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Back in Georgetown, Penang, among many of the heritage buildings, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (張弼士故居) is one of the most celebrated example. UNESCO recognized it with an award in Heritage conservation in 2000.

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We were treated to a glimpse of how a Chinese tycoon lived at the turn of the century (19th-20th).

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The mansion is now a boutique hotel as well as a restored cultural landmark. It served as a back drop for the French movie – Indochine, which won the Academy award in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

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It can only be visited by appointment in a daily tour, unless you reserve a room under its Homestay program.

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The property has a 38 rooms and is available for themed functions like weddings.

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Compared to where we were staying –  Seven Terraces – which is also a restored heritage property –  the architecture of the place appears much more authentic. Seven Terraces is more a product of the restorer’s imagination and potentially made more dazzling. Click the link to see our pictures of Seven Terraces parts 1 and 2.

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The tour of the mansion must be a very popular item on the tourists’ map as more than 50 people showed up.

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Our tour guide is a member of the group who bought the property from the original family owners and restored it to its current state. She seemed slightly offended when someone asked if the government or a charity rescued and restored the property.

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A lot of research as well as money was expanded on restoring the property accurately.

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She also seemed knowledgeable about characters in the original Cheong family. Apparently, there were some restrictions (we forgot the details) on the disposition of the property which prevented it from being transferred until recently (somebody in the Cheong family died), and as a result, the property fell into disrepair and was for years occupied by squatters (laundry hanging from ropes draped all over the central courtyard, etc).

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The story of Cheong Fatt Tze (1840-1916) is fascinating and we are surprised that not more stories based on him are made into TV dramas or movies. He was known as a financier, tycoon, diplomat, philanthropist and minister living in splendid mansions dotted around southeast Asia with 8 wives and 14 children.

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There is a lot of information on both the architecture and history of the house as well as the life of Cheong Fatt Tze on the official website – go explore here.

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