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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