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How I Rediscovered Penang Heritage: Day 3

Sky-rocket your senses without a hole in your pocket!

By mVig

We got on our feet early since it was our last day in Penang and we wanted to make full use of every minute.

     We headed to Restoran Roti Canai Argyll Road, known for its hot crispy ‘Roti Canai’, a simple pancake-like bread served with hot steaming curry.

     The preparation itself is a precise art–the dough is flung in the air and spun around several times until it is tenderised and stretched up to about 18 inches in diameter. It is then folded and placed on a greased hot plate to cook. A ‘Roti Canai’ that doesn’t have at least a few traces of carbon isn’t worth eating. It costs only RM1.00.

     Geared-up, we walked to our next destination along Leith Street. The city’s most iconic wheels, the trishaws, are seen lined in front of some of the grandest architecture in the city–The Blue Mansion.

     Perhaps the two most notable sights of the mansion are the exterior walls, a structure that’ll keep your eyes fixated to its bright cobalt blue and the Chinese cut-and-paste porcelain work, which has the same rigorous perfection that some may find overwhelming.

     This flamboyant masterpiece of 38 rooms, 5 courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows took a very special man to create, Cheong Fatt Tze.

     “As a poor 16 year-old Hakka in 1856 in Guangdong Province in South China, Cheong Fatt Tze headed to the Southeast Asian together with other coastal Chinese families to seek their fortune. He started as a water-carrier in Indonesia and gradually established a trading company with the aid of his merchant father-in-law who saw potential in him. His sheer hard work and determination over the years made him a ‘one-man multinational conglomerate’. Of his vast empire, he chose Penang to build the most elaborate of his homes and to raise his sons. “

     Intrigued by the Chinese businessman’s background and accomplishment, we bought the RM12/person entrance fee.


     The start of our tour at the Blue Mansion premise was led by a very entertaining guide who kept our visit interesting. He started off with Cheong’s background and with a crooked smile, he stated that Cheong Fatt Tze was blessed with 8 wives!

     The guide explained that the key part to the mansions design was its integration with the ‘feng-shui’  principles–constant flow of air and water is a dynamic means of ensuring a house’s vitality.

     As such, Cheong created a large central courtyard flanked by four smaller courtyards in between the main house and the two wings. This allowed light and air to penetrate even the deepest corners.

     On the other hand, in order to enhance water to flow naturally, Cheong installed hidden large water pipes inside the walls of the house so that rainwater would flow around the courtyards through the walls and emerge at the base of the courtyards before draining out through smaller pipes beneath the flooring. This is to ensure that the fortune that came in went out in a much slower manner.

     ‘Feng-shui’ also calls for lots of wood in the premise to retain balance. So, Cheong had his metal bars painted to look like wood, literally cheating the Gods.  Good fortune is further conveyed by auspicious sayings painted on doorways.

     It was amazing to see that every brick, tile, window and panel was placed with much consideration and care. The tour itself took about an hour plus.

     Next, we headed to the last and most anticipated place “The Christian Cemetery!” The Protestant cemetery is along Northam Road, used until the latenineteenth century and is one of the oldest Christian cemeteries in the island.

     It’s best to visit it when there’s no one around. Coming here on a gloomy midday may not have quite the same appeal as a dark quiet night, but wandering alone and seeing all the perfectly proportioned tombs give you the chance to appreciate this seminal place at its best.

     Just to the north of the cemetery, where the stones are at their tallest, you can walk between broken ones that stand twice your height. Each is weathered and worn for decades. The overall construction of the cemetery was a genuine art, using carefully positioned rocks, walls and trees to create a sense of balance and harmony.

     There’s something incredibly stirring and mystical about this place–it’s that feeling you get when you walk into a quiet church or temple, the sense of being near God.

     As the trip came to an end, we realised that our 3-day outing was just touching the surface of the abundantly rich culture and heritage attractions in Penang. There is so much to explore and we can’t wait to book our next flights with AirAsia and return for more. We’ll be back!

  1. Penang Heritage Trust
  2. Eng Loh Kopitiam
  3. The Peranakan Mansion
  4. Veloo Vilas Restaurant
  5. Mahamariamman Temple
  6. Sri Weld Food Court
  7. Goddess of Mercy Temple
  8. Esplanade Food Court
  9. Fort Cornwallis
  10. Restaurant Roti Canai
  11. The Blue Mansion
  12. The Protestant Cemetery

This blog entry is part of AirAsia Bloggers Programme.