Tag Archive: Heritage House



Who goes to Penang and fails to visit the Blue Mansion owned by Cheong Fatt Tze and the Green Peranakan Mansion? We enjoyed our guided tours of these two mansions in Georgetown and appreciated how the Penang elite used to live in those days. The official name is Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, after the man who rose from rags to riches in this corner of the world. Tagged by NY Times as the “Rockefeller of the East”, Cheong was born to a poor family from Guangdong, China but his industry and business savvy earned him prominence, wealth and errrrr….8 wives. The house’s architecture is an impressive fusion of Oriental and European architecture, an impressive display of British and Chinese artisanship. Truly, a masterpiece deserving of the “Most Excellent Project” awarded by the UNESCO Heritage Conservation Awards in 2000. The owners of this late 19th century house certainly did not scrimp building it. Peranakan tiles alone are some of the best and loveliest, and it was crazy walking over these original tiles in the Mansion. No wonder the hit movie “Crazy Rich Asians” used this Mansion in that poignant mahjong scene. And crazy rich may well describe how this heritage house was built. And subsequently restored.

Regarded as one of 10 greatest mansions of the world, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion has 38 rooms, 7 staircases, 5 courtyards and 220 beautiful windows. The lucky number 8 pervaded around this eclectic masterpiece — in the number of pillars, number of steps in a staircase, etc. As one very prominent migrant known for his philanthropy and business acumen, his charms and fortune extended to his many wives and children. The Mansion claimed “Feng Shui” perfection but such good aura and chi must have worked only while the old man was around. His trading empire expanded around Southeast Asia but he made Penang his base, and this house essentially his favorite 7th wife’s. Tan Tay Poh was 20 when a 70 year old Cheong took her as his 7th. Imagine that gap – 50 years! She bore him one son but she died early at age 42, leaving the house to a son who allegedly squandered away his inheritance. The Mansion suffered disrepair and was in fact heavily dilapidated, with as many as 34 illegal squatter families living in it. Then a group of conservators bought the Blue Mansion to make sure this heritage house is lovingly restored and preserved. Hallelujah!

Mercifully, the restoration followed best-practice standards for the benefit of both locals and tourists who can now be reminded of the flamboyant lifestyles of Penang’s old rich. The indigo blue facade and walls invite attention and it is truly very fortunate that the conservators who purchased this Mansion from the descendants of Cheong Fatt Tze in 1989 turned it into the heritage home and boutique hotel it is now. Its fine dining resto called “Indigo” holds promise judging by its opulent decor and elegant style. We noticed too that its serving staff seem to know every diner like they’re regulars. Looks very exclusive, if you ask me. I’d love to dine there, but not keen about booking a room in the 18-room boutique hotel even for a single night. I bet it’s haunted.

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On the other hand, the Peranakan Mansion is another Penang gem. Likewise owned by another Chinese tycoon by the name of Chung Keng Quee, this green Mansion showcases Penang’s Peranakan heritage. Penarakan is a culture unique to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Chinese migrants who settled in Southeast Asia and married locals gave birth to this new culture and heritage fondly called Baba Nyonya. Expressed in its architecture, cuisine and traditions, these Baba Nyonyas assumed an altogether unique culture. And you bet this green-hued residence and museum was also quite a popular and favorite movie set for international movies and TV shows like “The Little Nyonya” and “The Amazing Race”.

On display are paraphernalia and memorabilia of the Straits Chinese. Apparently, the Chinese penchant for anything gold, beady and ornate is adequately expressed in the costumes, ornamental decor, even Nyonya slippers to be found here. The hand-crafted jewelries and hand-embroidered wardrobe and footwear must have given rise to local businesses which flourished then. I am particularly impressed with one item where feathers from a kingfisher bird were actually used to adorn an outfit.

Not turquoise beads, but kingfisher feathers!

A trip to Penang should include visits to these 2 mansions. It’s very educational and both these Mansions tell an awesome story! The guide in the Blue Mansion did an impressive job. So did the guide (Ricky) in the Peranakan Museum except that he had a very heavy accent and we had to strain to listen to him. Just the same, we left learning so much more about the Baba Nyonya culture. Chinese migrants, Peranakan Chinese, Straits-Born Chinese. They’re called all these. Peranakan is a Malay word that translates to “local born” . It is not s separate race, but rather a sub-culture within the Chinese community. Peranakan cuisine blends Chinese cooking with Malay traditions. Think LAKSA. ūüėä


Peninsulares¬†(Spaniards born in Spain). ¬†Insulares¬†(Spaniards born in the Philippines).¬†Mestizos or half-breeds who take unbridled pride in the “more superior half” and would rather ignore the “inferior”, perhaps accidental, perhaps never-intended half. And then there were the Sangleys or Chinoys, along with the Indios.

