The House of Yeap Chor Ee was the first home of Yeap Chor Ee, a young immigrant who came to Penang in 1885 and worked as a barber before becoming a captain of industry at the turn of the 20th century. The building was converted into a social history gallery in 2008. Through the journey of Yeap Chor Ee, the gallery gives an insight into his remarkable life and the lives of immigrants who arrived on the island from China more than 100 years ago.
No 4 Penang Street was originally known as Kau Keng Choo (nine houses) and was the home of Yeap Chor Ee for many years before he moved to Homestead in the early 1930s. The building was abandoned after the last tenant moved out in the 1990s.
When the Yeap family bestowed their family home (Homestead) to the Wawasan Education Foundation (WEF) in 2006, they did not give much thought to what they would do with the furniture and artefacts that had been part of the family for generations. A friend suggested establishing a historical gallery and Kau Keng Choo was the perfect place for it.
Bringing Back Life
Boarded up for years, much of the interior of Kau Keng Choo was dilapidated, with little left of the original structure and fittings. Renovation took over a year and included works to strengthen the structure, waterproofing to prevent rising damp and better lighting and ventilation.
The design of the interior had to house its new resident, the eclectic mix of Western and Oriental styled furniture from Homestead. It also had to accommodate new commercial uses. The building opened its doors to the public on Yeap Chor Ee’s 140th birthday on 18 October 2008. At this stage, the story of Chor Ee was still in the making.
Digging The Archives
Research on Chor Ee’s life began at the same time as the renovation works and continued for another three years after the public launch in 2008.
Significant amounts of time and resources were spent combing though the libraries and archives in Malaysia and Singapore; volumes of reference books and journals read; and countless interviews conducted with family members and friends. At times, nothing could be uncovered for months. But once a discovery was made, one clue led to another.
At about the same time a separate team went to China to trace the family genealogy and ancestry. Working together with the Maritime museums in Quanzhou, China, the researchers pieced together records extracted from the family village in Sia Tua and those kept in other archives. The two teams worked on the ground, painstakingly extracting and documenting information piece by piece.
Piecing The Jigsaw Together
In 2010, the gallery began the perplexing task of putting everything together. The idea was to make the story of one man relevant to a wider audience. So began the task of weaving information into the story and placing artefacts in the existing space.
Next was how to present it. The story had to be accessible but without compromising substance. It had to inform and educate visitors of different ages and background. Materials, colours, design and technologies were tested and played around with before production and installation took place in 2011.
The Permanent Exhibition
On April 3 2012, the gallery launched the new Permanent Exhibition. The exhibition is packed with information using infographics and multimedia in the storytelling process.
The storyline of the exhibition revolves around Yeap Chor Ee, a young immigrant who arrived on the shores of Penang in 1885. Through his journey, the exhibition offers insights into the lives of Chinese immigrants, how they lived and built a community.
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