"The world is not a rectilinear world, it is a curvilinear world. The heavenly bodies go in a curve because that is the
natural way..."

-- George Bernard Shaw

"I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein."

-- Oscar Niemeyer

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

42. When Searching for Treasure, Any Treasure will Do

Main Entryway to Pinang Peranakan Mansion

One of our favourite hobbies, besides appreciating great architecture, is walking urban streets photographing street art. (Please see our other blog, streetsmart319.blogspot.com) We often do this in tropical countries, where survival requires learning a few tricks of the trade. The alternative is putting unnecessary wear and tear on your feet while melting away beneath the baking heat and humidity of an unforgiving sun.

That's not to say Heather and I always practice what we preach. Like mad dogs and Englishmen we usually begin stalking our prey under the noonday sun. A morning start would, of course, be so much smarter, but we're just not morning people. Hey,we're barely afternoon people. So, the biggest challenge to our photography is keeping the sweat out of our eyes long enough to frame a good shot and press the shutter button. That, and grabbing enough shade and liquid to keep from keeling over from sunstroke or dehydration. 

While we may not play by all the rules, we've learned to compensate by sniffing out the quickest routes between ourselves and the street art. Every city offers its own shortcuts. In George Town, the capital city of Penang, Malaysia, we discovered that the key is to seek out four-way intersections. There, you gaze in every direction at the rows of Chinese shophouses -- the city's iconic form of architecture. If you don't spot a break in the houses (as in the renovated stretch below) there's no point in walking up the street. Your only reward will be rows of blisters.

A row of Chinese shophouses in George Town

You're more likely to find gaps in areas where older shophouses have been torn down -- or just given way to the forces of gravity -- making room for street-level parking lots. On either side of the lots, the remaining row house walls present artists with large, deep and inviting concrete canvases. Indeed, some of the best murals in George Town can be found adjacent to parking lots.

 Mural by 4Some Crew

Symbiotic by Addison Karl

One day - a typical George Town afternoon of 33C+ with blanketing humidity --  we were sauntering around an area of row houses when we spotted a break in the pattern and a large, open, setback. We knew that we were onto something. But little did we know what. Instead of finding a parking lot with great street art, we walked smack dab into the outer courtyard of the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The Peranakans, also known as the Straits Chinese, emigrated from China and settled in the British Straits settlements of Penang, Melaka and Singapore -- collectively known as Malaya. They were largely traders and the Pinang mansion was built in the late 1800s as the home of successful magnate Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee. It was, and is, an eclectic (but opulent) arrangement of Chinese carved wooden panels, English floor tiles, Scottish ironworks, mother-of-pearl furniture, gilded mirrors and Rose porcelain. It also houses over a thousand pieces of antiques and collectibles.

Walking through the Mansion's wooden front doors, we entered the ornate reception hall -- a two-story, open-air atrium. It was our lucky day as a festive event was in the offing and the room was festooned with flowers and Chinese-patterned umbrellas. It all made for a spectacularly colourful scene, whether viewed from below::


or at eye level:

Two main family rooms ran off the Reception Hall. They were primarily used by women and were separated off by gilded doors with lavishly designed lattice work. The doors were called "spirit doors" since the lattice was meant to confuse malevolent forces and keep them from entering the main house.

One of the rooms is a dining hall, used primarily for hosting European guests:

The remainder of the first floor is divided into galleries showcasing the Mansion's treasures, including furniture:


Decorative ceramics:


Beautiful glass lamps, collectibles, and period kitchen ware:

The doors to the annexes were beautiful displays in and of themselves:

And overall the house had such an elegant feel to it that even the washroom signs were classy:

Doubling back to the main Reception Hall, we climbed the Fleurs-de-Lys stairway:

to the Mansion's second-floor:

Being the family's private area, the second floor wasn't quite as glitzy as the first. But the bedrooms still contained some beautiful objects:

including display cases filled with finely crafted flowers and bowls of crystal and glass:

As well as an attractive woman who was still learning that if you aim your camera at a cabinet with a mirror in it, you're going to be in the picture!

After a few minutes of wandering about the second floor, we went back down to the Main Reception Hall. There we discovered the real reason why the Mansion was so fancied up that day. A local couple dressed in traditional garb was using the Mansion as a backdrop for their wedding photos.

It was a scene that had no doubt played out hundreds of times before. But today there was one difference. At least two of the photographers had started their day thinking that they were going to be shooting street art.