The con­tin­u­ing saga of 50 Love Lane

The drama over a crum­bling build­ing in the her­itage heart of Ge­orge Town has come to re­sem­ble a Hokkien soap opera, with groups rang­ing from Chi­nese clans to a de­funct triad lay­ing claim to the prop­erty.

The Star Malaysia - - Views - news­desk@thes­ Anal­y­sis JOCELINE TAN

THE su­per­sti­tious Chi­nese would prob­a­bly say that the her­itage prop­erty known as 50 Love Lane has bad feng shui.

There is still no com­pro­mise in sight for the build­ing, which has been an ob­ject of a bit­ter dis­pute be­tween the state gov­ern­ment and the Pe­nang Chi­nese Clans As­so­ci­a­tion (PCCA).

How­ever, the is­sue has taken an in­trigu­ing twist – an­other Chi­nese group emerged this week to lay claim to the prop­erty which once be­longed to the Ghee Hin se­cret so­ci­ety that dom­i­nated Chi­nese life in Pe­nang dur­ing the colo­nial era.

The group, led by two Datuks from Pe­nang, claimed to be de­scen­dants of the Ghee Hin triad.

Their ap­pear­ance raised eye­brows among many Pe­nang Chi­nese be­cause peo­ple gen­er­ally do not come out to an­nounce that they have ties with tri­ads even if the triad is now de­funct.

Any­way, no one was go­ing to dis­pute their claim es­pe­cially given that they ar­rived for the press con­fer­ence with an es­cort of about 30 men who looked like the sort you would not want to mess with.

The spokesman, Datuk Teoh Kooi Sneah, said he had been fol­low­ing the im­passe over 50 Love Lane and his group felt a “his­tor­i­cal obli­ga­tion” to claim the prop­erty.

Teoh is a for­mer state as­sem­bly­man while Datuk Chin Poh Chai, a wealthy con­trac­tor, watched on.

The group was also ac­com­pa­nied by two DAP politi­cians ­ Je­lu­tong MP Jeff Ooi and Tan­jung MP Ng Wei Aik.

“They ap­proached us ex­press­ing in­ter­est. They are agree­able to the state gov­ern­ment’s con­di­tion to go by the le­gal process and they want to take a non­con­fronta­tional ap­proach. It is up to them to take it fur­ther,” said Ooi.

What all this means is that PCCA is no longer the sole claimant to 50 Love Lane. The “Ghee Hin group” is now a ri­val claimant and if they are in­deed de­scen­dants of the triad so­ci­ety, then they have a stronger case than the PCCA.

PCCA’s claim was made on the premise that it is the um­brella body for some 82 clan as­so­ci­a­tions in Pe­nang. The clans were a big part of early Chi­nese life and cul­ture and al­though their in­flu­ence has faded, PCCA sees it­self as the holder of the torch. It man­ages an­other Ghee Hin­re­lated prop­erty known as Meng Eng Soo An­ces­tral Hall along Rope Walk and when Dr Chang Wei Lu be­came the PCCA pres­i­dent sev­eral years ago, he was tasked to re­cover the Love Lane prop­erty and turn it into a mu­seum on Ghee Hin story.

But this seem­ingly civic­minded ef­fort has some­how turned into a very pub­lic fall­out with the state gov­ern­ment.

The Chi­nese ver­nac­u­lar press has re­ported every blow ex­changed by the two sides and no one can quite ex­plain how things went so dis­as­trously wrong be­tween PCCA and the state gov­ern­ment.

It is quite un­likely that PCCA is ever go­ing to get the prop­erty.

Prior to the ap­pear­ance of the “Ghee Hin group”, a man had also emerged to claim that he was a de­scen­dant of a trustee of 50 Love Lane.

All of this is widely seen as po­lit­i­cally­en­gi­neered ef­forts to stonewall PCCA, to show the as­so­ci­a­tion that there are oth­ers who have more right to claim the prop­erty.

Legally speak­ing, all of them have no right to 50 Love Lane, which was held by a board of trus­tees. The last trustee died years ago with­out leav­ing any in­struc­tion and the prop­erty is now held by the state.

The an­tics over this is­sue have not im­pressed the Chi­nese chat­ter­ing class or the tea­house com­mu­nity. They re­gard the emer­gence of the “Ghee Hin group” as a joke. A Chi­nese lawyer from Pe­nang called it a “cir­cus”.

For in­stance, when one of the re­porters at the press con­fer­ence asked the group for proof of their Ghee Hin ties, they in­di­cated that it had to be kept a se­cret.

More­over, it is pub­lic knowl­edge that Teoh and Dr Chang do not get along. Teoh lost the chair­man­ship of the Teoh Clan As­so­ci­a­tion to Dr Chang.

There was also a bit of drama at the “Ghee Hin group” press con­fer­ence when lo­cal busi­ness­man Datuk Pa­trick Ooi gate­crashed the event.

Those guard­ing the door tried to stop him but Tan, the Datuk who had been silent through­out the event, sig­nalled for Ooi to be let in, say­ing, “he is our brother”.

Ooi, who has had his own fall­outs with the state gov­ern­ment, came with a pur­pose. He told the “Ghee Hin group” that their aim should be to unite rather than be used by politi­cians to di­vide the com­mu­nity.

He also posed a cryptic ques­tion to the group: “Do you agree that the di­rect de­scen­dants of Khoo Boo Aun are the ones with the real right to claim the prop­erty?”

Ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing the two Datuks, nod­ded in agree­ment be­cause Khoo Boo Aun is ap­par­ently the first tai kor (big brother or leader) of the Ghee Hin triad.

Ooi came with two Chi­nese men but be­fore he could in­tro­duce them, some­one in the del­e­ga­tion called out in a fierce tone, “time to eat,” and ev­ery­one trooped out for lunch.

Ooi, who was dressed like a Mafia boss in a red open­necked shirt and black suit, played it coy about the iden­tity of the two men but hinted that the men were the fifth gen­er­a­tion of the orig­i­nal Ghee Hin tai kor.

If that is true, the 50 Love Lane is­sue is about to take an­other un­ex­pected turn. Will the two men, who are broth­ers, be join­ing the ex­pand­ing field of claimants to 50 Love Lane?

“Be pa­tient; wait and see,” said Ooi.

They are agree­able to the state gov­ern­ment’s con­di­tion to go by the le­gal process and they want to take a non-con­fronta­tional ap­proach. It is up to them to take it fur­ther.

Jeff Ooi

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