Meandering through Malacca
Old Malacca: Wafts of joss stick smoke from an elaborate, ancient Chinese temple mingles with the smell of sandalwood and a rhythmic banging of drums from a Hindu temple. As the drums reach a crescendo, the hypnotic call to prayer drifts out from the mosque.
As I eat a dim sum breakfast of melt in the mouth BBQ Pork buns, succulent morsels of chicken, steamed fish and bean curd washed down with Chinese tea as I watch old Chinese men amble past on creaking bicycles and a woman slowly pushing her laden food stall past.
Historical Chinese shop fronts in UNESCO listed Malacca
The streets are a huddled collection of old Dutch and Chinese shop fronts and merchants houses topped with distinctive gables that give away the history of the building.
Some have been turned into antique and curio shops and art galleries but still retain an authentic aesthetic and the sounds of hammering from the dedicated old black smith, the last in the line to the family business, and art galleries provide a rhythmic background soundtrack to a morning stroll through the historic lanes.
Colourful dragons guard the entrance to an old Chinese temple
An archway of colourful dragons beckon me into a Chinese temple, the smell of the smoky joss sticks and incense create a soothing atmosphere as I watch devotees worship the different gods at the various shrines making offerings of fruit praying for prosperity, health and good exam results.
Fruit and vegetables are traditional offerings to appease the gods
As I am enthralled watching the temple life, I gaze at the deities and notice a peculiar one who’s offerings mostly consist of cigarette butts and Guinness cans and can’t fathom out what god he must be!
A strange shrine to the god of Guiness and cigarette butts?
Outside an old man precariously balances an umbrella while riding a creaky old bicycle and briefly clasps his hands together in a quick prayer as he cycles past the temple. A gaudy trishaw is parked up outside while the driver quickly enters the temple praying for a prosperous day ahead.
A gaudy tri shaw is parked up outside the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple while the owners makes a quick prayer
The ancestral shrine of the temple is full of small tablets with Chinese inscriptions, some with passport photos, where people can trace back and worship their ancestors.
Outside the temple a row of shops sells a whole array of sports cars, underwear, cosmetics, shoes, mobile phones, wads of bank notes and even houses made from paper for worshippers to burn to send to their deceased loved ones to use in the after life.
This shop sells everything you might want to burn for you ancestors to use in the afterlife
Feeling energetic, I pass the many museums than line Jalan Kota that skirts round the bottom of the hills and through the ruins of the Portuguese fortress A Famosa and up St Pauls Hill to the ruined St Paul’s Church and views over the city and out to sea over the Straits of Malacca.
The ruins of A Famosa, the old Portuguese fort
Malacca, or Melaka, was founded in the 14th century by a Parameswara, a Hindu prince fleeing Java, Indonesia. Legend says that the prince rested under a Melaka tree, near the now Malacca River, and he witnessed a mouse deer startle one of his hunting dogs so much that it fell into the river. He took this as a good omen to settle in the then sleepy fishing village and named it after the Melaka tree.
Due to it’s strategic position on the west coast of Malaysia it soon became a flourishing trading port. Many Chinese and Indian traders settled here and intermingled with the local Malay women creating the Peranakan and Baba-Nonya people who’s rich mixture of cultures, food and faith still influence Malacca and Georgetown, Penang today.
The success of the Malacca’s port soon got the attention of the Portuguese who ruled from 1511 till the Dutch took over in 1641 and then the town was ceded to the British in 1795. Malacca declined after the success of nearby Singapore but Malacca and Georgetown in Penang became UNESCO world heritage sites in 2008.
The historical water wheel in the once important trading port of Malacca
Ambling down the riverside path I pass the historic water wheel, remains of the old Portuguese fort and the striking red imposing Dutch church and Stadhuys before stopping for a tasty lunch of nonya curry or creamy coconuty sweet and sour laksa but it’s still hard to envisage this laid back town as the busy trading port it once was that.
I’m staying in Jalan Jalan Guesthouse, a small, cosy, homely room in one of the old heritage houses that has been converted into a guest house in the old town. To avoid high frontage taxes the houses are narrow but long with courtyards in the middle. After a few days in the frantic capital Kuala Lumpur the young owner welcomes me back with a sweet ‘welcome home’ and I easily settle into the laid back lifestyle here as the days melt into one as I write, read, eat and generally meander.
The laid back and sporadic opening hours of the cafes, kitshy craft and antique shops and art galleries, authentic feel of the old lanes and the friendly community means that each day I still discover something new as I amble around.
As night falls and the heat of the day subsides the flowers smell more pungent and hundreds of birds squark excitedly signally the arrival of cooler temperatures. From the balcony of my homely, heritage guest house I look over the distinctive styled mosque’s pagoda like, multi tiered, stacked meru roof similar to Hindu temples and the Moorish watchtower Sumatran style minaret is lit up in a mystical emerald green.
Malacca’s distinctive styled mosque – Kampung Klam
Families sit on doorsteps to chat and the call to prayer intermingles with Indian music and mixes with the sounds of Chinese soap operas drifting out of the open shutters. Down the street somewhere a flute is played softly, hypnotically while the artist next door starts to paint in his studio and the undertakers across the road take a break putting their feet up resting the TV set on the top of the coffins.
The old red Dutch clocktower and church with white statues of the mouse deer that form part of the legend of the cities beginnings.
With the arrival of the weekend the peace is broken as the historical town is invaded once again by bus loads of mostly Malay and Chinese tourists who crowd around the red church and clocktower of the Dutch Square, ply the river on cruises and ride in gaudy trishaws that are decorated with flowers, fairy lights and blast out Gangnam Style.
Gaudy trishaws line up outside the old red Dutch church waiting for tourists
The main street of China Town – Jonker Walk comes alive at night with a street market selling an array of souvenirs and tasty street food and I join the masses to amble through the lines of stalls grazing on chicken rice balls, Taiwanese sausages on sticks, durian puffs, nonya pineapple tarts, icy cendol and Portuguese egg tarts.
Jonker Walk night market comes alive at weekends
But when Monday arrives I find the city again at peace and once again normal life resumes meandering through the historical streets of charming, multicultural Malacca.