Chinese New Year and the Penang Peranakan Mansion
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.
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.
The mansion is a typical home of a wealthy Baba (man) in Penang in late 1800 colonial Penang. It was opulent.
It was eclectic.
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.
International influences were found everywhere and in so many elements in the mansion. These tiles were imported from England.
Stained glass throughout the main floor was imported from Italy.
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.
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.
I 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.
This fountain was just outside the entrance to the ancestral temple. I just loved the intricate painting around the water feature.
And every little walk-way outside had pots and planters in it. Again – always a mix of the opulent, eclectic and symbolic.
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.
The Little-Green Family wishes you happiness and prosperity in the upcoming year of the Rooster!
About the Author
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.