Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Penang Malaysia
Paying Homage To Cheong Fatt Tze
Cheong Fatt Tze's Mansion is located at 14 Leith Street, George Town on the beautiful island of Penang. It is a must visit historic attraction in Malaysia that any lovers of Chinese history, architecture and Feng Shui enthusiast should explore. I recently made a trip there early December. It's one of my many favorite visits and I never get tired of Cheong Fatt Tze's remarkable life and history behind the mansion hailed "La Maison Blue".
Cheong Fatt Tze is a man I truly admired ever since the first time I took a tour of his mansion many years ago. Born in the Guandong province of China, as a 16 year old Cheong traveled down to Southeast Asia during the second opium war to search for a better opportunity in life. And he found it. Cheong's story is not a traditional rags to riches tale. He took the shortcut instead and married into a rich family whom he worked for carrying water from the river to their home. I would love to find the backstory of how he accomplished that.
But of course the father in law is no fool and obviously saw something of value in Cheong Fatt Tze. His instincts were proven right when Cheong struck it out on his on in the business of rubber, coffee and everything else in between. He was a shrewd businessman and knew that money follows when you sell what is in demand. Eventually he got into the business of import and export by starting his own transatlantic shipping line between China and the United States. From there he got involved in the business of banks a real true sign of wealth and a good reason why the New York Times dubbed him "China's Rockefeller" when he passed away.
The Mansion was built in the 1880s just northwest of historic George Town District. You can't miss the deep blue indigo color of the walls which is why it was called "La Maison Bleu" by westerners. The building is a striking contrast to the whitewashed homes and businesses surrounding the mansion.
Cheong had many homes throughout Southeast Asia but in George Town Penang is where he decided to raise his family.
When Cheong died due to pneoumonia in Jakarta, September 11th, 1916; he stated in his will that the mansion must remain in the family and never be sold, until the death of his last son. When that finally happened in 1989 his home was put up for sale and sold to a group of Penang conservationist. But by that time his beloved home in George Town fell into terrible disrepair because he had not properly calculated enough funds in his estate required to upkeep his mansion due to rising inflation.
I saw a picture of how the property looked inside the mansion's small museum and it was in really bad shape. I think if Cheong was alive to see how much it had fallen apart it would have broken his heart.
When the renovations started in 1991 only original materials were allowed to be used to re-build the mansion. Though the tiles on the floors are the same ones that Cheong walked on and remains in impeccable condition to this day, protected by soot and grime that have accumulated through the century.
After the restoration of Cheong Fatt Tze's flagship home, a part of the property has been converted into a small hotel and also able to hold special events such as weddings.
Today you can take a tour through the mansion for 12 ringgits, about $4 US dollars for an hour with knowledgeable English speaking guides. The home has a lot of details and the guides are great at pointing them out and explaining the history of it all as well as a basic course in Feng Shui.
As of writing there are 3 tours per day:
How to get to Cheong Fat Tze Mansion
There are plenty of rickshaws throughout George Town that can take you there. Or you can get there for free by using Penang's awesome and free air conditioned CAT (Central Area Transportation) buses that takes you around the historic district's attractions for free.
To get to the mansion take the CAT bus to the intersection of Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah and Jalan Penang Road. Once you get off the bus stop, walk a little bit up north and you will immediately see the blue walls of Cheong Fatt Tze's mansion. Another 5 minutes walk around the block and you will find the gates to his beloved home.
Living with History - Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is also a hotel
You may have noticed from my other hubs that I love to take pictures and show them off in my hubs. However, taking photos inside the mansion is prohibited... that is unless you pay 250 ringgits per hour, about $80 US dollars. As soon as I get better camera equipments I just might go for it.
However, there is a better alternative. The mansion has converted a section of the property into a boutique hotel to help cover the cost of maintaining the property. A deluxe room in the mansion including breakfast for 2 is around 320 ringgits or $100 US dollars. As a guest you have free run of the mansion so you are able to take as many pictures as you like. I've never personally stayed there before but it's on my bucket list.
You can book a room directly from their website http://www.cheongfatttzemansion.com or you might be able to get better rates at a hotel reservation agency I recommend called Agoda.com.
