Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pimp My Clanhouse

"To be fortunate is God, and more than God to mortals."

Aeschylus, ancient Greek playwright
and the father of tragedy

More of Day 3 of the Great Penang Road Trip.

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An artist impression of the Khoo clan village in Penang. Picture courtesy of Khoo Kongsi's official webbie.

We accidentally stumbled upon the main entrance of the Khoo Kongsi in Penang when we stopped on Cannon Street (the popular consensus is that there used to be a hole in the road due to a cannonball fired by the colonial government to quell secret society wars known as the 1867 Penang Riots - but that's just an urban legend) to take a look at the Acheen Street Mosque. Its gateway was deceptively designed to look like one of the old shop-houses of the row and if a big signboard wasn't hung over the portal, we would have missed it completely. It's a defensive thing - apparently, the colonial times weren't the safest period in the history of Penang to live in.

We already know that "kongsis" or clanhouses was all the rage in Penang from our little map-book but Khoo Kongsi is the only one that gets regular mentions in the travel brochures we unearthed in our hostel room drawers. "The Heritage Jewel of Penang", it was reputedly known. This we got to see for ourselves.

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Oh my.

Being a Malaccan, I am no stranger to ludicrously decorate, old Chinese architecture (we have it in spades) but I have to admit, the Leong San Tong (Dragon Mountain Hall) Khoo Kongsi is one heck of a building. It exudes an air of ancient solemn stateliness that just makes visitors felt that they should whisper when they want to say anything. For the thousandth time, I was glad that I picked the middle of the week to visit Penang instead of the weekend - we had the place to ourselves and the solitude just enriched the whole experience. I felt like a child trespassing into some place I am not suppose be found in.

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Kick-ass roof ornament on the opera stage.

The ground level of the clan temple had been converted into mini-museum-slash-archive that gave a rather comprehensive history of the Khoo's ancestral village in China, their early history in Penang, some genealogical charts, and a myriad of other dusty stuff that are essentially - if you would pardon the expression - as dull as dirt.

The clanhouse, built by the early Khoo patriarchs in 1851, was burnt down. According to legend, it got struck by lightning because it resembled the Emperor's palace in China and that, for some reason, pissed off the celestials. The new clanhouse, completed in 1902 to replace the toasted one, was also "mysteriously" razed to the ground by a second fire on the eve of Chinese New Year (though in my opinion, this "mystery" reeks of the unholy union of dumb kids and fireworks).

It was also said that the idols of Tua Sai Yah (the patron deity of the Khoos) and Tua Pek Kong (the God of Prosperity) were spared from ending up as charcoal briquettes because they were stored in some temporary sheds at that time - they thought that the clan temple was too stately for deities. You'd think this would upset the heavenly home office up-above more than the first clanhouse fiasco did.

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Those ancients really got strange ideas how weapons ought to look like - especially the middle one. Rawk on, Khoos!!!

The crowning glory of the majestic Khoo Kongsi is, without a doubt, the main shrine hall;

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More bling than all the rappers the in business combined.

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The best interior design colonial money can buy.

Master craftsmen and artisans commissioned from China were responsible for most of the intricate carvings, delicate paintings and general glitter that covered the clan temple from the floor up. In those days, more is more. Minimalism is for peasants. Every square inch of every surface needs to either be covered by some transcendent piece of artwork or gilded. Standing in the middle of that hall surrounded by so much extravagant opulence was almost overwhelming, I can tell you.

The flanking side chambers house the ancestral tablets and function as a Hall of Fame where the clan displays what I call "cred boards" of their most illustrious members. This is where a member of the Khoo clan would bring their golf buddies to visit and basically gloat about how cool folks with the surname Khoo really are.

I know I'm not suppose to laugh at other people's name but these two are practically begging for it;

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Justice Khoo Kay Por - so apt considering that his business is minding other people's business.

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Physicking your boo boos away since 1981.

If you're an old buildings buff like me, there's no better place in Penang to hang out in than the Khoo Kongsi. There's not a single place more surrealistically out-of-time or so outrageously luxuriant on the entire island. It may be a bit hard to find, but trust me, it pays back with big dividends.

All for Visit Malaysia Year 2007,
k0k s3n w4i

Other posts in my Great Penang Road Trip series:


calvin said...


i was laughing my ass off on that name 'khoo kay por'. maybe the next khoo will be 'khoo khoo jiao' =P

k0k s3n w4i said...

first. and only :D
'khoo khoo jiao'
xD ... I wished I thought of that first.

InnShan said...

OMG, the whole post dedicated to Khoo's. Oh well, during the trip, i find this place beautifully decorated. That's all. I'm not really interested in the history of it.
Practically, Khoo's are making money from us. Damn..I think quite wasted. This place is too commercialised. Haha..seems i'm not a 'historical' person...i admit; Dr.Sun's base is quite boring. It's just a...place.though historical

k0k s3n w4i said...

We're different sorts of tourists then :D
I thought it was worth it to pay and see the Khoo place (though I wouldn't shell a single buck to enter Sun Yat Sen's base).