Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple, Penang

One of my favorite Chinese temples in Georgetown, Penang, was the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple.
From the narrow entrance, I was rather surprised at how much more spacious the interior felt. I was equally impressed with the incredible renovation that was completed in 2006 after two years of intense work by over 20 artisans. 

What a beautiful collection of a varied art forms - chien nien porcelain mosaic work, embroidery, sign carving, and lanterns- all just in this photo.
I enjoyed seeing the curtain of lanterns, as seen from the courtyard (note the once again rainy scene).

Ceiling beams. This temple was built without any nails.

Corner of entrance

Details of the intricate door paintings

From the sign on the front of the temple:

Officially registered with the Chinese Protectorate of Penang on 11.10.1892, the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple has had a checkered history colored by the segmentary traits of Southern Fujians. It is essentially a community temple devoted to the workshop of Twa Peh Kong (Da Bagong). 
Historically the origin of the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple can be traced back to early 19th century while the Khoo Teeau Pang was the founding head of the Kean Teik Tong which was formed in year 1844. The land of 14,865 square feet of Lot 10 (now known as Lot 466), section 21 was was granted to Khoo Teeau Pang in (the) year 1850. The temple building and nine shophouses could have been built between the year 1850 and 1867.  In (the) year 1867, the Penang Riots took place between the two feuding parties, which were Kean Teik Tong and Ghee Hin Secret Society.
The organizational structure of the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple is unique. Hock Teik Chen Sin Temple does not function as a "mother institution" but the Board of Trustees holds the temple for the use of the four brotherhood societies...the temple is at present the physical apex religious society of all the allied bodies." 
Sin Long Siang Tay figure and candle
It is also known as the Hokkien Tua Pek Kong Temple, after its patron deity, the Taoist god of prosperity.  The temple was once the headquarters for a secret society, which would perform rites in front of the deity. 
The temple is the only one in Malaysia that has a Kuan Kong figure on its roof, a deity synonymous symbol for the secret societies of royalty. 

Read more about the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Indian Breakfast in Georgetown

With Georgetown's large South Indian population, we spent quite a few of our meals enjoying South Indian cuisine. One morning we ate at this small street side stall. For around $2, we had our fill of comfort food such as appams and rotis as well as fresh juice. The stall was a busy one, with many people stopping long enough to order their meal and have it taken "to go," with the sauces packaged in plastic bags. True, the rather strong rainfall made the plastic tarp rather noisy when eating, but we didn't mind. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Kapitan Keling Mosque

Yet another mosque in historical Georgetown is the Kapitan Keling Mosque. It was built in 1801 to serve the area's Muslim South Indian community. Much of its current style was achieved during the mosque's major enlargement in 1916. Indeed, the Moghul-styled architecture felt like the building could easily have been in Agra or Delhi, reminding me of buildings such as Agra's Jami Masjid, the Taj Mahal or the Humayun's Tomb in Delhi. 

The single minaret, which seemed more like a small building, is from where the call to prayer is announced. 
The Kapitan Keling Mosque is located on what is known as Harmony Street, as it contains buildings serving the community's varied faiths including Islam, Taoism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Confucianism. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Seollal New Year's Celebration - Year of the Sheep

The roadways of Korea are likely quite congested right about now, with many people trying to inch their way back home. Traditionally, Seollal (Lunar New Year) is a time when families gather at the home of the oldest male relative to perform ancestral rituals, eat special foods, and play traditional games. Years ago, all businesses typically closed down during this three day festival and even now, many doors were shuttered on February 19 - the most important day. It is a birthday celebration for all Koreans, each turning one year older during Soellal. Gifts are traditionally given (although money is often preferred nowadays). Elders bestow blessings on the younger generation, while the young people pay respect to older members of the family.

On Friday, I joined a few colleagues to attend the free performance held at the Folk Museum in downtown Seoul. On this pleasant winter day, the downtown area was a busy area, with many others taking advantage of the time off of work/school.   
Musicians playing bamboo flutes and drummers began with a rather tranquil piece, fitting for the Year of the Sheep.

Some women dancers then joined the ensemble.

