On the day where our Couchsurfing host took us around George Town to see even more great street art like those above, we also had time to wander around the UNESCO town to see the mixed British, Portuguese and Chinese style of town houses that line the streets throughout the historical centre. On every corner there are shops, warehouses and homes that are still in use today, often by the same family who originally built and opened them, but of course several generations down the line.
When the street art had finally been found and we had taken a few moments to hear about the history of the pieces, the history of the town and what the future had in stall for George Town and the whole isle of Penang, our host Sherilyn decided that there was at least one place that we must visit that would be just our kind of thing, the kind of place you read about when you get home and tut at yourself for missing.
When we got there we knew exactly what she meant.
Make Your House A Home
Opened in 2011, this home of art, theatre, food and drink is what we call heaven with it’s fantastic decoration, furniture and art that covers every wall. With music at the weekends and a restaurant-cafe on location too, you can see why so many people gather there every day to sip Malaysian kopi (coffee with condensed milk) and snack on European treats with a localised twist.
Constructed and still receiving constant-renovation, the entire site is actually the combination of two townhouses that back onto each other with the adjoining courtyard opened up to allow access between the art space and artists dorm in one building and the other art spaces, bistro, bar, reading room and performance areas in the other.
The first building we entered housed one small bar and performance area for the jazz bands that perform on every weekend, both local and international. Up the painted and illustrated stairs lay the artists dorm.
Sometimes Even An Artist Sleeps
The Artists Dorm is a bedroom and studio space for passing artists whether they’re local or international and the space is great for them to chill and relax in whilst discussing artistic theory and the state of the world, crafting their ideas and designs for future work.
It’s a fantastically well designed place, full of light and ideas with a variety of different styles as you can see in the above pictures. With books on Dali here, sketches and finished paintings there and everywhere else. Armchairs that wouldn’t look out of place in a museum rather than a meeting place give it a magnificently special feel.
Back downstairs we headed and next through to the courtyard towards the other site of China House beyond.
Snaking between doorways, alleyways and the walls being freshly painted and stencilled, the courtyard itself is long and full of light. Here you can sit beneath mango trees or next to the pond and sip cups of tea or fresh juices whilst making new friends with other travellers you may have met in Penang. You can also enjoy some of the cooked food on offer here in the courtyard with plenty of shade to keep you cool.
After taking a few pictures of the fantastic mango trees and the wonderful Hobbit like hole-in-the-wall that separates the courtyard from the other building, we made our way indoors.
Making Space For Art
This side of China House has it all, it has the Beach St. Bakery (named after the street the buildings facade faces), a reading room with exchangeable books, the previously mentioned bistro and cafe serving throughout the day, a private area for functions entitled 14 Chairs – literally 14 chairs around a table – and lets not forget the artspace galleries on the first floor.
It was the art spaces that were the most enjoyable for us two art loving travellers.
Across two largely empty rooms were some fantastic pieces that adorned the walls and even the floor, some of which were tagged with the names of artists who we both presumed must have worked on them during their time in the artist’s dorm.
There were some truly magnificent pieces including this one I took the worst possible picture of.
The piece is called ‘Silent Fun Fair I‘ and is by the artist Iman Santoso, but for all of my internet searching I can’t find anything to link to or so I can send a message of admiration for this piece I would have bought in an instant had we a home to put it in.
One of the most notable and loveable things to about China House is the mixture of simple, plain but unusual decoration. The walls may be white as you may come to expect from an art gallery these days, but the materials that are painted are unlike those you’d find elsewhere.
The old original window frames for the sunroof remain but the glass doesn’t, leaving a great open space for the sounds of the cafe downstairs to flow through the rooms. Old wooden floorboards are as there were rather than re-painted, they maybe has a touch of varnish for protection.
After the gallery we made our way downstairs towards the exit and passed through the restaurant. It’s an upscale place and the prices were towards that end of the scale, but if you’re on a holiday budget rather than the backpackers budget like ours it’s certainly the top choice destination to share a meal with a loved one or friend or as a place to mingle with like-minded artful folk.
153 & 155 Beach Street (alternatively you can use 183B Victoria Street)
George Town, Penang
View ‘China House’ in a larger map
China House is by far one of our fondest moments from George Town even though the time we spent there wasn’t half as long as we would have hoped, but it’s always wise to leave something for next time, right?
We won’t hesitate in telling you to drop by with your camera in hand to take some shots or with a notepad and pencil so you can scribble some drawings whilst sipping an ice cold drink, but after seeing these pictures I don’t think you’ll need much convincing.