Now that I’ve cleared the deck and installed a new computer with dual monitors (Yay!), I’ve been writing about Southeast Asia during the past couple of weeks for that section of my forthcoming book, The Long Way Back. One of the pleasures during my 8-year sailing circumnavigation was to get off the boat for a few days. While Pacific Bliss was berthed in Langkawi Island, my husband and I rewarded ourselves with a trip to the mainland of Malaysia. Our first stop was Georgetown, Penang where we stayed for three days in the Blue Mansion, the winner of the 2000 UNESCO Most Excellent Heritage award.  It is still possible to stay in this heritage hotel; in fact, it won a Best of Malaysia Travel award in 2008, so you might want to include this on your personal Bucket List. For those tourists who do not stay there, the hotel provides daily tours of the non-resident areas.

The Blue Mansion

The Blue Mansion

I became quite interested in the Chinese history of this Malay Peninsula, which experienced a thriving trade between India and China in centuries past. This famous indigo mansion was built by Cheong Fatt Tze, an influential trader, businessman, and philanthropist. Constructed over a seven-year period between 1896 and 1904 by a team of master craftsmen from China, the mansion consists of 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows. Servant quarters built in front of the mansion have been converted into restaurants and a bar. It was built according to Feng Shui, Chinese geometric principles and decorated with intricate carvings, stained glass, rare mosaics and Chinese latticework.

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By staying in the mansion-museum, I got a feeling how the Chinese traders lived. Cheong eventually had eight wives. The wife in favor slept in the main chamber, while the wives out of favor slept across the courtyard or in the other wing, or if really out of favor, in the servant’s quarters across the street. Imagine running into another wife when crossing the courtyard! Gunter joked about how, living in a catamaran, he could have a wife in each hull. Of course, I said “No way!”

The distinctive blue color of the mansion is obtained by mixing lime with natural blue dye made from the indigo plant. This lime-wash is very effective in tropical weather because it absorbs moisture and cools the house while protecting wall integrity. The courtyard is open to the rain, which falls directly to the pool below. The rain onto the roofs is collected through a network of pipes that begins on the eaves, is channeled through the ceilings and down the walls to cool the structure. Of course, that process, while great for the courtyard greenery, makes the courtyard quite tropical. The rented rooms do have window air conditioners. The house has been the setting for numerous films and features, including The Red Kebaya.

Lois finishes breakfast in the courtyard.

Lois finishes breakfast in the courtyard.

Gunter with hostess of Blue Mansion

Gunter with hostess of Blue Mansion

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