My favorite was the lion dancers. Two young men formed each lion, whose shaggy yarn fur reminded me of creatures from Sesame Street such as Barkley or even Snufalapogus. At one point, a lion "ate" a rabbit, with the stuffed animal disappearing in its wide wooden mouth. 
Later, some children (several of whom were wearing traditional hanboks) were invited to join in, dancing and even riding on top of the lions. Nearby, some children flew small, colorful kites.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh

A very short distance from the Yap Kongsi Temple, we decided to pay the Lebuh Acheh Mosque a very quick visit. Founded in 1808 by a wealthy individual from Acheh known as Tenku Syed Hussain bin Adul Rahman Aideed. This mosque was a center of Haj travel during the 19th century, attracting devotees from as far away as Sumatra and Thailand. Descendants of the early Hadhrami Arab settlers still live in the surrounding 19th century bungalows.
Compared to the nearby Chinese temples, the mosque exterior felt quite plain.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chien Nien mural work at Yap Kongsi

Although the scaffolding did obscure the wider view of the Yap Kongsi Temple in Georgetown, it did provide a glimpse into the process of the chien nien artistry adorning it and many other local Chinese temples.
Literally meaning "cut and paste," chien nien utilizes broken pieces of special porcelain bowls from China. While typically a brilliant glazed color on the outside, the bowl interiors tend to be unglazed, enabling bonding to the cement to be strengthened. The thinner the porcelain, the more desirable the bowls are for this art form. Chien nien can be found in such murals and the often highly decorative rooftops. The technique is also used to cover more sculptural pieces.
A rather fragile art worn down by time and weather, restoration work is a frequent need. Throughout Penang and Melaka, chien nien in various states of repair were noted.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Yap Kongsi Temple

Located in the heart of the historic quarters in Georgetown at the intersection of Cannon and Armenian Streets is the Yap Kongsi Temple. Built in 1924, it served the Yap clan from Southern China. It had some beautiful stone carvings on its façade and columns. Scaffolding and netting currently obstructed a good view of ornate the roof.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Heritage Shophouses of Penang

The streets of Georgetown in Penang are filled with heritage shophouses. Certain traits (as listed in a very helpful brochure) such as in the air vents, doors, and windows help date the buildings to a specific style. Dating from between the 1790's and 1850's, the Early Penang style shophouses were very simple and low - either one or perhaps two stories. I don't think we went past many of these - or perhaps they were more dilapidated and I didn't notice them.
Those from the Southern Chinese Eclectic Style typically dated from the 1840's -1910's. These had a mixture of Chinese (carved wooden door, air vents, gable end) as well as European & Indian influences (full-width timber louvered shuttered windows and U/V shaped terracotta roof tiles). This seems to describe the green shophouse in the photo above.

Walkways in front of the shophouses were covered and had thick arches. Obstacles between the shops were common though, forcing us to step over and into the rain.

Fueled by the tin mining industry, Straights Chinese people began making more improvements in their homes (1890's-1910's). Such shophouses still have carved wooden doors, air vents, and air wells of the Chinese influence, but also began including full-length shuttered windows, and geometric patterned colored clay floor tiles. Although faded, these two shophouses in the photo above are quite beautiful and seem representative of the Early Straights Eclectic Style.

In the Late Straits Eclectic Style (1910's-1930's), the European influence became greater (full-length shuttered windows, plaster relief, geometric patterned floor tiles, dado panel tiles below windows). Carved doors and air vents were formed some of the Chinese influence. Many of such homes were built by Straits-born Chinese trying to emulate their European counterparts. Expensive imported materials were financed by the booming rubber industry. 

Also present were buildings of the Art Deco style (1930's-1960's) and the Early Modern Style (1950's-1970's) Such buildings included curved concrete façades and metal-framed glass windows.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Historical streets of Georgetown

 Over the next several days, we traversed the streets of historical Georgetown on the island of Penang. Designated in 2008 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the core zone of Georgetown contains over 1,700 historical buildings. The excellent George Town World Heritage Incorporated organization, housed in a historical building on Lebuh Acheh Street provided some incredibly helpful brochures, walking maps and other information.
Despite the rain, we thoroughly enjoyed our walks through the streets. What a special blend of cultures and communities - particularly the Chinese, Indian, Malay, and Baba-Nyonya. True, I had seen this same mixture in Melaka, but in Georgetown, the scale was much larger. I loved how Georgetown still retained its historical feel and yet was an active residential/commercial hub. It felt "real" - not just a few preserved buildings in an artificial oasis. 

Buildings were in various states of repair, but even the slightly dilapidated ones had a special charm. Some of the colors were quite vivid. Patterns and textures abounded. Architectural buffs would have a field day, observing the historical variances.

Walking down one area, we'd be transported to southern India, as reflected in the shops, stalls, restaurants, smells, and music. 

Walk down another street, and we'd be in China, complete with temples, clan houses, etc. Several mansions of the Baba-Nyonya were converted into spectacular museums. A few mosques of Sumatra style added a little variety, as did the colonial buildings reflecting the British presence (Penang was ceded to the British East India Company in 1786 in exchange for British military protection).

