The Historical City

by Audrey Lim, Oct 31, 2001 | Destinations: Malaysia / Melaka

Here's a little history lesson for all. Although I live pretty close to Malacca (Melaka) and know the basic history well enough to relate to you, yet there are still more to be discovered. Lots that I do not know, and lots more that will remain undiscovered. Perhaps this is the mystery that adds to the charms of Malacca, the small state that is located towards the west of Peninsular Malaysia. Most of the "happening" historical moments took place in Malacca and if you can look past the modernized Kuala Lumpur and pop down to this quiet seaside state (about 150 kilometers south of Kuala Lumpur), you will be able to feel the quiet aura and the deep sense of history in every nook and corner of the state. It is like stepping into a huge museum.

In Malacca, some five hundred years ago, a great empire conquered the land and rose above all! And when it fell, its power and dreams went with it. During the colonial era, Malacca was a land coveted by all, and to own it was every power's dream come true. The land was rich and very well placed. It acted as a major port along the spice route and during its heyday the harbor was never asleep. Day in, day out? the harbor was alive with activities, of Chinese junks and other spice-laden vessels coming from all over the hemisphere. Visitors to the place will probably not see much of the ruins left being by the Malaccan Sultanate as the state was very much wood-based? but should you make a visit to the harbors, you will be able to imagine the scene, for the shores of the Malacca River was untouched by time.

Rich in history, the riverside still bears its trademark traditional Malay houses with its sloping rooftops, beckoning to you to explore its age-old heritage. The buildings here are a mockery to the Portuguese that conquered the land in 1511. The Portuguese has a tax policy for buildings - the buildings are taxed according to their width. In order to defy this policy, you will see extremely "short" houses of perhaps a mere 12 feet extending backwards for over two hundred feet. It is, therefore, not surprising to find thin and long buildings here.

Once you are off the coast, the Chinese influence remains one of the most obvious aspects in Malacca. Hardly changing over the last few hundred years, you will still see Chinese merchants bargaining in Mandarin and selling their wares in shop houses painted with bright red characters. Some of the wares for sale include fruits, vegetables, and fishes? and all done al fresco-like.

While going a little towards the morbid side (you may quit reading if you have anything against reading about the dead), there is a large Chinese graveyard located at the edge of the city. In fact, this is the largest Chinese graveyard around, sprawled out in a field of trees and crooked tombstones. This by itself proves to be an economic boost and a profitable industry for the Malaccans. Also located here is the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple along with the large cemetery is reasons enough for the people to start a business producing goods solely for the dead. This includes paper simulacra for families to burn to the death. If you have attended a Chinese burial ceremony before, you will know what that means. Here in Malacca, you can literally buy just about anything for the dearly departed. Mobile phones, computers, large houses, bank notes (Hell Notes), maids to serve them, cigarettes, you name it! It is quite interesting to note that majority of the market is occupied by proprietors who "dabble" in the "death business".

Over the years, the two mainstream cultures have merged and intertwined. The Malays and the Chinese have bred a new society, known as the Baba Nyonya. To learn more about the Baba Nyonya culture, you can check out the Malacca's Baba-Nyonya Heritiage Museum. However, on a personal note, the best thing that came out of this fusion is the food! Nyonya dishes are the best. And I will end this article on a high note and go grab myself some yummy Nyonya food right about now! See ya!