Opulent Chinese mother-of pearl dining table graces the massive hallway. Tiles inlaid with small, brownish chintz decks the accompanying living room.
Richly woven tapestry adorns the walls; pictures of a wealthy Baba-Nyonya couple, the Penang Peranakans, hang demurely alongside.
The scent of antique, wooden teak lingers in the air.
Stepping into the Pinang Peranakan Mansion is a step back 200 years in time. Back when Penang was a small community, with a bustling harbour trading in tin, areca nuts and spices.
The mansion is situated by the roadside, at Church Street. A busy street in Penang, as road users use the road frequently to reach the mainland.
Surprisingly, the house is quiet. It is such a refreshing change to not hear any oncoming traffic from the outside.
Earlier, I had spied a magnificent tea set, laid out in its splendour.
Any minute now, I can hear the maids knocking on their master’s doors, saying, “I’m sorry Madam, may I clean your room now?”
Another maid would invite the lady of the house for tea on the verandah.
They would bring in the delicate, English rose tea sets, brought by the master on his recent trip to England, served with some fresh scones and butter.
The mansion must have been full of colour, with regal-like splendour when its owners were alive.
Prominently, the residence and office of Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee, in the early 19th century, scores of visitors must have visited this influential figure. He was a 19th century Hakka tin-miner and secret society leader of Hai San.
His residence served also as his office. Though not a Baba, his Chinese courtyard house was very much like the typical Baba-Nyonya home. It was built with Chinese carved-wood panels, floor tiles specially imported from England and ironworks from Scotland.
A picture shows him as a thin, unsmiling young man from China, and several years living in Penang, a new portrait was hand drawn. This time, he is smiling, and slightly robust (at the waistline). Bedecked in western clothes, he is the epitome of wealth in his yesteryears.
While her husband would be busy handling the family business, the lady of the house would be busy in the huge house. Sitting in her boudoir, powdering the famed ‘Nyonya’ face powder pouffe on her slender cheeks. Her maids would scurry about as silently, as a measure of a good servant is to be seen, but not heard.
An ancient teak bed, with spittoon and wash stand sit nearby. A closet full of elegant and fine Kebaya and Cheongsam with
beaded shoes arranged neatly in rows. There is no toilet in the house, so servants must have been kept busy heeding to the beck and call of the house occupants!
Refurbished, and restored to its former glory, it is a delight to step into the soul of the mansion.
It is a classical example of the Straits Chinese settlement in Penang, and today the house is filled with more than 1,000 antiques and collectibles.
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is a must visit when you’re in Penang.
Visiting hours: Monday-Friday from 9.30 am to 5 pm. Saturday from 9.30 am to 3 pm (closed on Sunday and public holidays). Admission: Adults – RM 10. Children (below 6) – Free.
Get special permission beforehand to take photographs!
To get there:
Take a taxi to the mansion. It is situated on a busy section at Church Street.
Address: 29 Church Street, 10200 Penang. Tel: +604- 264 2929, Fax: +604- 264 1929. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.