BY GERRYE WONG   April 7, 2019


In my recent trip to South East Asia, I visited Penang, Malaysia, and was fascinated by the Chinese history there. Penang is actually a state, but I visited Penang Island and its state capitol George Town. There I discovered the city Is known for its British colonial buildings, Chinese shophouses and mosques.

In 1793, following George Town’s founding, the city quickly prospered and soon there were elite residences of Chinese merchants and a China Street emerged where traders chose to reside.  During my short visit, I stayed at a newly refurbished East Indies Mansion on China Street, and soon learned of its fascinating history, thanks to Ivan Goh and Alice Tan, of WnJ Services Sdn Bhd, managers overlooking the property.

The East Indies Mansion, located at No.  25, I learned, was originally the residence of Koh Lay Huan, Penang’s first Kapitan Cina. Claimed to be the most prominent resident of his time, he was given the Kapitan Cina title, typically given to the leaders of overseas Chinese community enclaves in Southeast Asia. Some years later, the second owner, Chung Keng Kwee, also a Kapitan Cina, was the powerful leader who controlled 15,000 coolies and most of the tin mines in Larut, Perak, according to Ivan who spoke to my tour group while they were being served cooling afternoon tea with specialty Penang dishes.

A succession of prominent Chinese businessmen and companies owned and resided in this mansion for the next centuries until 2000 when it was almost demolished to build modern new offices. Luckily the Penang Heritage Trust stopped the work and it was declared a house of historical importance and unique architecture. It has since been restored to its past glory and the mansion is operated as a unique boutique hotel for those who visit a country and desire to be immersed in its culture.

Alice Tan and Ivan Goh welcome Kelly Matsuura and Gerrye Wong to East Indies Mansion

A former student of my Chinese culture class when he was only 7, Brian A Wong retained an interest in Chinese culture and roots, and discovered this unique property. Although a California Chinese American, he and his parents Dr. Guy and Barbara Wong, become fascinated with the mansion’s Chinese history right in the core zone of George Town’s UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE.

The East Indies Mansion, is situated on the largest plot of land on China Street, and described as a three bay house because its façade was designed to look like 3  houses or “settlements” along its length. Some of my group of Californians, Muriel Kao, Mary K Lim,  Maelene Wong and Fran Gin, marveled at the main entrance decorated by traditional broken porcelain. The two most striking panels are one using the original two long-tailed phoenix and central scene showing the 8 immortals.

A taste of Durian fruit for the first time experience

Staying in one of its 10 suites, daughter Kelly Matsuura and I found it was most comfortable here where the interior layout is based on the original Fujian house’s deep courtyard arrangement. The high ceilings and open courtyard provide plenty of natural light and it is said the wood fired terracotta tile floors, natural ventilation and rising levels of the house will provide good Feng Shui to its patrons.

In addition to the wonderful Penang special tea snacks enjoyed by all of my group visitors, including Singaporian Alice Chua, Americans Carol Fong, Dali Jones and Marie Lee, I mentioned to Ivan and Alice we had never tasted durian before as not allowed in most modern hotel establishments.  So on the sly, and carried in heavy plastic containers, they brought to us for our late night snack, some durian slices. Crazily, they made us don plastic gloves as we first tentatively picked up a piece of this precious but smelly fruit, but later agreed we liked its creamy texture and taste without spilling anything on the premises. Such a unique treat.  Our peranikan breakfast the next morning was equally as unique, prepared by the East Indies Mansion staff.  

As we placed our review on Travel Advisor, we noted other past visitors echoed our feeling that this East Indies Mansion was a wonderful step back into the time of wealthy Chinese merchants and their exclusive homes of the 17th century.  If you’re a history buff and adventurous when visiting new countries in search of its unique history, the East Indies Mansion is for you. Contact: alicetan@wjnservices.com for more information and you won’t be sorry.

ASIAN LAW ALLIANCE’42ND ANNIVERSARY                                      

In celebration of its 42 years of serving the community’s needs to provide justice, Dignity and equality, the ASIAN LAW ALLIANCE held its annual dinner at the San Jose Fairmont Hotel. Director Richard Konda in his welcome speech said, As in the past ALA continues to partner with many local organizations in speaking out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform with a path to U.S. citizenship.”

ALA Executive Director Richard Konda welcomes Judge Edward Chen and Don Tamaki to 42nd anniversary dinner


Honored  that evening were The Honorable Edward Chen of the United States District Court, Northern District of California; Jayne Whitt, Director of IP Transactions, Apple Inc., and the Honorable Cindy Chavez of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.


Team who worked on City of Santa Clara Voting Rights Case 

Over 350 Asian Law Alliance supporters were there to show their backing in the fine work the ALA has done in and the past and continues to do with minimal staff support. Also honored during the evening was a group of individuals who made civil rights history in 2018 as the plaintiffs in the City of Santa Clara Voting Rights case.