St Martin De Tours Basilica

Inside the Basilica

Interestingly, the Spaniards born in the Philippines were initially called “Filipinos” while the natives were called “Indios”. ¬†Over time, ¬†they were tagged as Insulares¬†¬†while the Indios remained……..er, Indios.¬†

A Very Grand Altar and Magnificent Ceiling and Dome. Only In Taal, Batangas.

Santa Lucia Well near Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine

 

What was that? Like it or not, such was the imaginary caste system in the olden days. Hate to think that it may actually still ring true today as the ugly side of our history rears itself back into present-day society. I dare not venture a guess, but there must have been such a great divide then as depicted in Rizal’s Noli and El Fili. ¬†Passing many ancestral houses along a narrow street in Taal, Batangas, looking out the windows of such heirloom houses, imagining the senor and senoras in their caruajes while Indios walk along the same narrow streets, we had a glimpse of the past in this heritage town.¬†

 

Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine

 

This vision all the more reinforces how great our heroes were and are.  Many of them come from the Mestizos or half-breeds,  the Ilustrados, yet they reached out to join the Revolution with the peasants in the name of love for country.  Many of them opened their huge houses to hold secret and not-so-secret meetings with the others who joined the Revolution.  All patriots. Rich and Poor.  Ilustrado or Unschooled.  They were bound by the same love for country.

 

A Painting of Juan Matingkad Fishing Out the Image of Our Lady in Pansipit River

 

We visited 4 of these heritage houses in Taal. ¬†Wish there was time to visit more. Perhaps even sit down for a dinner in some ancestral house in full Filipiniana regalia. But on this humid day, ¬†we were quite content to have visited these 4. But I intend to head back. So the blog on the heritage houses would have to be put on hold. ¬†For now, ¬†let’s talk about the 2 religious sites in Taal, Batangas. ¬†Make that 3, to include the Santa Lucia Well which is marked by a coral stone arch with a bas relief image of the Virgin. It is claimed that the spring water has miraculous healing powers. Having said that, I do not understand how the local government here cannot do something to ensure that the sacred place and its waters are kept clean. ¬†

 

Inside Caysasay Shrine

 

Mi apologia. But we need to vent our frustrations some more. ¬†We had a couple of guides from a local tourist agency and a couple more from the Municipal Hall. ¬†The town of Taal is one interesting heritage town so rich in history. But we felt so deprived of a “guided tour” as we traipsed along the heritage houses and religious sites without much ado on what these landmarks mean to us. ¬†We asked questions too, and found the answers so inadequate. We do not blame them, as they were likely not “prepared” and guided to conduct a proper tour. ¬†But this should alert the Tourism Officers and the local government to ensure that every Taal Resident is aware of their history, their heritage. ¬†Tourism in this neck of the woods can only prosper if even locals like us, Indios as we are, can appreciate the story and the history behind these landmarks.¬†

 

The Hagdan-Hagdanan, now called San Lorenzo Ruiz Steps.

 

For the life of me,  I think their spiel was limited to the following:

1.   The image of Our Lady of Caysasay was fished out of Pansipit River by one fisherman named Juan Maningkad.

2.   The image had this habit of disappearing and reappearing in the place where it was originally found.

3.   When it vanished for a longer time,  it was found anew guarded by 2 kingfisher birds called Casay Casay.

4.   The Parish Priest then decided to have the Shrine built upon the site where the image was discovered. There it remained. 

 

Now, I’m oversimplifying here but that’s the gist. ¬†Who wants a long complicated story, anyway? ¬†As for the Sacred Well of Santa Lucia, ¬†who knows why it is called Santa Lucia Well? ¬†They had no answers. ¬†We only know there used to be a Chapel there but only the Arch with the bas relief remained after a Taal Volcano eruption back in 1754.

