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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pearls of the Nanyang Dragons

Sony Ericsson K800i


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


rainbow angeles said...

Penang chup again!

rainbow angeles said...

u hor.. really a history lover la.. me is not one! my worst subject in school last time :P

day-dreamer said...

Wah wah, your blog really getting harder and harder to load leh!

Chen said...

Wah.. u can write a book on Penang liao :P

I haven't visit those places for ages.. Can't remember when is the last time I did so. It's definitely more than 5 years already :P

zewt said...

good piece of info... that's something singapore dont have eh? :)

eh.... echoing day-dreamer... ya lah... susah to load lah...

kyh said...

rainbow angeles: 5 chups!

Being in architecture requires us to be sensitive to the history and culture of the environment. ;)

I absolutely abhor the history taught in school. You know, it's always about Islam, BN, UMNO... Sien!

day-dreamer: 3 chups!

Why is your broadband so crappy one? I can load mine very well...

Also, don't you have new things to say other than the same old "your blog's getting harder and harder to load"? =.="

Chen: 1 chup!

Must wait for someone to hire me 1st... :P

It's time to revive those memories again then! ;)

zewt: Haha... Thanks!

Got that hard meh? Don't bluff! :P

mistipurple said...

really similar to some of our buildings here. you so clever, clap clap clap!

My Castle in Spain said...

Hi Kyh!

your part of the world is a beautiful mystery i would like to unveil one day...
I hope..

you got me intrigued with your comment about history taught in school. Is it that subjective and one-sided ? interesting to know.

In answer to your question on my blog, the Mezquita mayor in Granada is actually the 1st one which has been built since 1492 in Granada in yes, quite recent.

ps: i see you just got up 10 mn ago?
so have a great day!

kyh said...

mistipurple: Liddat also considered clever? *faints*

My Castle in Spain: Asia is definitely different from Europe in many ways. Even Asian countries distinguish themselves from each other with their own unique languages, cultures, and traditions.

Since Malaysia is officially a Muslim country, all Malaysian students are required to learn about Islam (not Islamic/Qur'anic studies though) during history lessons. Only a few chapters deal with world history, and they are mostly criticisms against European imperialism.

No... The message you saw was written many hours ago! :D

Anonymous said...

Your state govt should thank you for promoting Penang.. I, for one, is now more keen to go there soon.

khengsiong said...

Thanks for sharing your story and photos. Very well written *thumbs up*
I expect to see from you the story of 四姓桥.

So you are proud of your heritage? Most Chinese Malaysians are proud of their heritage. That's why some people got angry when I critique the Beijing government and the ultra-nationalist Chinese.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful pictures! It makes me think of Lantau Island, by Hong Kong.

Anonymous said...

I have never stepped foot in the mansion despite being here for so many years already!

eastcoastlife said...

You are a Teochew! Me too!! Hi 5!

I won't know these beautiful buildings if I had gone to Penang myself. These are too cool. Now need to plan how many days to spend in Penang......

Doreen said...

Now we moving into the oriental side of the beautiful Penang...a place where east meets west!

kyh said...

Jemima: But I'm not a Penangite. :P

Really? Hope to see you here pretty soon! ;)

khengsiong: I did refer to some of the travel sites for these info. ;)

As for the bridge that you mentioned, no, we didn't visit it that time.

It's a normal thing to feel proud of one's heritage. Though I advocate for the One-China policy, I don't support the Chinese Communist Party nor am I a Chinese nationalist. Besides, I consider myself moderately pro-Western. So you see, I'm striking a balance here between China and the West! :D

Zhu: Thanks! I'd love to visit Hong Kong one day...

giddy tigress: We didn't enter it that day. What we did was just taking some pics! ;)

eastcoastlife: Whee... *big hi 5*

You're coming soon? o.O

Doreen: East meets West, that's right! :D

Mr. Goober said...

wah..history thesis??

kyh said...

Of course not! :P

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post and so well documented with great pictures - almost like being there - thanks for sharing!

It reminds me a bit of district when I once was in Kuala Lumpur. To a Norwegian, a very exotic architecture you know.

Anonymous said...

Can you be our tour guide on our next trip to Penang? Our experience is so limited ... only around Gurney area. That is such a shame!

Anonymous said...

wah!! u know your history well!! lol. not my forte but very informative! i can't believe how much u wrote, and i can't believe i actually read thru them all!!

My Castle in Spain said...

Oh...i see.. thanks for the enlightenment, Kyh!

Have a great day!

kyh said...

RennyBA: You've been to Malaysia? I never knew that! I guess you were at KL's Petaling Street or somewhere near that. ;)

Andie Summerkiss: No problem! ;)

George Town is actually very compact and easy to get around. Everything that you wanna see and feel is available along one stretch of road! :D Got web references one ma... ;)

Hor... Did you mean you just skipped through all my previous entries? LOL!

My Castle in Spain: Spain is having a great day, ya? The national football team is going to the finals! Congrats! :D

Anonymous said...

This is a great blog; very informational for me (since I haven't ventured outside of Genting and KL in Malaysia). I am slowing reading some of your previous posts too. BTW, I love the banner on top of the blog!

kyh said...

Thanks! But I hope you don't get turned off by my occasional paid posts and meaningless rants! Haha...