Melaka / Malacca, Malaysia – Colonial culture and Chinese tourism

12.-14.02.2016

As I said before, initially I didn’t even plan to go to Malacca but as I was stuck in Georgetown for a week and as I didn’t want to spend around  a week in Singapore, I went to Malacca for 2 days.
Well I don’t want to rethink about the awful trip in the night bus – awful because the bus was full and I had a seat with no possibility to move the back position – and I couldn’t change seat because the bus was full. So I leave the 7 hours journey to your imagination, I prefer to forget about that.

I arrived early in the morning at 6 am. Just in time to grab a tea at the McDonalds at Malacca Sentral, the main bus station (all the other shops were still closed). My hostel would only open at 9 am so I decided to wait with 3 other girls from Switzerland at the station. At around 8:30  we took a bus to the city centre. My first impression from Malacca was: quite picturesque. The houses and the streets reminded me of Georgetown.
I could not check in at my hostel, the Ringo’s Foyer Inn but I could take a shower and leave my bags. So I started my exploration of the city.

As Malacca as quite an interesting cultural and colonial background, here are some facts:
About Malacca (Malay: Melaka) is to know that it’s the capital of the state of Malacca, on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. The city has a rich history and cultural background from previous Portuguese, Dutch and British rule. The city centre was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in July 2008, along with Georgetown, Penang.
Before the arrival of the first Sultan, Malacca was a simple fishing village inhabited by local Malays. Malacca was founded by Parameswara, also called Iskandar Shah or Sri Majara, the last Raja of Singapura (now known as Singapore) following a Majapahit attack in 1377. Parameswara found his way to Malacca in 1400 where he found a port, accessible in all seasons and on the strategically located narrowest point of the Malacca Strait. This later became Malacca. The power of the Malays began to rise through the 15th century. In the Malay Annals,the sultan Mansur Shah was mentioned as having 6 wives and the fifth was stated to be a daughter of the Ming Emperor. However, in the Chinese chronicles, no such event was recorded.

Things started to change with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1509. They were at first welcomed, but Indian traders soon turned the sultan against the Portuguese and they had to flee. In 1511 the Portuguese returned, and at their second attempt seized the city. This marked the start of the formation of a large Eurasian community. The Portuguese turned the city into a massive walled fortress complete with a tower bristling with cannon. It was believed that such fortifications could withstand the encroachments of other European powers eager for a slice of the Asian luxury goods trade.

An alliance between the Dutch and the Sultanate of Johor Bahru saw the loss much of Malacca’s power. In 1641 the Dutch navy put a blockade on Malacca and they seized the city after six months. During the siege much of the Portuguese city was destroyed.

Only after 150 years did the Dutch lose their hold on Malacca. In 1795 The Netherlands was conquered by the French, and the British were keen to take over the Dutch holdings in Malacca. By that time, Malacca had lost most of its former importance although it remained an important part of Asian trade routes.

The A Famosa gate is all that remains of the old Portuguese and Dutch forts. As the Napoleonic Wars wound down the British knew Malacca would be returned to Dutch control. In order to make the city indefensible the city walls were blown down. A last minute intervention by a British officer, the young Sir Stamford Raffles (founder of British Singapore) saved the gate. Shortly after its return to Dutch rule, the Dutch and British governments swapped colonies – British Bencoolen in Sumatra for Dutch Malacca.

Malacca is a centre of Peranakan culture. When Chinese settlers originally came to Malacca as miners, traders and coolies, they took local brides (of Javanese, Batak, Achenese, etc descent) and adopted many local customs. The result of this is an interesting fusion of local and Chinese cultures. The men are addressed as Babas and the women Nyonyas by their servants meaning Master and Mistress. A small group of Eurasians of Portuguese descent continue to speak their unique creole, known as Cristão or Kristang.

All these historic influences are still seen today. Houses look rather than in the Netherlands than in South-East-Asia, there is also the colonial style which can also be found in Georgetown. With the river and the small bridges, it also reminds of Venice. The city is very similar to Georgetown concerning architecture, population and culture. But maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It was the last weekend of the Chinese New Year celebrations and of course, there were Chinese tourists everywhere and the city was crowded. From time to time we I saw other western tourist but not many. And everything is made for the Chinese tourists. The food, the souvenirs, the shops and especially the pop-kitsch Rikschas which you see in the street and you will hear them as they play loud pop-music.

Personally, I found it ok to spend 2 days in Malacca but that was definitely enough. The city doesn’t really have so much to offer.  For me it was all a bit artificial, I didn’t get a local vibe. I was strolling around but personally, I could not connect – completely different to my stay in Georgetown though. I really liked the street art I found along the river but that’s it. Because of Chinese New Year, a lot of local people went away and many shops or interesting places to eat – as a recommended Vegetarian restaurant – were closed.

On Saturday I rent a bicycle at my hostel and Daniel and me went to Malacca Sentral to get our bus tickets for Singapore. At the 6th counter we got them, apparently everybody was heading to Singapore the next day and all the tickets were sold.

The Highlight in Malacca for me to see was the floating mosque: it’s a newly built mosque on the Pulau Malacca. The funny thing about this island (pulau): Nobody is living there. It’s a men-made island in front of Melaka. You can find a lot of newly built houses and buildings but there are all in decline as nobody lives there. The only monument is the Straits Mosque (Malay: Masjid Selat Melaka) which is built over the water.
I went there together with Daniel. As it was so hot on this day, we both wore shorts and t-shirts, so as to enter the mosque we had to borrow some clothes as to cover up. At least they were colorful.
Well I don’t want to imagine to walk around all my life with this kind of clothes. It’s hot and so uncomfortable.

The mosque is beautiful from the outside, I think it would be nice to see it for a sunset.

 

Oh and I tried the last thing of my „Malaysian food to try“-list: Cendol. Its shaved ice, topped with coconut milk, jelly noodles made from rice flour with green food coloring (usually derived from the pandan leaf) and palm sugar. Other ingredients were red beans and grass jelly. Well what should I say – it was interesting to try and I found it more tastier then the Ice kacang I tried in Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. But I think it’s not becoming one of my favourite desserts – sorry Malaysia.

Cendol - Malay dessert, Melaka, Malacca, Malaysia

 

When you stay in Malacca and you look for cheap and simple accommodation I recommend

Ringo’s Foyer Guest House
Adresse: Jalan Portugis, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia
Telefon:+60 6-281 6393

You can book via Hostelworl, Agoda or Booking.com

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