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Ren i Tang

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About Ren i Tang

The name "Ren i Tang" is the phonetic spelling in Mandarin of South East Asia’s oldest Chinese Medical Hall Wholesaler, Yin Oi Tong which is translated as The Hall of Benevolence. Yin Oi Tong was established in 1796 by Koo Suk Chuan, who arrived in Penang 10 years after Captain Francis Light founded the British Colony. He quickly established his business as an herbalist in a small shop on Pitt Street. In 1885, Koo moved his growing business into a larger premise on Penang Street and Yin Oi Tong Chinese Medical Hall continued trading here until its move in 2009. Its history and influence still resonates through the walls of the building that housed it for 124 years. For over 120 years, the family leased the property from the esteemed clan association, Cheah Kong Si.

In 2009, when Yin Oi Tong relocated, a treasure trove of intriguing artifacts was left behind. Among these fascinating relics were gunny sacks brimming with herbs, old lipstick paste once cherished by women in the early 1900s, and packets of "Wong Lo Kat," a herbal concoction packaged in recycled newspapers from the 1950s. The collection also included monkeys' bones, deer antlers, old glass syringes, porcelain pill pots, and newspaper cuttings dating back to the 1930s.

To provide visitors with insights into the workings of Yin Oi Tong, the hotel features a museum showcasing the items they manufactured, packaged, and sold. From cough syrups to spices and herbs, the museum displays an array of fascinating artifacts, as well as the tools of the trade.

Today, guests can explore the remnants of Yin Oi Tong's past displayed within the hotel. Among these historical treasures are an accounts ledger, herbal storage jars, and even the original Chinese characters that once adorned the shop sign. These valuable relics were meticulously found, cleaned, and preserved by the current proprietors of the hotel, Eu Yeok Siew and Low Teng Lei.

Ren i Tang's journey from a humble Chinese medicine shophouse to a charming boutique hotel is a testament to the heartfelt passion of its proprietors, Eu Yeok Siew and Low Teng Lei. Driven by their deep love for preserving history, they embarked on a remarkable project to breathe new life into the dilapidated building. Their dedication and vision allowed them to uncover hidden treasures and carefully restore the original features, such as the accounts ledger, herbal storage jars, and the cherished Chinese shop sign.

Yeok and Teng Lei, despite not being Penang natives or experienced hoteliers, approached the project with an immense passion for creating something remarkable. Coming from a media background, they relied on advice from local friends and the expertise of their contractor. The renovation process took two years and was funded by their personal savings. Their passion for conserving the old and embracing the building's charm is evident in the little touches of history found throughout the hotel. From the original cupboards filled with books to the rescued medicine jars hanging with plants in the courtyard garden, every detail reflects their passion for creating a unique and memorable experience for guests.

Undertaking the repairs was an educational process, Yeok says. The team collaborated with heritage watchdogs in Penang, “people who are passionate about their home”, and “learnt a lot about the old ways”, particularly how the building was cooled through air wells that worked on principles of convection, allowing hot air to rise. The roof needed urgent attention, and birds were displaced as rotting beams were replaced in the fi ve foot way. Stringent fire procedure measures were put in place. The team became experts at recycling, reclaiming discarded but useful items, even using the ends of pestles (once used for grinding with mortars) as shutter handles. Traditional limewash is used on the thick brick load-bearing walls and keeping the air wells open means the building is surprisingly cool and well ventilated. While guest rooms have ceiling fans and energy efficient air-conditioning, the ground floor – bistro, museum and seating areas – is open to natural breezes. 

 

Where You’ll Be

Meet Your Local

Ew Yeok Siew & Teng Lei

The hotel’s four directors hail from Kuala Lumpur, where Ew Yeok Siew and Teng Lei operated the travel agency journeymalaysia.com for over a decade. The concept behind Ren i Tang emerged from their desire to remain in the tourism industry while creating a venture based on green principles. They aimed to offer a “natural progression” and showcase Malaysia in a unique way.

During their research for clients, Yeok observed a significant loss of culture, rainforests, and architecture, sacrificed in the name of progress. This sparked a desire to preserve part of Malaysia’s heritage and make it accessible to the public. “Our goal was to restore some of the history,” Yeok explains.

Encouraged by George Town’s 2008 UNESCO World Heritage listing, they were impressed with the conservation efforts of the Penang Heritage Trust. They reached out to Khoo Salma Nasution, the NGO’s president and a local historian, for guidance and support.
Using Conservation Principles and Traditional Techniques Naturally the medical hall was dilapidated, but “it was a nice, sturdy building to work with,” observes Yeok. “We saw how it was and how we wanted it to be.” The project took three years, though the first 12 months largely consisted of gaining the trust of their landlords, the Cheah Kongsi, (the clanhouse for those of Cheah lineage).

Negotiating a lease required proposals, approvals, many meetings and “an interview with 17 Mr Cheahs.”

Start from: RM 281 / person
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