Finally one afternoon they were open, so I peeked inside.
There was no tea on offer that day, but rows of empty Purple Clay teapots squatted on shelves behind glass windows.
Lattice window vents are a natural form of air conditioning, and also keep out the sun’s heat. Encaustic tiles cool the floor.
Walls were lined with paintings by local artists. Calligraphy paintings by Ang Chen Hui were executed with remarkable style.
I walked up to two men chatting at a table, and asked if they knew anything about the artist.
“That’s me!” one of them smiled, “I’m Ang Chen Hui.” In a small place like George Town, artists aren’t working 60 hours a week at a day job to pay for their studios.
The artist learned his technique directly from a teacher years before. For some, innovation is secondary to mastering style.
Penang shophouses are an elegant solution to a hot climate, characteristic of Malacca Straits architecture. They were built long and narrow to save on colonial taxes, which were levied per foot of street access rather than of interior space.
The key to staying cool is airflow; this courtyard circulates air to every part of the house. Sunlight is indirect and illuminates surrounding rooms naturally.
Next time I’m in Penang I’ll stop by to see their current exhibition – and perhaps even have a cup of tea in the teahouse.
Click on any of these photos to see them at larger sizes over on Flickr.