Thursday, September 27, 2012

Melaka, UNESCO World Heritage City

It was a hot and sunny day on 16 September, the day Malaysia celebrates her 'birthday'. We took a day trip to Melaka and became tourists for a day so that C could see with her own eyes what she had learnt at school about this place and its history.

Finding a carpark in Melaka these days, especially on weekends and public holidays, is just as difficult as finding one in KL. Luckily, where the big padang facing the sea (which has since been partly reclaimed and developed) once stood, there is now a huge shopping mall called Dataran Pahlawan Mall.

Arriving at around 11 am, we managed to find parking in the mall's basement carpark, and facing the exit of the carpark are the St Francis Institution and Sacred Heart Convent schools. The road along that school which was once an ordinary two-way street is now a huge open carpark. Gone are a lot of the greeneries surrounding the area. The padang has been reduced and is now choc-a-block with structures, all in the name of tourism. How I wish, when I was a teenager living in Melaka, I had taken pictures of Melaka then so that I can compare it with Melaka now visually, instead of relying on my memory....

These pictures will the rest of the story of our day out.

St Francis Institution

 No longer an ordinary two-way street - there was no tall building beside the school either.
 Just across the schools - Dataran Pahlawan Mall. I can imagine students hanging out here after school.....
 Sacred Heart Cannosian Convent
The Merdeka Memorial Museum - we did not enter this place. It showcases the history of how Malaya got its independence in 1957 from British colonial rule. The first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman had officially declared the date of independence at the padang, then known as Padang Bandar Hilir (for events leading up to the declaration, see here).

Walking on from the Merdeka Memorial, we arrived at the A Famosa, the gateway of the fort the Portuguese built when they conquered Melaka in 1511. Back in my day, it was surrounded by more greenery and there were hardly any tourists, and certainly no fancy trishaws charging a bomb for a short ride around the area. Behind the fort is St Paul's Hill, where the ruins of St Paul's church is located.

 After climbing up the steps to St Paul's Hill, we visited the Dutch graveyard located at the compound surrounding St Paul's church. It is now partly fenced up but one may walk along the path to view the cemetery and the tombs. 
One of the centuries-old tombs, - probably broken by vandals.

Inside St Paul's church is the grave where St Francis Xavier was buried temporarily before his body was moved to Goa, India.
 The many stone memorial plaques of the Dutch deceased along the interior walls of the church
 St Francis Xavier's statue - see here and here to find out why his right arm is cut off.

The bell tower outside the church
The tourism authorities have certainly made things easier for us now that there is a walkway down another side of the hill that leads you directly to the Stadthuys, the Dutch administration building located at Dutch Square, recognisable by its red facade.
 Click on the picture to read the description.
 The Queen Victoria fountain erected by the British, in front of the Stadthuys, there are souvenir stalls under the umbrellas in the background, and more trishaw rides available too.

Entrance to the museum inside - Melaka has many museums showcasing various aspects of its history. This museum gives a general overview of history and culture, and connnected to this building is the Cheng Ho museum. You need to purchase tickets. Those with Malaysian ID (MyKad) get a discount.

Admiral Cheng Ho outside the museum showcasing China's involvement in trade with Melaka, and the part he played in bringing the legendary princess Hang Li Po to marry the sultan.
 Part of the Dutch Square, Christ Church is an Anglican church.
After walking so much in the heat, we sought lunch at a small cafe housed in a traditional Malaccan house across the bridge over the Melaka River from Dutch Square. At the back of the house flows the Melaka River, now spruced up for tourists to take a cruise. Many of these old houses have been turned into souvenir shops, bed & breakfast lodgings, restaurants and cafes.

 A river cruise boat laden with tourists - to take a cruise, you need to head towards the Maritime Museum and look for a sign (next picture) which points you to its location.
 If you walk along the riverbank, you might just spot some giant monitor lizards basking in the sun.

The clock tower at Dutch Square - after lunch we returned towards Dutch Square to double back towards the fort, crossed the road and headed towards the Maritime Museum.

The Maritime Museum is spread out into several buildings, one of which is a replica of the Portuguese boat named Flor de la Mar. MyKad holders get a 50% discount on entry tickets.

 Another tourist attraction is the Menara Taming Sari, located at one corner of Dataran Pahlawan. It is a revolving tower which takes you up to the top for a 360 degree bird's eye view of Melaka.
 At the big padang, near the entrance to Menara Taming Sari, this cross marks the spot where St Francis Xavier first set foot on Melaka when he arrived.
This explains it.
We ended our tour of those few historical places in Melaka at around 4.30pm. We felt hot and tired after walking around so much. Since our car was parked at the mall, we got some refreshments there before calling it a day.
The Taiwanese bubble tea craze is now back in Malaysia. This is a mango snow (iced smoothie) version.

This is the original flavoured bubble milk tea.
As it was only a day trip, we did not manage to visit other tourist sites like Bukit China, Hang Li Po's well, St John's Hill (another fort location), and Jonker Street with its various 'antique' and souvenir stores. I also did not manage to take C to visit my alma mater, Methodist Girls' School, or further towards the Klebang and Tanjung beaches which I hear have now undergone massive reclamation works....Melaka is no longer the sleepy hollow I once lived in, with plenty of greenery around, slow pace of life devoid of traffic jams.....
It is a busy place now with loads of tourists and many Singaporean weekenders thronging its streets and devouring its local food. Once upon a time, its popular local food like Hainanese chicken rice balls, cendol, homemade ice kacang, popiah, pork satay, satay celup and fried oyster omelets were truly authentic.
Now, if you want a taste of authenticity, you have to do some legwork and seek out the real McCoys instead of visiting those drop-in-quality-formerly-superb-but-now-overrated places frequented by tourists. One example is the Hainanese Chicken Rice Ball place located at the Melaka River bridge corner facing a big food place called East West (or something), formerly the OCBC Bank. You will always see a very long queue of people waiting to get a seat inside to gobble down the succulent steamed chicken and ball-shaped rice. I guess it's a novelty for them.
 Worth the wait in this crazy heat?
View from the back of the queue. Jonker Street and its adjoining streets are now spruced up for tourists. It now sports a long dragon overhead.


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