The Teochew & Cheah Kongsi Temples
Two of the most enjoyable and interesting stops of Sin Kok’s ‘tour de Penang’ were the Han Jiang Teohchew Ancestral Temple and the Cheah Kongsi Clan Temple. Penang’s massive Chinese population has left Penang dotted with clan houses and ancestral temples and a full tour of them all would take at least a day or two. Since we were short on time, Sin Kok picked two he particularly liked and we left it at that. The newly received UNESCO grants went go good use, but the work didn’t tarnish the sense of tradition and spirituality that cloaked the sites.
The Teochew Temple is si diang jing (four point gold) style with a breezy atrium in the middle and a massive gate to welcome or repel visitors. The entrance from the atrium is completely open, the whole wall a panel of doors, which is unique to most Taoist Chinese Temples. Once inside, there is a central altar to the patron diety (great uncle) that quickly draws the eye. But, the highlight is surveying the aging ancestral tablets arrayed around the room to honor deceased family members.
The Cheah Kongsi Clan Temple is one of the oldest in Penang and is oozing with character. Though restored, the sagging walls of surrounding buildings were unavoidably the most prominent decorating motif, and though striking, the intricate wall carvings were clearly not a new addition. The temple, tucked back down an alley, was quiet and empty and the two tier structure seemed to glow from all the red and gold that adorned it. Far from a spiritual moment, the effect still separated the building from the rest of Penang, as if the grounds were shielded from the sun’s heat and city’s commerce that permeated the streets. While we were here, Sin Kok took the time to pray, leave incense, and light candles for prosperity before ushering me out to the next site.
I think I particularly liked these stops because they weren’t prototypically “South East Asian.” Though religious sites are often on the site seeing itinerary, these Chinese inspired temples were far different from the Burmese, Khemer, and Thai wats that I frequented. Plus, since there was no one around, the stops were a nice relaxing break from the bustle of the city and Sin Kok’s bustling pace.