Monday, June 27, 2011

Melaka (a.k.a. Malacca) Malaysia

One of the places we have been wanting to go see is Melaka (also spelled "Malacca") in Malaysia.  It is a relatively easy journey, and last weekend (June 18-20) we made it happen.
Melaka is a very old city, and is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is located on the Malacca Strait, which separates Indonesia from the Malaysia peninsula.  The location is strategic, as the Malacca Straits are the passage connecting  the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea, and eastern Asia.  It is precisely at the narrowest gap of the straits.  As a consequence of its location, it has been the battle grounds of imperialist nations for centuries, desiring to control the lucrative trade route.
The city was founded sometime around 1300 by the Malay sultans.  In the early 1400s the emperor of China sent his "ambassador" Chung Ho, along with an an entourage of 27,000 emissaries, and a fleet of thousands of ships on a world voyage mission to establish trade relationships with China.  He completed seven voyages, and stopped at Melaka on at least two of these voyages, hanging around until the monsoon winds were favorable to return to China.

In 1511 the Portuguese conquered Melaka, and established a fort at the location.  The Portuguese not only wanted to establish trade-- they wanted exclusive control of it.  Ships stopping in Melaka were required to pay a tax, and those that didn't were sunk or their cargoes confiscated.

Next came the Dutch, who took over Melaka from the Portuguese in 1641.  The Dutch handed over control of Melaka to the English in 1795 in fear of it falling into the hands of the French (Napoleon)-- a supposed temporary arrangement.   The port declined as a trade center, as its harbor became silted, and the emergence of Singapore and St. George as the more favored trading ports in the region.  (Singapore was founded as a free trade port).   At one point the British were planning to destroy the city and deter its reemergence as a competing trade center (to Singapore and St George), if returned to the Dutch.  The Japanese occupied Melaka and Malaya in 1942 until their surrender in 1945.  Malaya became an independent nation in 1956

The old fort walls of Aforteleza, the fort originally built by the Portuguese in 1512.  The fort was altered, expanded, destroyed by following rulers-- the signs indicate the various wall additions and changes by the Dutch.
Elaine (right) and our friend Alesa, our travel companion for this trip, holding down the fort.  Elaine met Alesa at the bus stop in Singapore one day, and struck up a conversation.  She is a professor of Communications at a local business school here in Singapore.  As it turns out she attended school with my sister at UC Santa Cruz.  Is the world a small place, or what?
Stadthuys--  located on Dutch Square facing the Melaka River, and built in 1650.  This served as the official residence of the governor, and as an administrative centre.  Currently it is the Museum of History and Ethnography, one of several museums in the city.  (Melaka has more museums than any other city in Malaysia).  The red color is true to the period, and allegedly was originally painted with the juice of betel nuts, which are native to the region.
Christ Church--  a protestant church built by the Dutch.  Construction started in 1741 but wasn't completed until 1753.
For hundreds of years, people from many cultures including Arab, Indian, Chinese, and others came to Malaka and settled. Particularly under the English, many Chinese settled in the area. Peranakan (a cultural mixture, primarily Chinese and Malay) created a unique culture for the area.
As a consequence of the variety of cultural influences over the centuries, Melaka has an interesting blend of architectures in its old city.
St. Paul's Church (ruins)--  This church resides on the hill above the old city.  Built in 1521 by the Portuguese and named "Church of our Lady of the Hill".  The Dutch renamed it St. Paul Church, and used it as part of their fortress.  There are some impressively carved memorial stones inside.
Inside St Paul on the Hill (ruins)

