A Journey in Search of Heritage
Alixe here, I’m a Malaysian-born photographer based in London. I’ve created a guide inspired by the newest member of the Portraits family – Arthur, whose adventures in search of spirituality and meaning have taken him all over the globe. Follow me on a journey to learn more about my Chinese heritage, as I show you around some of the most enchanting places in Penang, an island north of Malaysia.
Personally, Penang is significant to me as my maternal hometown. However, it is also one of the very few places in Asia where unparalleled efforts have been executed to preserve and protect its history and culture. As one of the major settlements of the Straits Chinese community who migrated to Southeast Asia seeking opportunities, artefacts are well-preserved which authentically express the identity of the Straits Chinese – making Penang one of the best places to discover the history of this community.
Cheong Fatt-Tze Mansion
Built by the Chinese merchant Cheong Fatt-Tze (1840–1916) at the end of the 19th century, the mansion is a prime example of Straits Chinese Eclectic architecture. The distinctive indigo blue that coats the exterior hints at its endearing local nickname, The Blue Mansion.
While visiting, I was amazed by the perfect balance between elegance and eclecticism in the design features of this mansion. The impressive restoration efforts brought back the house’s past glory, which I was honoured to experience. Parts of the building were converted into a boutique hotel so that guests could fully immerse themselves in its architectural ambiance.
Pinang Peranakan Mansion
Originally named as Hai Kee Chan or Sea Remembrance Hall, this mansion was completed in 1895 by the Chinese tycoon, Chung Keng Quee (1827–1901). The design included features from both European and Chinese influences, such as wood panels made by Chinese craftsmen, floor tiles from Stoke-on-Trent and ironwork from Glasgow.
While the past life of this mansion was a residence of Chung, it’s reincarnated into a museum housing antiques of the Peranakan (people with mixed Chinese and Malay heritage) community.
Temples and clan houses in Georgetown
As all of Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s well worth an aimless wander – you’ll be sure to stumble upon something unexpected. A variety of large and small Taoist temples and Chinese Clan houses are scattered all over Georgetown – which I found to be a welcoming respite from the bustles of the city. The candy-coloured shophouses with clear signs of age firmly ground me in the presence of my ancestors – bringing me back to a time where they have found a new lease of hope and a sense of endless possibilities in a foreign land that they had chosen to call home.
Having been able to explore Penang with a conscious effort to learn about my ancestry, I felt I have embarked on a similar spiritual quest as the one Arthur has taken. I have certainly grown in appreciation and pride for my culture and heritage, as well as in the understanding of my identity.
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