With the temperature becoming cool enough to really enjoy walking we set off from Lebuh Leith, quickly finding the most stately streets of George Town where the early British colonial buildings were constructed........... looking out to sea from their new Asian seat of power. This grand old building is now George Town's Town Hall.
We eventually wound our way back to the Yeng Keng via the sweetly named Love Lane and happened upon this little art gallery just around the corner from our hotel.
We must have spent around an hour there, being entertained by these two gorgeous things. It was their art work on display but they seemed to be more interested in showing us a good time, playing the ukelele, plying us with special Chinese New Year biscuits (handmade by Grandma) and tea and making little gifts for us of Ang Pow with hand written good wishes in them.
We spent about AUS$4(!!!) on postcards and offered them a place to stay in Coogee if ever they visit Australia. They both seemed delighted by this. Rob and I fell in love with them both and would love to take them back with us!
Back walking the streets this morning, this time down Lebuh Campbell and then Lebuh Pantai, we see so many things of interest. We were intrigued watching this guy, the fastest Roti maker in Asia. He was hyperactive, pounding out the dough, rolling it, cooking, handling orders, making drinks, sorting change; none of the guys working for him were fast enough. He was awesome.
Peranakans are descendants of late 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants to Indonesia and Malaysia. Baba is the term for males and Nyonya for females. These Chinese immigrants were from the rich merchant class and intermarried with local Malay women. In colonial times they became quite Anglophile and aspired to all things British. Peranakans number about 20% of Penang's population. Apparently the Peranakans and the ethnic Chinese population, who mostly trace their ancestry to coolie labourers who came to work in the tin mines in colonial times, are quite dismissive of each other, to this day!
Anyway this beautifully restored mansion recreates a rich Peranakan family's home life in George Town in the 19th century. We had a fantastic guided tour that helped bring the stories of the family and the times alive for us.
This story is for Jody. The Peranakans, unlike the Chinese, did not believe in foot binding and so developed the highly specialised craft (particularly in Penang) of the beaded, embellished regular sized shoe, a craft that continues to this day. Jimmy Choo comes from a Penang Peranakan family who were shoemakers in a little shopfront near Lebuh Leith. Jimmy did his apprenticeship with his father before making the move to London (where he set up business initially in Hackney in the eighties). So now we know where it all started! There was an enormous shoe collection at the mansion.
Our guide explained that for traditional celebrations Peranakan women favour embroidered tops and sarongs from Indonesia because their designs are more refined than Malay batiks and embroideries.
She also defended the presence of the bats we could see hanging from the ceiling of this temple. Apparently bats signify good fortune in Chinese mythology.
Someone must have started the practice of sticking the coloured entry stickers onto the bamboo plantings in the front courtyard.
After our tour and a refreshing cold drink in the Nyonya kitchen we headed up Lebuh Pantai past the new wharf side developments up towards Fort Cornwallis and the Queen Victoria Clock Tower (donated by an eminent Penang Peranakan in celebration of QV's jubilee in the late 19th century).
We were heading back to Lebuh Leith to Passage Thru India, just opposite the Blue Mansion in one of the original shopfronts that used to cater to the domestic arrangements of the Cheong Fatt Tze family in its heyday. Passage Thru India is a highly recommended local Indian restaurant.
And our meal there was just wonderful: Tikka butter chicken, "mutton" in spices and roasted in the tandoor, 7 vegetables with fruit and nuts in "white gravy" and garlic naan.
This was the best Indian food we have eaten EVER. I want to take this restaurant home with me. The desserts were amazing too: saffron and almond icecream and a kind of carrot halva served with Marsala tea. YUM.