It was the 1930s and the coconut oil business in Penang was booming.
Well-known self-made tycoon Yeap Chor Ee sensed the potential and bought over an oil plant at the mouth of Sungai Pinang and set about installing the latest modern machinery. Soon, backed by a 350-horsepower Deutz diesel engine, the Ban Hin Lee Oil Mill – taking up almost 2ha of land – was up and running, churning out coconut oil from the Yeap family’s own plantations that stretched from Sungai Nibong to Bayan Lepas.
But by the 1970s, however, the state’s booming human potential and the industrialisation of Penang under then – Chief Minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu would greatly change the destiny of the oil mill.
“Coconut oil started to fall out of fashion, replaced by palm oil. The state also started to acquire our plantation land to build the Free Trade Zone and the runway for the Penang airport, so eventually, we converted the whole premise of the oil mill into warehouses in the 1970s,” says a Heng Lee Group director and one of Chor Ee’s grandsons, Yeap Leong Soon.
For the next 20 years, until the turn of the century, around 10 warehouses on the site would see the storage and movement of an array of goods – from bathtubs to tantalum to small boats to rice. Leong Soon says that for a time, the space was also used as a bus depot and the mooring site for orange Water Witch workboats that plied the nearby coasts, clearing the water of flotsam and debris.
"The warehouses were producing income for us, so when we wanted to develop the area, we really had to find something that would be worthwhile. We explored different ideas and finally came up with a mixed development project,” Leong Soon says.
Living in the City
With 403 apartment units designed within unique, twin U-shaped blocks, the Sandilands project was launched in 2012 by Heng Lee Group subsidiary BHL Waterfront. Priced between RM513 per sq ft to RM741 per sq ft, the concept proved attractive, with 70% of units being snapped up during the soft launch and a total of 85% purchased to date. (All remaining apartments are executive units measuring above 2,000 sq ft.)
Leong Soon says that construction on the 39-storey apartment blocks is nearing completion with a handover date in February next year. A commercial block with a built-up area of 40,526 sq ft, located in front of the apartment blocks along Jalan C.Y. Choy, is also being constructed and will be launched at the end of this year. Heng Lee Group’s newest development Sandilands promises to become a premier location for work and play. By Andrea Filmer Photography courtesy of Sandilands The Sandilands. 15 Units are available in nine parcels of four-storey blocks, priced between RM3.2mil and RM5.7mil.
As for the purchasers of the Sandilands apartments, Leong Soon is pleased to say that the overwhelming majority are local Malaysians, with Penangites making up over 85% of buyers. “A lot of the buyers are originally from the area as well as quite a number from Gelugor and Bayan Baru. The price range offered and the location are what makes Sandilands so attractive to those who are now working in the Free Industrial Zone,” Leong Soon says.
Leaving a Smaller Carbon Footprint
But Sandilands is more than just the latest in Penang Island’s long list of upcoming developments. In many ways, it has become the standard bearer for green living, achieving a provisional gold Green Building Index (GBI) rating. “We will probably be the first apartment building in Penang to receive the gold rating. To qualify for this, you need to score points in specific areas,” Leong Soon says, adding that the accreditation would be confirmed once construction was completed and an inspection was done.
Vertical gardens have also been planted to hang down the podium carparks where there are two charging stations available for electric cars.
First off, he explains, the twin structure faces north and south to avoid occupants receiving the full glare of the rising and setting sun. “The sun is, more or less, always traversing overhead so it will not be too hot indoors. The windows facing the east and west have special glass with low emissions to block out more of the rays,” he says.
On top of that, each apartment is designed like a semi-detached living area in the sky with none of the units sharing a common wall. “This double U-shaped design was chosen to optimise the circulation of air and sunlight around each unit. It’s a very expensive design to build, but it will ultimately benefit each occupant with savings through lower air conditioning and electricity usage,” Leong Soon says.
He adds that increased roof insulation has been incorporated to reduce heat and improve overall sound insulation. Vertical gardens have also been planted to hang down the podium carparks where there are two charging stations available for electric cars. Rainwater collection is part of the landscaping, and recyclable material from construction work is stored for future use.
“As for paints, we use non-volatile paint in the interior of the buildings to reduce toxicity and improve the quality of the indoor environment. Breathable paints are used on the exterior to reduce efflorescence or trapped moisture on the walls,” Leong Soon adds.
Each apartment is designed like a semi-detached living area in the sky.
Location, Location, Location
In terms of location, the development scored full marks in its GBI rating for nearby services and amenities. “Within a one-kilometre radius, there are shops, medical centres, markets, workshops, galleries, transportation services, eateries and schools. Just about everything is a stone’s throw away and people will be able to get what they need without having to drive,” Leong Soon says.
The whole apartment complex is also bordered by the state bicycle lane that runs across Sungai Pinang, and BHL Waterfront has designed an extra bicycle path to link Sandilands up with this. Additionally, the developer is upgrading a small strip of state land that separates Sandilands from the river. “We are putting in walking paths and trees by the riverside on behalf of the state government. We also have a small pier behind Sandilands that was originally used to unload copra (dried coconut flesh) for the oil mill. We will continue to maintain this jetty licence for future potential,” Leong Soon says, citing the example of the water taxi proposal that has been discussed in recent years.
Sandilands is also located at the threshold of the inner city's booming arts scene. The Macallum area, located just down the road, has been earmarked as the state's proposed arts district and was already a site for unique and stimulating performances and events in the recent George Town Festival.
“It's an area where the local arts scene is exploding. You've got the Hin Bus Depot there, street art and certain areas being gentrified by investors. The whole area is becoming very interesting,” Leong Soon says.
