Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, in Penang’s Georgetown, Malaysia, was the setting for the movie’s memorable mahjong scene. But behind the facade of ‘the most atmospheric Chinese hotel that isn’t in China’ lies a fascinating history
Penang’s iconic Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, or the Blue Mansion, was one of the unsung “stars” of Crazy Rich Asians, having been the picturesque setting for one of the most pivotal scenes in the movie: the mahjong scene in which Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) and Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) enter a final showdown amid the clattering of mahjong tiles.
You – and 35 other friends and/or relatives – can now book up the whole mansion and live like a crazy rich Asian for a minimum of 50,000 Malaysian ringgit (US$12,048) a night. That will get you access to lavish welcome gifts, champagne, a Nyonya afternoon tea, dinner, a guzheng performance and, yes, a mahjong session too.
But before you sign over your money, here are some other things you might want to know about this iconic landmark.
1. The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, located in Penang’s Georgetown, is actually an 18-room boutique hotel that has been called the “most atmospheric Chinese hotel that isn’t in China” – complete with tranquil courtyards, Chinese carved screens, with other art nouveau influences. Even if you don’t stay here, the place runs three tours daily to show visitors around.
2. The mansion is named after Cheong Fatt Tze, a Chinese businessman who started off as a water carrier and a shopkeeper in Jakarta, before expanding his business to Penang. Cheong, who was born in Guangdong and lived between 1840 and 1916, was once the consul general in Singapore and an economic adviser to the Empress Dowager. He used the mansion as an office and a home with his seventh wife (he had eight).
3. The mansion is believed to have been built according to advice from top feng shui masters. It is adorned with materials that symbolise the fundamental elements of feng shui such as metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Until today, feng shui masters still debate the significance of certain oddities in the building’s design, such as how it does not align with Leith Street, which it sits on.
4. The distinctive blue colour of the mansion comes from a mixture of lime with a natural blue dye made from the indigo plant. The lime-wash was very effective in the tropics because of its ability to absorb moisture and keep the house cool. The blue was very popular during colonial times and the dye was imported from India to Penang by the British.
5. The house is frequently featured on television travel programmes and documentaries as well as movies. Besides Crazy Rich Asians, film lovers might have noticed its appearance in the 1993 Oscar-winning French film Indochine starring Catherine Deneuve, The Red Kebaya, Road to Dawn, 3rd Generation and The Blue Mansion.
Note – This story was originally published on SCMP and has been republished on this website with permission.