 

 

Neither do they know why the Hagdan-Hagdanan made of granite stones leading up to the center of town is now called San Lorenzo Ruiz Steps. Perhaps it was renamed in honor of the first Filipino Saint soon after his canonization?  Who knows?  * so frustrating*

 

Back to the Taal Basilica (St Martin De Tours )

 

So, I have decided I should go back. ¬†Maybe get a better tour guide. ¬†Or perhaps simply do more research. ¬† After all, the Net has all the answers. ¬†But that is not the point. Taal is so rich in history you could almost smell its tourism potentials. Not just from locals, but this colonial town nearly “frozen in time” makes for a convenient sidetrip from Manila, or even a weekend destination after Tagaytay City. ¬†

 

Maybe I should join them up there!

 

 

(My blog on the Taal Heritage Houses in TravelBlog. Just click on this link.)

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His name is Rusty. ¬†We met him when we decided to visit the Syquia Mansion without an appointment. We are not sure if we needed to make one. ¬†But we were a group of 12 pax, and so we thought it would be worth his while to give us a guided tour. Besides, how can he refuse my 2 “elves”?

Gathered on the 2nd floor of the Mansion,  Rusty immediately went into Tour Guide mode.  He was very systematic. Laid down the rules early on.  He reminded everyone to stay together;  no one should stray away as we move from hall to hall, from room to room.  No camwhoring while tour is underway.  Photos can be taken only AFTER his monologue. One can ask questions, but no one should touch anything. 

I’ve met these types. ¬†And love them all. ¬†Stickler for rules. ¬†Efficient. Passionate with what they do. Fierce! And they know exactly what information to dish out to perk up our interest as we move around the heritage house.¬†

Rusty belongs to a family of caretakers. ¬†He is 5th generation and being single, ¬†he claims to be the last caretaker from the same family taking care of the Mansion. ¬†He lives here. Alone. ¬†He is not young anymore, and when he goes, ¬†we wonder who would dare take his place. ¬†It’s a beautiful house. ¬†But we all found it a little creepy. ¬†When asked, ¬†Rusty admitted to “faint” creepy stuff happening in this Mansion during his watch. ¬†Yay!

Rusty started off by pointing out the “holes” strategically located around the Mansion. The first hole is on the floor, to peek newly-arrived visitors in the ground floor of the Mansion. ¬† When deemed “worthy”, the guests are then led to a receiving anteroom upstairs. ¬† From where they are seated, ¬†another peep-hole is used to check if the same guests are “worthy” to enter through the Main Door and into the sala or living room of the Mansion. My “elves” love this trivia about lifestyles and practices back then.

As “worthy guests”, we were first shown the most precious antique piece in the house. A Ming Dynasty vase made of silver graced a round table in the anteroom. ¬†Its ‘twin vase’ graces another round table inside the living room, but its beauty and importance is overshadowed by a painting of the lady of the house, resplendent in her pink gown. This lady is Vicky, the daughter of former president Elpidio Quirino, a widower when he assumed the presidency of the republic. ¬†His daughter is thus the youngest ever First Lady of the country. In fact, the only teenage First Lady I know. She is also the only First Lady who got married. ¬†Not being a Presidential Spouse, Vicky married Luis Gonzales of Pangasinan when she turned 19, with whom she had 3 daughters and 1 son, Louie, whom many know as the man who married Kuh Ledesma. ¬†Luis died and left Vicky a widow in 1984. ¬†Vicky then remarried a man by the name of Don Paco Delgado, a shipping magnate. ¬†This marriage was marred by tragedy and a lot of controversies which haunt the descendants to this day. ¬†But that’s another story, isn’t it?¬†

Glibly referred to as the Quirino Mansion, this heritage house was actually inherited by the wife of Elpidio Quirino, the very first Ilocano President.  From the Chinese family of Sy Kia,  the house was passed on to Dona Alicia, who unfortunately died during the Second World War , along with 3 of their 5 children, while fleeing their home. This widower was subsequently sworn in as the 6th President 2 days after then President Manuel Roxas died in 1948. 

This is the corridor where household staff pass......

Rusty informed us that the Mansion belongs to no single person, but instead to all the surviving heirs of the Quirino clan. While not one of the heirs live here, ¬†Rusty claims there are enough affairs held here to keep them all busy. ¬†No wonder the Mansion has a more “modern” and functioning kitchen that looks out to a patio and a fountain. ¬†I can just imagine the parties held here. ¬†I just wonder if any of the guests stay behind to spend a night or two here. ¬†Surely, the big beds in the bedrooms can accommodate them. ūüôā

 

 

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