Cheong Fatt Tze, also known as the Blue Mansion is an incredibly well-preserved late 19th century building in Penang. The royal blue exterior of the 38-room building makes for a striking appearance in George Town’s World Heritage Site. The mansion has gone through different waves from its glory days as the property of merchant Cheong Fatt Tze to a crumbling property mostly inhabited by the poor in the late 1900s; to a critically acclaimed conservation and restoration process that led to the boutique heritage hotel and museum it is today.
There are three sets of guided tours open to the public each day. These are the only ways to explore the site except if you are a guest of the hotel as visitors are not allowed to wander. I joined our group of about three dozen people just in time for the last session at 3:30 pm. The friendly staff all clad in blue greeted us at the entry and the tour price for adults was 16RM. For the last session on that Wednesday, there was no line to get in, although the website does warn that there is no guarantee of space when queuing for tickets.
The first stage of the tour is an introductory talk in the lobby from the guide about the original owner, then-richest man in China Cheong Fatt Tze. The materials that make up the mansion range from tiles from Stoke-on-Trent to ceramic bowl sculptures and panels from southern China. After the introduction, the group walks through one of its five courtyards. The guide offers background on the design, history and balance of British and Chinese influences of the mansion as the group views the terrace.
The group then climbs upstairs and views more of the space, getting an overview of what life was like in Fatt Tze’s time and the “tread lightly, touch softly” method that was adopted to carefully restore the area.
An explanation about how the mansion came to be what it is now is also given, including its use in filmmaking and UNESCO’s involvement. The actual range of the mansion the tour provides is a small proportion of the entire building. You would need to be staying at the hotel to truly explore the space. It is clear on the tour that a delicate balance is being straddled of conservation and inclusion of visitors. My personal highlight of the tour was our particular guide. While being clearly very well-informed, he maintained a great sense of sarcastic humour. Apart from the beautiful architecture, the best part of the tour came towards the end, when he made an impassioned speech about the loss of similar beautiful old buildings which will never be restored to modern development. He emphasized why decisions like that should be well thought out with considerations of conservation. The tour takes about 40 minutes and ends at the gift shop.
The Blue Mansion Guided Tour slots are available in English and Chinese. The English tours occur on weekdays from 11:00am-2:00pm, 2:00-3:00pm and 3:30-4:30pm; and on weekends at 11:00am and 2:00pm.
By Desola Kazeem