The Peranakan Mansion in Penang, Malaysia

The last interesting place I wrote about was the highly perverse Viktor Wynd museum in London. This one is rather different, but my reservations are all the same. I suppose visiting places that house a personal story is not very different from watching a biographical film. It’s very entertaining because they satisfy your inner busybody and more or less make up for the lack of imagination in your life. You are fed with a plot – in this case, a floorplan – and are strung along, one ceramic vase after another, as a hearsay story unfolds in front of your eyes. You often don’t know what is true, and what is dramatised and fabricated only to heighten your curiosity about an unelected elite with deep pockets and a lot of wives. This is his studies, where he used to burn the midnight oil, here’s the pen he used, the pipe he smoked, the desk where his 8th son was conceived and later, named after.

This time, the Peranakan Mansion is a heritage building in Malaysia. This place has a green facade, sits at Church Street in Georgetown and was owned by one of the richest men in the city in 19th century, Kapitan Chung Keng Quee who turned out was not a Baba/Peranakan himself… The inside is full, flamboyant, a re-enactment of how the affluent Peranakan families used to live.

The Peranakans are the crossbreeds of the Chinese settlers and the aborigines in the Malay and Indonesian Archipelagos. They are the beginning of multi-racialism and the start of self-identification in this part of the world. They speak a mix of Hokkien dialect, Malay and various loan words from the Dutch (who was a coloniser) and the Portuguese (ditto).

The Peranakans have a lot of stories to tell. Their cultures are rich; their costumes are vibrant, beaded, tasseled and hand sewn; their food comes from a wok with a heavy note of Malay spices. They are big on ancestor worship and believe in many superstitions – if your left eye keeps twitching, something bad is about to happen; if a butterfly flies into your shop, your business will take off.

We hopped from one room to another, all centred around a courtyard. There is a game room, an opium room and multiple dining rooms, one of which is flanked by a pair of timber partitions that act as a ‘ spirit wall’ to ward off evil spirits. Upstairs, there is a bridal room, a room full of glassware. Attached to the house is an ancestral temple.

Some say this is a cultural site. Some say this is now reduced to an Instagram hot-spot. But regardless which camp you take, thank goodness it is not a culture overkill. If you can’t appreciate the amount of effort they have put into maintaining this place, it’s an extremely good buffer against overeating in Penang. So at MYR 20 a pop, I think you should go.

^ not sure if it’s right posing in front of the Cheung’s ancestral altar after calling him a bluff. But I think I look pretty chirpy here, so maybe Instagram camp it is. Have a good one for the rest of the week.

With love x

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