The topic of films and film locations came up in one of our conversations, and this triggered my host’s memory. She regaled us of her attempts to see the cast and crew of Anna and the King when they were filming there in 1999. Although we couldn't recall which scenes were filmed in Penang, we decided to visit one of the locations, Khoo Kongsi.
The ancestors of the Khoos hailed from the Sin Kang clan village in the Hokkien province of China. They were wealthy traders and in 1906, they built the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (Dragon Mountain hall) clan temple in Cannon road. Restoration works were undertaken in 2000 at the cost of RM$4.2m and is today regarded as a cultural and heritage icon.
The temple is hidden away from the main road. Visitors must walk past a row of 19th century shophouses before turning right to the Khoo Kongsi administrative office where admission tickets are sold. Exiting the office, we were directed across and a little further down the road. Turning left, the temple finally came into sight. We took time to explore the small ancestral hall on the right prior to crossing over the courtyard to the temple proper. Here, tablets inscribing the names of the Khoos are placed. Moving towards the courtyard, the building facing the temple is actually a stage for Chinese operatic troupes to perform during festive seasons. Crossing the courtyard, we entered a door on the right hand side. This led us into the museum and ancestral hall where we learnt the history of the Khoo clan through relics and artifacts from the 19th century. It made us curious too of our own ancestors. How fortunate that the Khoo clan has this hall to remind them of their roots!
Moving out of the museum via the souvenir shop, we made our way up the stairs to the temple itself. The carvings on each pillar, wall and door were ornate and intricate. Guarding the central temple hall are two marble lions, two turbaned Sikh guards, and door deities flanking each side of the door. Carvings of auspices creatures and symbolic flora like phoenix, cranes, lions, dragons, lotus flowers, etc., adorned the walls, ceilings, and beams. Look up and the gold-inlaid sign of Leong San tong (dragon, mountain hall) greets all visitors. The threshold was deliberately built high to "forced" visitors to bow to the Gods and ancestors upon entry into the hall as a show of respect. Here, huge murals depicting traditional Chinese literature like the 18 loh-hans and Confucius teachings dominate the walls. Due to the intricate carvings, the temple is practically enclosed in a net to protect it from nesting birds.
Coming back to Anna and the King, my friend did not manage to meet Jodie Foster, Bai Ling, or Chow Yuen Fatt; she did, however, manage to catch a glimpse of Bai Ling’s body double.
Operating hours: 9am-5pm
Admission fees: RM$10