I loved the slightly chaotic nature of the streets and could have spent much longer meandering. Even though we crisscrossed and went through some streets multiple times, I never grew tired of the sights - each time taking in more. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Malaysia: Adventure by Bus

After traveling solo the last few days in Melaka, I was looking forward to meeting up with an art teacher friend and heading up to Penang. I left a window of several hours in between when my bus was scheduled to arrive in Kuala Lumpur and the departure time from the same bus terminal to Penang - just in case.  The bus left fairly close to "on time" and things seemed to be proceeding fairly normally until passing through a tollway. Some unusual sounds were heard as the driver attempted to shift the gears, with the bus failing to gain much momentum. The driver pulled over momentarily and then attempted to move onward. Judging from the time, we were not that far from the outskirts of KL. Unfortunately, just as the bus sputtered through the next tollway, it decided that was far enough. Now, a very foul smell and smoke was prominent. After several minutes of people muttering, the bus driver finally let us off the bus. 
After about a half hour wait with no one telling us anything, another bus stopped to let us on. A local assured me that the bus would be taking us to the originally intended station; alas, it wordlessly dropped us off at a different station. And so began the transport tangle in Kuala Lumpur. I did not see the name of desired bus station as one of the train stops when I looked on the signage, but two locals said they were also going that direction and provided some assistance. A few train stops later and a covered maze-like walkway later, I finally reached the intended bus station. My art teacher friend had already arrived and immediately spotted me, thanks to my height and red hair.
After a quick bite to eat, we were ready for our bus ride up to Penang. We waited by the platform in the tropical heat and I wasn't that surprised when that bus was late. The AC on the bus was welcomed and as it quieted down, we were able to snooze a bit. As we passed by the city of Ipoh about 200 km north, the landscape became quite beautiful. Huge limestone hills jutted into the very cloudy sky and were carpeted by thick tropical vegetation. Some of the trees were incredibly tall, poking their way through the dense misty clouds. It looked like illustrations of rainforests I had seen in books. What an experience that would have been to trek through the hills and up to its many caves. Between the speed of the bus and rain, capturing decent photos of the magnificent natural scene was difficult. I would have to settle for the few photos I managed to take and my memory of the scene; perhaps another time I could visit.
Alongside the edges of the fairly well-maintained expressway, women used weedwackers to keep the vegetation down. Others trimmed the flowering bushes that served as a median strip, forming interesting zigzag patterns.

A couple hours later, we arrived in Butterworth, a rather bland city from where it was an easy ferry ride to the island of Penang and to our destination of UNESCO World Heritage city of Georgetown. 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Golden Lotuses

Besides the wau bulan kites, another display that caught my attention at the People's Museum in Melaka was of the lotus shoes. I had first read about this Chinese practice when reading the excellent book Snowflower and the Secret Fan. Looking at these tiny but beautifully embroidered silk shoes, it was difficult to imagine that an ideal size of an adult female - known as a golden lotus -  was around 3 inches in length. What pain these young girls and women must have endured - often at the hands of their own mother! Such dainty feet were highly desirable and could enable even non-wealthy girls to marry into much higher status homes.
Although the animal head on the pink shoes above is likely a bat (a Chinese symbol of good fortune), it reminds me of a mouse. 

Friday, February 06, 2015

Wau Bulan Kites

One of Malaysia's national symbols is the Wau Bulan Kite. Its name means "moon" and refers to the crescent shaped lower portion of the kit. Wau Bulan kits are constructed from a bamboo frame over which tissue is delicately stretched. Intricate floral and leaf patterns decorate the surface. Due to the rather large size of the kite, these symmetrical designs are visible even when the kite is fairly high in the sky. The kites are typically flown by men with its path being a figure eight. 
The Wau Bulan kite is depicted on Malaysia's 50-cent coin. I saw these beautiful artistic forms on display at one of Melaka's many museums - a great place to visit when it was raining a bit heavily!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Make Way for the Trishaws

For many, a visit to Melaka wouldn't be complete without a ride in a colorful trishaw. Gone for a while after a good bus system was established, these bicycle-powered transport vehicles have made a comeback in a big way. Between the A'Famosa fortress and Stadhuys at the Dutch Square, the road actually is closed off to car traffic, creating a moving mass of Hello Kitty with bobbling fuchsia pink umbrellas. If cute kitties are not your fancy, one could also try Doraemon, more generic floral ones, or even Batman/Spiderman. If their physical presence on the road isn't enough to catch your attention, the flashing lights (at night) and loud music is hard to ignore. Hearing "Let it Go" blared at nearly a constant interval during the few days I was there, I could imagine how irksome these touristic trishaws would be for local residents. Our tour guide explained that the driver would change the music to suit the passengers, but I didn't hear a whole lot of variation. Interestingly enough, I did hear one play "The Chicken Dance" - a bit incongruous to hear polka music coming from a stuffed animal decked out tricycle in tropical Malaysia!  

Details from a much more unique trishaw. I'm surmising that it was one of the older styles of trishaws

Batman meets Spiderman