Chinese New Year and the Penang Peranakan Mansion

January 28, 2017

It is Chinese New Year here in Penang, and I can hear fireworks all around the condo as I sit here writing this. Chinese New Year is a BIG deal here, and we’ve been watching the volume of bright red paper lanterns grow exponentially across the island over the past month. Today, we decided to have our learning adventure of the week revolve around learning a bit more about the history of the Peranakans (sometimes called the “Straits Chinese”) here in Penang. IMG_20170127_150507464_HDR

We visited the Penang Peranakan Mansion today, and our guide explained the word “Peranakan” as really meaning “a mixture of cultures”. The Straits Chinese settled  primarily in Penang, Malacca and Singapore and they adopted local Malay ways and were also heavily influenced by the British colonial lifestyle. IMG_20170127_152036870_HDR

The mansion is a typical home of a wealthy Baba (man) in Penang in late 1800 colonial Penang. It was opulent.IMG_20170127_151234581

It was eclectic.IMG_20170127_161652379

And ever detail was designed with care and meaning. For example, the first step of each staircase was made of concrete – to symbolize the need for a good foundation.IMG_20170127_151139840

International influences were found everywhere and in so many elements in the mansion. These tiles were imported from England.IMG_20170127_151558651_HDR

Stained glass throughout the main floor was imported from Italy.IMG_20170127_151424648

The mansion made an impression on Artie. At one point while we were there, he said to me “In my next life, I really want to be born into a rich family”. I remember having similar thoughts when I was a child and toured Casa Loma for the first time.IMG_20170127_153352142_HDR

The museum had a huge section devoted to jewelry, embroidery and bead work from that time period as well. It was rather humbling to look at the beautiful hand-crafted work and consider how much time went into the creations. Doing embroidery and bead work was essentially – what there was for wealthy women to do during that time in history.

IMG_20170127_161324293I think that my favourite parts of the mansion were the court-yard spaces. This is the main court-yard, and the central part of the floor is designed to hold water. There is a drain – but it is a very slow drain. It is designed to symbolize money coming in abundantly, and being spent slowly.
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This fountain was just outside the entrance to the ancestral temple. I just loved the intricate painting around the water feature. IMG_20170127_154642639

And every little walk-way outside had pots and planters in it. Again – always a mix of the opulent, eclectic and symbolic. IMG_20170127_162008162

After we visited the mansion, we went to visit one of the clan jetties here in Penang. It was beautifully decorated, but quiet and peaceful – with almost no one to be seen. Almost any other night of the year – this space would be hopping with activity. One of the beautiful things about the Chinese New Year celebrations is that the season is very much about being home with ones family. IMG_20170127_194510648

The Little-Green Family wishes you happiness and prosperity in the upcoming year of the Rooster!

Kay Green

About the Author

Kay Green

Professionally, I am an e-learning instructional designer who breaks down the barriers of space and time in learning. Personally, I'm the Mom in the Little-Green Family, and co-planner in our adventures.

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