George Town welcomed a lot of Chinese immigrants from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s and during this time the Kongsi houses boomed. They provided much needed shelter, connections to find employment, and a social community for the newly arrived.
In case you are wondering what Kongsi means, it’s a Chinese term for a business. But in the historical sense it also signifies a partnership or social organizations. So at a time when the Chinese left their country because they needed to make their luck somewhere else, a Kongsi house represented a home away from home.
I went to Cheah Kongsi first, and it was also the first in George Town. The buildings are a mix of Malay, Chinese and European design. Already from the street you can it is something special.
Of course the entrance was not over the lawn but through a small side street. Kind of interesting how ‘modern’ architecture surrounded the old buildings. But this is the same in every town I guess which has been around for a couple of centuries.
The Kongsi underwent a renovation process which started in 2013. It’s not all done but so far it looks amazing. Especially where it is finished.
The second Kongsi I visited was a little harder to find. Although around the corner from Cheah Kongsi I passed the entrance for the Khoo Kongsi probably five times. In the end I walked into a store and asked for directions. I am really not a prodigy when it comes to map reading.
Khoo Kongsi is a really large building conglomerate. There is a huge temple, and there are side temples and then you have an exhibition floor which must have been sleeping halls.
The close-up details from the temple are amazing. And they are all over the place. I wonder how long it took to build this Kongsi. And more, how money it took to show this level of craftsmanship.
There is a lot more to see in George Town, so this will come up in the following days. Yours, Pollybert