huge storeroom. For the sake of convenience of my elderly paternal grandparents, that floor was eventually converted into a liveable space consisting of a brand new living room, dining hall, kitchen, bathroom, toilet, and bedrooms for both of them.

And with brand new living spaces come brand new furniture! We bought a new set of sofa, rocking chair, LCD TV, coffee table, cabinet, air-conditioner, and fans. No more clusters upstairs! :D

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