IT’S been two days since we arrived in Penang. Both days have been slightly hectic , as we worked out the kinks and laid the final bits of foundation for what I’d call a working ‘holiday’ (read: work for us; holiday for those we work for).
But all work and no play makes Sarah and the Minx dull girls, so we made sure we had some minutes of fun to break from the tedium.
Following a recce session at the Penang Heritage Trust office and armed with my trusty little Olympus digital cam, we headed to the Pinang Peranakan Mansion just across the road. It’s tough to resist poking about a building that looks like this:
The Pinang Peranakan mansion is an imposing structure of gilded louvres and lattices, frames and screens and pillars — an intricate architectural work of art set amid a row of nondescript shophouses on Church Street. (Above) This is the front of the ancestral temple which is an extension of the main building.
A closer look reveals the sombre yet intriguing facade of the temple.
Getting acquainted with the gate (and checking out the garden within while at it).
The driveway behind the iron gates. (Background) Within the gloomy darkness of the temple, a single bonsai plant stands illuminated by a sliver of sunlight.
The barge that hangs suspended in the air above the temple doors.
No detail is spared from the temple roof.
The entrance into the main building of the Pinang Peranakan mansion. Entry fee is RM10.
Inside, the mansion is huge, each room opening to yet other equally ornate rooms. The mansion, also known as ‘Hai Kee Chan’ or Sea Remembrance Store was built at the end of the 19th century and was the residence and office of Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee (who had a road — where the famous chendol off Penang Road now stands — named after him). The main staircase features handrails with balusters of cast iron from Glasgow. The English floor tiles are a clear contrast to the distinctive Chinese wood carved panels.
Nothing is spared from detail.
The rooms located on the floor above.
An elderly visitor sits amid the main courtyard. The mansion, now a museum showcasing the opulent lifestyle of the Peranakan as well as more than 1,000 antiques and artefacts, sank into disrepair after the death of the Kapitan. It was restored as close as possible to the original by Peranakan architect Peter Soon.
Detailed craftsmanship frames the entrance to the dining hall. One can almost imagine dinner time with the Kapitan at the head of the table surrounded by his family. Servants, almost invisible — as they are meant to be — dart around bringing food steaming from the kitchen for the family. Carved wooden screens (background) can be found in every Baba house and act as ‘walls’ which obstruct the path of evil spirits.
Mirror, miror on the wall. Who’s that chick in the middle of the hall? The quintessentially Baba rosewood/teak furniture inlaid with mother of pearl, and scores of huge mirrors can be found in every section of the house.
The bridal bed bathed in red from sunlight streaming through red window panes.
Closer view of the marriage bed. A bit too ornate for my liking, really.
Much emphasis is placed on the ancestors of the Baba clan.
Upstairs, the wide corridors lead to a balcony which overlooks the open yard below.
Cupboards and other furniture feature carvings and gold trimmings so typical of the Baba Nyonya.
A very oriental Chinese lamp hangs above the Scottish ironworked staircase.
A connecting pathway leading from the main mansion to the ancestral temple.
One more turn through the narrow doorway to the right leads you to the sepulchral stillness of the temple.
A Chinese tourist in the temple courtyard snaps endless shots of the alter.
The grand alter decorated with the proverbial ancestral tablets and prayer paraphernalia. There is an almost tangible solemnity that transcends time in this room. Perhaps, Father Time stands in deference to the powers of the ancestors.
The grand alter adorned with more of the same gilded carvings. I imagine many moments spent in ritualistic prayer as the low and sonorous hum of chanting and the acrid incense smoke pierce the silence of the temple.
The temple opens out into the street beyond.
Good job, girl. Now, to put aside the camera and head back to work.