California State Assemblyman Kansen and Mrs. Daisy Chu, Janet and Edward Chen, Dennis Fong at Asian Law Alliance dinner

Being congratulated were LaDonna Yumori-Kaku, Wesley Kazuo Mukoyama,  Michael Kaku,  Umar Kamal and Heminio Hermando who stood steadfast to protect the voting rights of Asian Americans residing in the City of Santa Clara. The result of the lawsuit was that the City of Santa Clara was found to be in violation of the California Voting Rights Act, and City Council district elections were held in November 2018. Also key to the success of this claim was former California Assembly member Paul Fong who was acknowledged on stage.

Gerrye with former first grade student, now Judge Edward Chen

It gave me great pleasure to see Edward Chen being honored, as unbelievably he was my first grade student when I began my teaching career as a teacher in Oakland, CA. I kiddingly tell him he was a model Chinese student of that era – obedient, loyal, hard working, shy and eager to accept whatever responsibility or challenge sent his way. Obviously those dependable traits carried him through many career challenges. Always ready to fight for his ideals, he worked on the legal team representing Fred Korematsu which successfully overturned his WWII conviction for failing to comply with the Japanese internment order.  Need I underscore the importance of we teachers who actually shape the minds, and bodies of their students during those early years?  Am I right, Ed?

Congratulations to all of the honorees of the evening who have proved their worthiness to the community many times over.


THE GREAT LEAP roared into town with a big smashing hit. San Francisco born and bred LAUREN YEE had another hometown hit with THE GREAT LEAP  which was an American Conservatory Theater offering at the Curran Theater last month.  It was interesting to learn Lauren is the first female Asian American playwright to be produced at The Geary Theater, just steps from where she grew up and where this story starts.  The Great Leap is a story of a young Chinese student who fought to play basketball with a local college team when they were invited to compete in China, a  then Communist country newly opened to the outside world.   Another hometown product, BD Wong returned to play Wen Chang, a citizen of China who had sublimated his own desires to be loyal to his homeland.  As usual BD gave a brilliant performance showing the inner turmoil Chang felt when renewing friendships with the San Francisco university coach he invited to come to China to challenge his own China basketball team.

The play moves from a mere basketball tournament between two countries to a crisis situation when protests arise in Tianamen Square, which become worldwide news when army tanks drive into the milling crowds of protesters, injuring and killing many during that infamous incident. Also audiences seemed to enjoy great performances by Tim Liu playing the basketball player and Ruibo Qian as hisconcerned so-called auntie.  I found it very heartwarming to see Chinese American actors and playwrights getting a chance to showcase their talents to hometown audiences. Good job, Lauren and BD.


JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT lit up Redwood City’s Fox Theater with its lively music, quick action, interesting sets, and high stepping dancers and singers. MATT ONO was great in the title role of Joseph in this old favorite of the 1970s.  Thanks to Broadway by The Bay, local audiences enjoyed the irresistible family musical about the trials and triumphs of Joseph, Israel’s favorite son. A nice street of restaurants surround the Fox Theater so that patrons can have multi myriad choice of restaurants to dine at before or after the show.  Broadway By The Bay first came on the scene as San Mateo Community Theatre but in its 54-year history it has maintained a continuous patron loyalty in the community.  It is the largest community musical theater company between San Francisco and San Jose producing the highest quality shows while maintaining accessibility to its community and keeping the prices reasonable. BBB always attempts to use local talents in their shows so Kudos to all the actors, dancers and singers enjoying stage time.


COMMUNITY ASIAN THEATRE OF THE SIERRA  announced its 25th Anniversary Production and  I always want to come up to see its shows but alas, have missed them so far – but I do hope to catch its newest  offering M. BUTTERFLY which opens April 11-May 4 this year.  My friend Gloriette Chew Fong says this is a company that is worthy of everyone’s support so let’s all try to go up and see this 1988 Tony Award show by David Henry Hwang at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City.  For ticket information : info@catsweb.org.


FLOWER DRUM SONG is an old old favorite that was the first Broadway musical about Chinese Americans that fascinated audiences back in 1958 on stage and screen.  For those of us who remember 60 years ago the favorite songs and dances of that production, it will be interesting to see how playwright David Henry Hwang has modernized the characters and story to better represent the Chinese American experience.    PALO ALTO PLAYERS from April 26-May 12 will let you experience firsthand when it presents Flower Drum Song at the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto.

Talented Lily Tung Crystal will be directing the show, and spoke about the show from her perspective, saying, “I didn’t come across the film FDS until I was in high school, but once I saw it, it changed my belief in what was possible as an Asian-American performer. Even though the revival premiered 16 years ago in 2002, itself the revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical of 1958, it still explores themes that are relevant today. That’s especially true in this political climate, when immigration is being threatened and our identity as Americans is being questioned on what feels like a daily basis.”

Come and support local theater, especially those with Chinese American themes to show we are a force ready to support more Asian Americans in contemporary theater.  Come Opening night April 27 for an AfterFlow Party to meet cast at post-show reception.  Or May 2 sounds like a great show to enjoy along with the Talkback series with Director Lily Tung Crystal and members of the cast following the performance, all free with ticket purchase of any performance during the run.   Tickets:  paplayers.org or call 650 329 0891.    I am proud to announce that my organization, CHINESE HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL PROJECT, will be the non-profit sponsor of this production.   Hope to see you there.


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