There are a total of 16 fully guest rooms with en suite bathrooms each with a personal valet. The mansion is a perfect place to stay if you really want to get in touch with the way people once lived. Though all of the rooms have air conditioning there are no televisions. So there's just enough modernity for comfort and nothing more.
There are a lot of positive guest reviews for Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion from travelers all over the world as well as from published travel and destination guides.
Cheong Fatt Tze Facts
- The mansion has uniquely designed wooden window blinds. By maneuvering simple latches the blinds opened and closed. The idea was copied by the West and named 'Venetian Blinds'.
- Even though Cheong escaped China during horrible times he still loved his homeland. And through his business acumen, success and fame the Qing dynasty called upon his services to be the link between China and the West.
- Cheong fell in love after his first glass of foreign wine. He immediately created his own winery in China in 1892 and today it is still in operation called Chang Yu Winery.
- Married to 8 wives and acknowledges 8 sons and 6 daughters in his will.
- The mansion won the UNESCO Asia Pacific Awards in 2000 for conservation.
What's with the Blue Paint?
It's not paint at all. Matter of fact if paint was used the house would deteriorate really fast. Malaysia is very humid especially during the hot rainy season and paint will keep moisture in the walls which is not good.
The color is an indigo blue powdered dye from India and helps keep the home porous. In a nutshell this means that the mansion stays cool during the day and warm at night. So there's no need for air conditioning or heaters that waste electricity.
The only downside is after a very heavy rainfall a fresh coat of powder had to be applied to the mansion again.
In a way, Cheong Fatt Tze's home is what we modern folks today call 'green' for being environment friendly.
A Mansion Built on the Principles of Feng Shui
Back in the days Feng Shui was not about moving your furniture around and poof a million dollars falls onto your lap. What we find mostly in bookshelves and on the Internet is a bastardized form of Feng Shui making people believe that the subject is just a bunch of mystic nonsense.
Feng Shui is about living in harmony with your natural environment. Cheong Fatt Tze's home contains all 5 earth elements in his home:
- Water - Which can be found in his open courtyard
- Metal - Is in the custom made columns brought over from Glasgow Scotland placed on all 4 corners of the courtyard. Plus there are copper pipes in the walls collecting rainwater from the roof to the mansion.
- Wood - Is all around in the framework of the mansion
- Air - The mansion has 7 courtyards and large doors, some aligned for maximum air circulation.
- Fire - The biggest source of fire is the sun that comes down right through the courtyard. Cheong bought out all the homes surrounding his so that no one could build a taller structure that would shade the mansion.
The mansion was designed by the top Feng Shui masters of the time. Their major role was to focus the maximum amount of positive energy into the mansion. This energy is called Chi and we can either focus it which is good or block which is not good.
Of all the homes Cheong owns in Asia, this particular mansion in Penang was where he decided to raise his children. So of course it was of utmost importance that this home would be designed the best that it could be to benefit everyone living under its roof. There are total of 38 rooms and 7 courtyards so there was plenty of space for a large family.
And it probably worked. Cheong had 8 wives to contend with not to mention numerous concubines. With so many business ventures to deal with and wives to contend with harmony was a priority.
Personally I don't know if Feng Shui really works or not. But I do feel better whenever my room is clean and cleared of clutter.
Love to Give - Cheong Fatt Tze the Philanthropists
Take a look at those 4 Chinese characters in the lower left corner of the photo - translated it means 'Love to Give'. I can't read Chinese but that's what my informative tour guide said. Tze helped build and fund schools with his fortune all over the region. And if memory serves me right he also funded the construction of the first hospital in Penang as well.
When Choeng Fatt Tze died he was remembered as a businessman and a statesman linking China and the West. He was so respected by his Western peers of the time that the British and Dutch ordered flags at half-mast on word of his death. But it was Cheong's landmark achievement of generosity and kindness to region of Southeast Asia, where he built his fortune after coming from humble beginnings that everyone should really remember.
He left his home in Guangdong China as a young poor man and was buried back in the same home as an industrialist, renaissance man and caring philanthropists.
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