All in all, he adds, locals can hardly do better when seeking homes near town with outstanding connectivity to the Free Industrial Zone and the southern parts of the island. "Technically, Jalan C.Y. Choy is the beginning of Jalan Pantai so we are right at the edge of town. And being so near to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway, we are 15 minutes from the airport. On one side, we have an unobstructed view of Komtar and almost the whole of the city; on the other, we see old George Town and a great view of the Penang Bridge. It really is a great place to be," he says.
For more information on Sandilands, visit www.sandilands.com.my.
The windows facing east and west have special glass to block out sun rays.
Legacy of Educating the Young and the Needy
Orphaned just months after he was born, Yeap Chor Ee never received a conventional education. He stepped ashore on Penang Island at 17 from Fujian, China and through sheer grit, hard work and determination, became one of Penang's most famous success stories.
Within six years, he opended a small provisions shop called Ban Hin Lee (loosely translated into "Ten Thousand Prosperities") and traded first in sugar then rubber, rice, tapioca and other Malaysian produce. He later expanded into tin and shipping and in 1918, established the Ban Hin Lee Bank which was later listed as a limited company.
His confidence in Penang's potential also saw him invest heavily in real estate, becoming one of the biggest land proprietors on the island in his time. As a result, many of Chor Ee's former properties (including Sandilands) have rich and interesting histories.
Despite being illiterate, or perhaps because of it, Chor Ee was a great advocate of education, donating a total of $250,000 to University of Malaya, and a sizeable plot of land for the Chung Shan Chinese School in Bayan Lepas, establishing Charitable trusts with educational beneficiaries and willing several pieces of property to educational institutions before his death in 1952.
One of his grandsons, Datuk Seri Stephen Yeap Leong Huat, says the original purpose of the charitable trusts was to help the underprivileged, sepcifically in education and health welfare.
Stephen, who is a trustee of the Yeap Chor Ee Charitable Trsut and Yeap Chor Ee Endowment Trust, says this vision came into play in the early 1990s when the founders of Disted College were seeking a new home for the institution. "The founders of Disted College were looking for a new building when they had to vacate their former premises on Jalan Kelawei. They had their eye on the Jalan Macalister building (which belongs to the Yeap estate) when they found out that the tenant at that time was planning to move out. I then saw the opportunity to do something about my grandfather’s legacy to help in education,” Stephen says.
The large bungalow was rented to Disted College at a mere RM300 a month on a 60- year, no-increment lease. In return, Stephen explains, the original shareholders of the college sold 50% of its equity to Heng Lee – the trading arm of Chor Ee’s estate. “The Yeap Chor Ee Charitable Trust then gave a loan to fund the construction of the new campus. The interest from this loan is given back as scholarships and bursary awards to benefit students of Disted College,” he says.
But the Yeap family’s involvement in education hardly stopped there. In 2001 Stephen convinced the college’s partners to turn Disted College into a not-for-profit institution and around the same time, got involved with the Wawasan Education Foundation (WEF). “WEF was registered by Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik and (one of Disted College’s founders) Prof. Datuk Dr Sharom Ahmat who wanted to set up a new university. They approached me for help and again, I saw the opportunity to further grow our education philanthropy and to have that university built in Penang.”
After careful consideration, WEF bought into the operations of Disted College to become its new owner and the Yeap family applied and obtained a legal vesting order from the courts to transfer several of Chor Ee’s prominent properties to the fund. “All of Homestead, Wisma Yeap Chor Ee and other buildings on Gat Lebuh China were vested to WEF to start Wawasan Open University (WOU). A lot of fundraising headed by Lim and many other parties finally led to the construction of the new building that you see today behind Homestead and the starting of WOU,” Stephen says.
Ban Hin Lee mill.
“All of Homestead, Wisma Yeap Chor Ee and other buildings on Gat Lebuh China were vested to WEF to start Wawasan Open University (WOU). A lot of fundraising headed by Lim and many other parties finally led to the construction of the new building that you see today behind Homestead and the starting of WOU,” Stephen says.
As a former resident of Homestead, Chor Ee’s family home along the “Millionaire's Row” of the time (in fact, he was born in the Northam Road mansion), Stephen says he is pleased that the building is being used for a purpose that befits his grandfather’s legacy.
(From left) WOU chairman Datuk Seri Stephen Yeap Leong Huat, WOU Board of Governors chairman Tan Sri Emeritus Professor Gajaraj Dhanarajan, WEF founders Datuk Seri (later Tun) Dr Lim Keng Yaik and Prof. Datuk Dr Sharom Ahmat, then Penang Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon and WOU's first chancellor Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu at the groundbreaking ceremony of Wawasan Open University in January 2006.
Wisma Yeap Chor Ee is currently being leased to the Penang Development Corporation to house the Penang Science Cafe, while the Disted Hospitality School is now located at Bangunan Wawasan on Gat Lebuh China.
Stephen hints that more good things are yet to come, with plans to merge the Yeap Chor Ee Charitable Trust with two other trust indentures left by Chor Ee for his grandsons Yeap Leong Hai and Yeap Leong Chooi. Both brothers passed away before their 21st birthdays, the point in time when the trusts would have come into effect, so the funds were reserved for charitable purposes instead.
These trusts, along with the charitable trust, will merge in the near future to form the YCE (Yeap Chor Ee) Foundation, Stephen says, to help the needy and education- and medical- based charities. It is without doubt that the foundation will continue to serve well the legacy of The Grand Old Man of Penang.
Andrea Filmer is a freelance journalist who has lived in the US and Australia but, for reasons unknown to herself, finds it impossible to call anywhere but Penang home.