The Blue Mansion: An Empty House

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It’s official name is the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion, but googling blue mansion Penang will bring it up. It’s won all of these awards from UNESCO and Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor, so I guess I was expecting too much. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a beautiful and historic mansion, and I’d love to stay at their B & B if we had the budget for it, but the tour wasn’t all I was expecting.

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I’ve been to the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok, so I was expecting something like that. Mike and I had dallied online, so we went to the last tour of the day at 3 pm. Also, it was a Saturday. There were a lot of people, not to mention two little girls, one of which was Upset before the tour even began. But worse than that were the adults on the tour who who ignored our guide and went about taking pictures of the interior. Even if they didn’t understand the English language tour, do you have to be so loud that the rest of us can’t hear the one tour guide?

Much was made of how the tour guides were trained. Or guide was a pro as far as entertainment goes. She told a lot of jokes, and gave some background on Cheong Fatt Tze’s life, the structure of the house, and Feng Shui. But it wasn’t very thorough. I don’t know how practical it would have been with so many people, but we weren’t shown too many specific things about the great mansion.

We learned about Cheong’s life in China, Indonesia, and Georgetown. How he got rich and bought the land in 1880 and took 8 years to build. The main house has 8 rooms, with a gold and wooden divider screen with symbols for happiness, luck, and money. This took 15 minutes of the hour long tour.

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We moved into the courtyard where we got an introduction to feng shui, where letting in shui (rain) through the courtyard represents collecting money. As the water slowly drains away, you can slowly start spending your money.

We were shown A photograph of Cheong’s 7th wife (out of 8). She was 17 when 70 year old Cheong married her, and she was apparently her favorite. Though I found later through wikipedia that Cheong raised 6 sons in his blue mansion, it was his youngest son, by the 7th wife, who inherited the house. Cheong put a clause in his will that the house could not be sold until his son was dead.

The only other things of note were that we were shown the colored bowls from which Chinese opera scene mosaics on the balcony were cut, and were given a demonstration of the yin-yang blinds, which are blinds that lock.

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Part the thing was, the house was pretty trashed when it was sold, and the family had taken much of the furniture, so there wash’t much household stuff to show. Whatever was left behind was put into a room without much documentation, along with a donated wedding bed and instruments.

The hour long tour cost 12 MYR each, and I’m not sure I recommend it. In addition to the 15 minutes were spent talking in the downstairs lobby, and the tour ended 15 minutes early, with time for you to wander around and take pictures. So if they let you, just wander around and take pictures. I know, I know, it’s all in good cause. They are renovating one of the wings currently, and that takes money.

The best part of the tour was after the official tour, wandering through the B&B office, another tour guide, or at least mansion employee, saw us looking at some photographs and explained them to us. They were of daughter and daughter in laws, mostly. The widow of Cheong’s youngest son, the one who had to wait until he died to sell the house, was only a teenager when she married him. Mike said she looked bitchy in the photos. We also saw the guest room keys.

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I wonder about Cheong. He was dubbed the Rockerfeller of the East, but his penchant for fancy houses reminds me of Hearst and Hearst Castle, whose tours I went on frequently as a child. You see this great house and think it was his pet, but he probably had a dozen others, at least one for each wife/family. Cheong had 8 wives altogether, and many sons and daughters. At least one daughter-in-law was a famous actress. None of them were able to continue Cheong’s businesses. I wonder what happened to them.

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Daily Meander: Faulty maps and Chinese things

Due to inadequate maps, from google and the many, incomplete and sometimes inaccurate tourist maps Mike and I have, while we will try to set out in a general direction, we’re probably going to spend a lot of time wandering Georgetown. This isn’t a bad thing, since history is everywhere in Georgetown. For every documented restaurant, shop, or historical building, there are two down the street and three around the corner.

Anyway, here’s a brief recap of the day, after a late start and a late breakfast at Jaya:

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Saw this street art, commissioned by the city, and made it a mission to read and document any we came across today. The one above is about Chinese amahs.

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Got to this fountain and the Victoria Clocktower, and then failed to find the post office, as indicated on the map provided by our hostel.

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Saw this crowd of people. Mike said it was an immigration building.

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Saw this crow trap near the post office truck. The crows seemed quite upset, so maybe they had just fallen in. After some investigation, we saw that they was no way opening large enough to fly or walk out of, but there was an opening at the top of the middle dip of the cage from which they could hop in to get the bread. Once in though, they would be too low to hop out and the opening is too small for them to fly out. I would say it’s a way to trap and kill crows, but the tub of water in the corner indicates someone wants the crows to live. Maybe we’ll visit this again later. Also, apparently I am more interested the the plight of crows than people outside an immigration office. But I guess the crows seem more helpless. Also, they made more noise.

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Finally found the post office south of Downing Street, not north of it, and mailed off two more thank you notes. 2 MYR to the U.S., but only 1.4 MYR to Taiwan, if anyone wants to know. Also notice the Western Union.

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I was pretty hungry by then, and saw and smelled Subway. Is it cheating to eat at Subway when they have their local special? We still decided against it though, because it was too pricy.

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In the end, we found Sri Weld Food Court, at the end of Lebuh Bishop on Lebuh Pantai, which I suspect will become a lunch staple. We just got drinks though (notice the comparably cheap beer). I didn’t feel like eating anything too spicy, and most of the shops were cleaning up (it was around 4 pm). Mike and I saw how thoroughly a steamer was cleaned and decided that it was definitely safe to eat the baozhi/pao there. I’ not sure why they were packing up. Maybe a different set of vendors set up for dinner.

We also found Little India, after failing to find it on Wednesday, due to same map. Mike calls it the Disneyland of India, considering there are no limbless beggars. It’s filled with sari and jewelry shops, Indian restaurants and hawker stalls, the sound of music, and the smell of incense. The map puts it north of Lebuh Cina, but it’s mainly on Lebuh Pasar. I didn’t take any pictures, but it is, coincidentally enough, behind the famous Hindu Mahamariamman Temple:

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Right across Lebuh Chulia we saw the Teochew Temple, another pseudo-destination. It’s the cleanest Chinese temple Mike and I have ever been to. No ash darkens its ceilings.

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We tried to press onward, to some other art galleries I wanted to visit, though it was getting late and starting to sprinkle, but someone started burning plastic, and the smoke was pretty thick downwind. On our way back to the hostel, we saw this sign:

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and decided to stop. Considering all I had had that day was a banana roti, milk tea, and some almond milk, I was pretty hungry. Yeap Noodle seems like a fairly famous family-run noodle shop, and reasonably priced. I found my dumpling soup noodles surprisingly flavorful. Mike found his fried noodles surprisingly bland, but the was soy sauce on the table. Juices were only 1.8 MYR, when they are usually 3 at other places, so I think this place may become a staple as well.

I guess I miss soup noodles in general, but Chinese food in particular. I haven’t for awhile, not in Taiwan and not in the U.S., where I ironically ate a lot of Southeast Asian food.