This is the story of making a home in George Town

Twenty-two months ago we put a deposit down on a pre-World War II shop house in George Town, the capital of Penang island, just off Malaysia’s northwest coast. We’d been looking for a property there for almost six months. We’d seen alot of outrageously priced dumps, and many places so poorly refurbished that they no longer had any character. We’d had an offer accepted on two side-by-side houses only to have the owner pull out of the deal a week later. We’d almost given up hope.

Then one morning an agent walked us through a shop house used as a place of business by an elderly tailor and his wife. They no longer lived there but were still working out of the ground floor. They were ready to retire.

We walked the length of the cement-floored shop, out the back door and into a small courtyard. We scanned weathered beams and blistered walls. We climbed the timber staircase to the second story, where we found original double doors, shutters sagging around an interior airwell open to the sky, a soaring, coffee colored wood ceiling, and much water damage.

We could see the possibilities. It felt right.

After maybe forty-five minutes in the house we thanked the tailor and his wife and walked back to our hotel.

We ruminated, playing pros-and-cons, for twenty minutes. We called the agent and made an offer. The house’s owner countered, and we countered back. Within an hour the deal was done. If this one didn’t fall through too we’d be home owners in Malaysia.

In September of 2010 — one year ago — we took possession of the property. We drove to Penang from our home in Kuala Lumpur and collected the keys.  With knotted stomachs we put key to lock and opened the door to “our house” for the first time in 9 months. We stepped over the threshhold, threw open the front shutters and sighed, relieved.

Though sad for its emptiness the old shop house whispered, “You made the right decision.”

Over the next few months we measured and drew and dreamed. We had plans drawn up, applied for a permit, and began looking for a contractor. (That last bit took longer than we’d expected.) Last week — finally, finally — we began work on the house.

There’s much to be done before Ah Tong Tailor becomes a home in George Town. One of us is a writer, the other is a photographer. In words and images, we’ll take you along for the ride.