Towkay from my home town

penang peranakan homeI was in Penang, Malaysia, over the weekend for a short trip. The weather in mid-March was lovely – we wandered around the island with friends from overseas. I hardly sweated!

Just like Hong Kong, Penang is known as the “Pearl of the Orient.” Being a Hong Kong boy by DNA, I had wanted to know what this twin sibling of Hong Kong was like. I first visited Penang back in 1988. Since I was younger and more energetic, most of my time in Penang was spent around the beach and endless experiments with great exotic food. My dental school friends and I admired all those nice hotels from afar. We were on a student budget.

This time, after over a quarter century, we were there with a group of people from a very diverse background. Many of them are captains of their own lives and of people around them. One of the places we visited was the home of the late 鄭景貴 (Chung Keng Quee), who was also known as the Kapitan China (Captain). He was a very influential man in his time as he was appointed as the top mandarin by the Ching Dynasty in China as well as a Kapitan under the British colonial government in Malaya during late 19th Century.

We went to his downtown home in Georgetown, Penang. The story was that this mansion was built with no ceiling in its budget – only the best materials and craftsmen were invited for the job, so essentially the whole mansion was an assembly of top quality art pieces. At the front, I saw gold Chinese characters written on a black wooden plaque:  滎陽, which is where my family was originally from!

Little did I know, in a sense, that I was visiting the home of my long lost ‘grand-uncle’ who used to control many businesses in Perak and Taiping, Malaysia which included some areas beyond the legal boundary of the world that we know in the 21st century. This Chinese man left China when he was about 20 years old. His mission was to look for his father and his brother, who set sail to Malaya earlier. He eventually spent the rest of his life in Malaya and became a towkay (當家) who was in charge of the business world and the underworld. It is clear that not all captains are the same and we can’t follow his business footsteps 🙂

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