My memory of being in the Pinang Peranakan Mansion is of disorientation, but not in an unpleasant way. Was the house really as big as it seemed? Or had I been going in circles amid the vast collection of rooms and artifacts, the furniture, pictures, clothing, jewelry and personal items, household goods and bric a brac. As I learned later, the furniture and thousands of items on display were a collection installed after the house was restored to be opened to the public as a museum of Perakakan culture.
Rooms with Beds
The Mansion website states clearly that photography isn’t allowed. I believed them and arrived ready to enjoy the house despite the prohibition, as I’d tried and failed to enjoy a Singapore house museum with a similar rule. Upon entering the first thing I noticed was other visitors snapping away with their phone cameras and the staff seemingly unconcerned, unlike the over-the-top enforcer in Singapore. I realized in that moment that this visit would be an altogether different experience.
Rooms with Tables
Malaysia is well known for it’s mix of cultures, Malay, Indian, Chinese and a unique cultural hybrid known as Peranakan, or Babas and Nyonyas or Straits Chinese. The Peranakan culture was historically dominant in Penang and though Chung Keng Kwee, the wealthy businessman and triad leader who built this mansion and adjacent ancestral temple, was not Peranakan he adopted the characteristics of its architecture for his house with the addition of European elements in the construction. Built in the 1890s and called Hai Kee Chan, the Sea of Remembrance Hall, it served as family home and office. After Chung Keng Kwee’s death in 1901 at the age of 74 the house deteriorated and it was not until the 1990s that it was purchased by a property developer, restored and filled with the collection of antiques of the era for a new life as a museum of the heritage of wealthy Peranakans in Penang.
Rooms Around the Two-Story Central Atrium
Chung Keng Kwee Ancestral Temple
Chung Keng Kwee’s rise to wealth and prominence began in a modest family of Hakka Chinese in Guangdong Province, China. The middle of 5 sons his destiny seemed to be that of a peasant farmer until his father and a brother, having gone to Malaya to work, failed to send news. His mother sent him to look for her husband and son and upon arriving in Perak in 1841 found both with successful tin mining businesses. Chung Keng Kwee joined them and through wars and political upheaval managed to grow his mining and other businesses to become one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Penang.
Secluded Outdoor Corners
Read more about Chung Keng Kwee and the complex history
of the era in Malaya in his Wikipedia biography, here.
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion website:
Next time, a visit to George Town's Clan Jetties.
All episodes of PortMoresby's Farewell to Asia Tour can be found here.
More of PortMoresby's stories are here.