Our Penang Tour by Lily Chen
2016 8th International Reunion
Our pre-reunion tour was Penang. Penang is a Malaysian state located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia, by the Strait of Malacca. It has two parts: Penang Island, where the capital city, George Town, is located, and Seberang Perai, on the Malay Peninsula.
The bus came to pick us up at 9am the morning of our tour. We had a lot to cover and our guide was anxious to get started. However, we had unexpected attendees who decided to fly from KL to Penang to join our group. The bus had enough seats to accommodate our group who registered, but due to the 6-8 unexpected guests, our host, Dennis, immediately arranged for another van to accommodate the overflow. We lost about an hour of our tour time.
Nevertheless, once we were on our way, there was much excitement among many of us as we have never been to Penang and have heard glowing reviews of this lovely place. We visited several landmarks, each offered interesting history. On our first day, we visited a typical Penang Peranakan Mansion.
The Peranakans, also known as the Babas and Nyonyas, was a prominent community of acculturated Chinese unique to this part of the world, especially in the Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca and Singapore) hence its other name, the Straits Chinese. Adopting selected ways of the local Malays and later, the colonial British, the Peranakans had created a unique lifestyle and customs which had not only left behind a rich legacy of antiques but its cultural influences like cuisine and language are still evident in Penang today.
At the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, the typical home of a rich Baba of a century ago is recreated to offer a glimpse of their opulent lifestyle and of their many customs and traditions. With over 1,000 pieces of antiques and collectibles of the era on display, this Baba-Nyonya museum is also housed in one of Penang’s heritage mansion of eclectic design and architecture. Built at the end of the 19th century by one of local history’s famous personalities, the ‘Hai Kee Chan’ or Sea Remembrance Store had once served as the residence and office of Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee. Though not a Baba himself, his Chinese courtyard house was much like a typical large Baba home of eclectic style, incorporating Chinese carved-wood panels and English floor tiles and Scottish ironworks. Having survived the many decades of neglect and decay, the mansion has now been restored to its former glory of a stately home.
We were taken on a tour by a friendly 80 year old lady who was the owner of the house. She was excited to show us the mansion and tell us the history of her home. Her wealth of knowledge was so captivating that we stayed longer than time allocated. In order words, we held up the bus!!
Main Entrance of the Mansion
Living room where they received guest
We also visited the famous Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple, George Town. This temple is directly opposite the Thai Temple. It is one of few Burmese Buddhist Temples outside of Myanmar. The peaceful place allows visitors to spend some time reflecting on their lives while experiencing the culture of Burmese Buddhists.
Ariel view of the temple and entrance to temple
First evening dinner was held at the Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion
When our bus arrived at the Blue Mansion, we were greeted by Dennis (host) and a show of Lion dance. The welcome was warm and once we entered the grounds, picture taking was a must. As we entered the grand main entrance, we were greeted by Cindy (Dennis’ better half) who handed each of us a “goodie” bag. To quench our thirst, glasses of cool white wine awaited at the table by the entrance (compliments of Dennis Tan). Dinner was outstanding and delicious. Half way through our dinner, we were entertained by the Dragon dance, all dressed in black. Great entertainment! After the dance, the dragon went to each table where they received generous tips.
Dennis had hired a band that played our favorite oldies but goodies only. We were serenaded by the band whose singer had a lovely voice. The mike was passed around the room to anyone who wished to sing. After dinner, Mra Tun and Michael Myo Thant took over the band and played a few songs. Dancing ensued when the songs of our era were sung. The first to the dance floor were Liz Lekrany de Meyier and Limbo Kusardi who warmed up the floor for the other dancers. Soon the floor was packed with dancers.
Photos of the Blue Mansion
The Blue Mansion is a perfect epitome of the grandeur and achievements of Cheong Fatt Tze, which to date remains an iconic figure in the fabric of Penang’s vibrant heritage.
The story began in the late 19th Century, where Cheong Fatt Tze aspired to house his descendants in a home that personifies the essence of majesty and elegance.
Not long after, the bricks were laid with painstaking and arduous detail after a thorough consultation with the era’s leading Feng Shui master. While many of his Hakka friends and relatives took interest toward modern Anglo-Indian Houses, Cheong Fatt Tze loved the sophisticated beauty of traditional Chinese houses. More than anything, he wanted to preserve his heritage and share his love of culture and tradition through architecture.
A fantastic night was had by all!
The following day, we visited a few more temples and stopped at souvenir shops to buy knick knacks. We were taken to the Clan Jetties Floating Village. Clan Jetties form part of the Penang Heritage Trail. There used to be seven jetties until one was demolished by fire and now six remain. Billed as one of the last bastions of old Chinese settlements on the island, this waterfront society is home to houses on stilts of various Chinese clans. Located straight down from Lebuh Chulia (beside the Kapitan Kling Mosque) at Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay), these water villages are over a century old. Each jetty is named after a Chinese clan – the Chew Jetty is the most tourist-friendly with the most stilt-houses, the longest walkway.
Our second evening dinner was at the Suffolk House. The Suffolk House refers to two early residences built on the same site located some four miles west of George Town, Penang, on the banks of the Air Itam River (Black Water River in the Malay language). The earliest of the two buildings is notable for serving as the residence of Francis Light, the founder of the British settlement on the Prince of Wales Island, commonly known as Penang Island. Following Light’s death in 1794, and with Penang becoming the fourth presidency of India in 1805, a newer Suffolk House replaced the original house, assuming multiple roles and was later neglected before its current restoration.
The mansion and the estate it was built on, the Suffolk Estate, is presumably named after Suffolk county in England. Light was born in Dallinghoo, Suffolk, in East Anglia.
Before dinner, we all congregated at the balcony where wine was served. We were given “funny” glasses, hats, etc. to put on for our pictures. The band that played for us at the Blue Mansion, followed us to the Suffolk House. Once again, they played and sang ‘our’ songs while we ate our buffet dinner.
Another fun and fantastic evening! Went back to hotel utterly exhausted from 2 days of packed sightseeing. The following morning after breakfast, we sadly bid good bye to Penang as our bus headed to The Everly Putrajaya for our big event, our 8th international reunion.
Note: descriptions of the landmarks listed were taken from their website