We stayed at a backpacker guest house (200 years old) along the Melaka River--  not Michelin 5-star, but clean, and very friendly.  And inexpensive-- RM19 per night (about US$7).  The guest house was a typical structure for the area along the river-- a warehouse on the first floor, with access to the river in the back, and business conducted along the street from the front.  The merchant owners lived in quarters upstairs.  This is a typical shop house style structure evident here and in Singapore.
Melaka River, from our guest house.  The river has walkways along most of the old city area, on both sides.  Tour boats ply the river all day and most of the evening.
Pedal Power--  One of the opportunities for visitors to Melaka is a ride in one of the Tuk Tuks.  They are ornately decorated with large bugs (in this case a bee) or flowers.  Apparently a most modern addition for them are  high powered car stereo systems, electronic horns, or other paraphernalia which allows you to go deaf while being pedalled about the old town.  Apparently Malaysia (or maybe just Melaka) is caught in some type of music time warp--  nearly all of the music heard in the restaurants, shops,  and Tuk Tuks were Western songs from the 70's and 80's.
In the old town square there is a replica sailing ship, which is part of the maritime museum.  School girls on a field trip.  The front.....
... and the back

Melaka--  a distance of approximately 250 Km, that should take 2 1/2 hours, but actually took about 4 1/2 hours.  The delay is incurred by the heavy weekend traffic, and the need to go through immigration and customs control.  At the Singapore border everyone exits the coach, goes through immigration to have their passport stamped.  We then re board the coach and drive about 500 meters to the Malaysia control center to pass through their immigration and customs.  (You need to remove all luggage and belongings from the coach).  The process is repeated in reverse on the return journey.  The coach travel was very pleasant, and reasonable-- S$45 (US$36) round trip.

Melaka was quite warm and humid-- about 32C, which made walking about a little challenging, with frequent breaks for air conditioning and re hydration.  Air con is less prevalent in Malaysia than Singapore, with many of the museums and shops having only fans.
Dragon Boat--  while we were in Melaka a dragon boat race was being held on the river, at the Malaysian Heritage Centre.  The person in the front has a drum to establish cadence for the paddlers.  The person in back (standing) attends to a rudder to steer the boat.  Apparently everyone else drew the shorter straws.
Water Monitor--  These guys are a pretty common sight along the river.  This one is moderate sized.  Another that we saw may have been 4 or 5 feet in length!  They are rather shy, so not much of a threat.

These characters are rather common sights as well.  Many cats in Singapore and Malaysia have a curious genetic defect that results in tails that have an abrupt right angle bend to them.  These two were pleasant enough, but in my opinion a lot of the cats in the Singapore 'hood look like they have an attitude-- perhaps the over sized ears and small head.  It is illegal to have cats as house pets in the public HDB housing in Singapore-- there are volunteer "feeders"-- cat lovers that bring cats food.  Singapore is just now initiating a program that captures the wild cats, neuters them, and then returns them to their capture location.  I am not sure of the policies in Malaysia.

Architecture--  Because of the variety of invaders and inhabitants, Melaka has a fascinating mix of building architecture.  This is the Malaysia Independence Memorial Hall 

Sultan's Istana--  Each of the states of Malaysia were once ruled by sultans (chiefs).  The architectures of buildings in these various regions of Malaysia vary considerably.  This is a replica of the Istana (palace) of the sultan of Malacca, now a museum.  Inside are beautifully carved panels and doors, with hardwood everywhere.

Melaka has a strong Chinese heritage-- the immigrants created a unique Paranakan culture.  Pastel colors of pink and turquoise are common.

Temple Road has a representation of many faiths within a block, with Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist temples.  This is the Buddhist temple, which is spectacularly ornate.

Scourge of the Seas--  We walked to the coast where the Melaka River enters the Melaka Strait (the Barrage).  As we have seen in most the coastal areas of Southeast Asia, Melaka was no exception.  There is a LOT of trash floating about in our oceans.  Plastic.  It has been a wonderful creation for man, but with a terrible dark side.  It is a pollutant that doesn't go away, and it is harming the habitat.  Please do your part to minimize its use, and dispose of it properly (for recycling).  This is a crisis that few people are aware of.
Homesick--  This was a small reminder of Boise, and our neighbor state to the south, Utah.

Art Gallery--  We weren't quite sure about this style of art. :-)   And surprising for a conservative Muslim country!

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