July 13, 2008

Malaysia: July 5th - Georgetown to Kuching

The last morning in Penang and after breakfast took the short walk to Lebu Leith for the tour of Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, an old Chinese house that has been beautifully restored and is now open to visitors, and, if you're lucky enough to get a booking, you can stay in one of the guest rooms.

The mansion was built by the Chinese entrepreneur an multi-millionaire Cheong Fatt Tze in the 1890s and was built in a classical Chinese style, but at the same time incorporating some of the most modern building materials of the day. At the time the mansion was built, Lebuh Leith was something of a millionaire's row, with five other wealthy Chinese businessmen putting up grandiose houses as well as Mr Cheong. This mansion is the only one built in a classical Chinese style however. Of the other five buildings, four are still standing. One is now an art college, one has become the Cathay Hotel, another the Waldorf Hotel (though since the front of the building has been 'modernised' you can no longer sense it is an old mansion) and the fourth houses the Red Dragon food court.

It is said that feng shui ideas were heavily taken into condideration in the design of the building, which was explained at lenghth in the tour. If you are wandering around alone, it may take 20 minutes or so to see everything that is one show, but the only way you can see the place is with a guided tour in English and this takes over an hour. The talk is very interesting and you get to learn some things about the man himself, feng shui and also the appalling state of disrepair the building had fallen into before restoration began in the 1990s, but I can't help thinking that it must be very hard work for visitors who do not have a good command of English.

Photos are not permitted inside the building, but you are allowed to take some snaps of the exterior.

After the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, there was time for a final wander around the area before heading off to the airport in the early afternoon. The taxi ride takes about 30 minutes and on the main road heading out of George Town some young guys on small motorbikes were racing each other weaving all over the lanes. Suddenly there was a coming together and the next thing you know there bodies and machines in the air and then tumbling along the road in front of us. Luckily the driver had enough space to slow down and it seemed that no one was seriously hurt apart from scrapes and bruises.

From Penang it was a two and a half hour flight with Air Asia across to Kuching for my first visit to Borneo. I'm not sure why, but the air conditioning always seems to be set to freeze dry on Air Asia flights, which is not great news if you're wearing a T-shirt.

With Sarawak being a semi-autonomous state, you have to go through immigration again, and the smiley official who dealt with me was called Clarence Casey ~ a name that, to me, conjures up images of a 1940s B-movie actor more than a south east Asian civil servant.

Reached Kuching at about 8 in the evening and checked into the Holiday Inn which is right on the waterfront. Given that you couldn't do much by the way of sightseeing in a city you don't know after dark, I just opted for a short stroll to the waterfront and had some food in Cafe Khatulistiwa. Again the food was delicious, and again I probably ate too much, but how can you resist the temptation of trying so much mouth-watering food. Tonight I had some chicken satay, Belacan fried noodles and chicken claypot. Very nice and very filling.

Salads and tofu for me once I'm back in Japan I guess.

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