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

When Chinese New Year shakes up your travel plans……

Today is my 6th day in Georgetown. I don’t mind at all because the city is nice and I’m lucky with my hostel but well, initially I planned to stay for around 4 days and to head to the North-East before going South to Singapore. But me – and probably a thousand of other backpackers too – underestimated the importance and the influence of the Chinese New Year celebrations here in Malaysia on the 7th and 8th of February.

As you might know there is quite a big Chinese community living in Malaysia, they represent around 24 % of the population.
From my travelbuddies Rita and Ricky, who live in China, I learned, that this is the only occasion for the Chinese to travel around across borders to gather with their family and friends as it is the only time of the year when they can enjoy a real vacation. Thus, the Chinese New year is as important for them as Christmas is for us. By understanding this you understand, that hostels are fully booked, that there aren’t any seats left in busses or trains and that the prices for fight rise up.
But well, you was not aware that the celebrations take more than 2 days and that also official and public institutions are closed. I thought that I could apply for my 60-Day-Tourist Visa at the Indonesian  Consular in Georgetown. But already when I was in the Cameron Highlands I realized that this was definitely not possible on February 8th as it was Chinese New Year, the beginning of the year of the monkey. So I thought it will be find when I go on February 9th – but now, the consular was still closed.
So well I extended my stay at ,y hostel for another two nights until Thursday, February 11th. And as I like to get to know another place I decided to go to Melaka in the South for 2 days before I will go to Singapore.

And don’t get me wrong: I was happy to live the experience of Chinese New Year celebration her in Malaysia but well I didn’t think that it were so exceptional circumstances.

So that is the great thing: You learn so many things by travelling, by exploring and discovering foreign cultures. These experiences are treasures.
These are experiences you will never learn at university or school. It’s all about journeys and an open mind. 

By the way: I can say now that I know Georgetown pretty well now 😉

So I note for myself:
– Never underestimate the will of travel of Chinese people around New Year
– I think there are as double as Chinese people than Malaysians here
– For Chinese New Year you have fireworks and especially firecrackers at day and night – also at 4 am beneath the window of your hostel-dorm

 

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GERMAN VERSION

Wenn das Chinesische Neujahrsfest Deine Reisepläne durcheinander wirft ….

Ich sitze nun noch immer in Georgetown in Penang. Seit letztem Freitag, dem 05.02., bin ich nun hier – das war eigentlich gar nicht so gedacht. Aber ich – und wahrscheinlich 1000 andere Backpacker ebenfalls – haben das Chinesische Neujahrsfest und das Einläuten des Jahres des Affen am 07. und 08.01.2016 und die daraus folgenden Konsequenzen total unterschätzt oder eben nicht für die Reiseplanung bedacht.
In Malaysia lebt eine besonders große Kommune an Chinesen, sie machen ca. 24% der Bevölkerung aus. Meine Travelbuddies Rita und Ricky – beide leben in China – haben uns eben auch erzählt, dass das Chinesische Neujahr für die Chinesen so wichtig ist wie für uns Weihnachten. Das heißt, die Chinesen haben in dieser Zeit lange Ferien und die meisten reisen, um Familie und Freunde zu besuchen. Nun aber dass dann wirklich zwei Tage alles komplett still steht, das war nicht so ganz ersichtlich. Und dass auch staatliche Institutionen geschlossen sind und vor allem für wie lange, war auch nicht so ganz
Bevor ich abgereist bin, dachte ich, ich könnte ich in Georgetown beim indonesischen Konsulat mein Visum beantragen (in KL wurde es mir ja verwehrt). Geplant hatte ich das am 08.02. Bereits in den Cameron Highlands dämmerte es mir dann, dass das wohl nichts wird da am 08.02. der chinesische Neujahrstag war. Dann bin ich mal am Dienstagmorgen, den 09.02., ganz früh zum Konsulat. Tja Pech, das hatte immer noch zu. Und dann nimmt die Visa-Bearbeitung ja auch noch Zeit von 1-2 Tagen in Anspruch. Nun ja ich habe mal vorsichtshalber in meinem Hostel verlängert und bin nun bis Donnerstagabend in Georgetown. Eigentlich wollte ich nach Nord-Osten, nach Kota Bahru aber da es dann mit meinem Flug von Singapur am 17.02. zu eng wird fahre ich nun am Donnerstagabend mit dem Nachtbus nach Melaka, bleibe dort bis Sonntag und fahre von dort aus nach Singapur.
Andere Backpacker wollten eigentlich weiter nach Langkawi aber sowohl die Busse als auch alle erschwinglichen Hostels sind voll. Also sucht man nach Alternativen…..

Nein, ich fand das Chinese New Year nicht blöd – im Gegenteil, es war total interessant, das so direkt mit zu erleben (Einzelheiten folgen in separaten Posts) aber nun ja, ist irgendwie suboptimal wenn man das unterschätzt hat.

Aber genau das ist es, was das Reisen so wunderbar macht: Man lernt so viel wenn man andere Länder, Kulturen und Traditionen entdeckt und offen ist für Neues. Diese Erfahrungen sind so wertvoll. Man lernt das weder an der Uni noch in der Schule. Reisen lehrt uns soviel mehr – soviel mehr Lernenswertes. 

Und: Georgetown kenne ich jetzt echt ganz gut 😉

Ich halte mal wieder fest:
– Unterschätze niemals die Reisewut der Chinesen zum Chinese New Year
– Gerade sind wahrscheinlich doppelt soviel Chinesen als Malaien hier unterwegs
– Feuerwerk gibt es nicht nur am Neujahrstag sondern jeden Tag und jede Nacht – auch morgens um 4h , unterhalb des Fensters Deines Hostels