Saturday, July 26, 2008

Walking Guide to Malacca River.

Here is the riverwalk guide for anyone who fancy taking the 1- 2 hour casual walk on the refurbished banks.

Begin the journey from old Bailey Bridge (now a 2 way modern bridge) in Pengkalan Rama, walk further down stream and see ornamented stilt attap in Kampung Morten. Walk along the boardwalk for up close view of families living by the river and it should take you to the Old Express Bus terminal and the new Ferris Wheel.

Walk pass the Hang Tuah Bridge near the old Cathay and the boardwalk will takes you to more rear scenes of local homes in Kampung Ulu(across the river) and Kampung Jawa(closest to the boardwalk).

Take a side tour at Kampung Jawa and you may be rewarded with delightful shopping experience i.e Excess military goods, coffin shops, pet shops. (In the 80s, Kg Jawa was also infamous for prostitution but unclear of the current status)

A decent square next to Surau Kg. Jawa offers a break for your tiring legs. Either proceed up the pedestrian bridge to go the other side of the river to see rows of family owned shops ie jewelry and "pails and bins" shops in this narrow alley, or head straight pass the small Chinese temple besides the bridge.

After the Chan Koon Cheng Bridge you're within the sights of St. Francis Church. Make a visit there and discover the old wooden organ on the 1st floor and also the crypt. Murals around the church wall illustrate the many miracles the saint was known for.

Back to the large public parking area which used to house Mara Shoplots. Continue your walk on the river front and you will exist close at the Stadhuys.

Here you can see the original wall foundation made of the same coral stones used to build A Famosa.
Across the river is a derelict warehouse waiting for its last few days. See also the stepped banks once used by coolies on gangplanks to load and unload goods from tongkang to the warehouse.

Malacca Old Fort Given a New Lease of Life.

The Gateway of Santiago is high on the list of must-see landmarks in the historically rich state of Malacca (or Melaka). It is featured extensively in “Visit Malaysia” promotions to highlight diversity and conjure the strong historical presence in this rather young country.

Built in mid 15th century, this single structure made of coral stones was part of a larger impregnable fortress that stood against countless invasions from European rivals and local warlords, all spoilt for a violent quest for Malacca’s strategic importance.

Despite its historical significance the site has evolved somewhat less graciously into a convenient photography opportunity for the busloads of tourists. Many, unfortunately, are too caught up in frenzy photo snap shots and history is the farthest from their minds.

The Gateway or Porto De Santiago as it was coined originally is often mistaken for the grandeur A Famosa by tourism booklets and even history bluffs. Santiago and the ruins of St. Paul’s Chapel are the only remnants of a Portuguese fortress that once surrounded the hilly stronghold that loomed over Malacca river mouth.

Fate has never been kind to A Famosa and it suffered one cruel twist after another. The fortress served magnificently over a span of three centuries and endured large scale attacks from the Johorean, Bugis and Achenese armies before it fell into the hands of the Dutch in 1641.

The Strait of Malacca was constantly in turmoil with several masters clamoring for its reign but only for periodically. New ports and trade centers took shape elsewhere and soon contributed to the end of Malacca as a seafaring state. The rapidly silting of Malacca River the main artery where monsoon traders and sailors sought refuge also aggravated its dismissal.

By the late 18th century, Malacca and A Famosa lost most of its allure and was a distant memoir for many enthusiastic land grabbers. The cannons soon fell silent. The defensive walls crumbled due to neglect and Malacca faced real danger of having its struggling settlement forcedly evacuated.

Inquisitive visitors today are still rewarded with delightful architectural features similar to ones found in medieval Europe. Perched on the top right of the gateway is a guard post with gun holes. The zigzag cobble laid entrance reveals another deterrent gimmick to prevent would be invaders. The insignia craved above it tells the tale of Protestant Dutch proclaiming itself the new owner of what was essentially a Catholic Portuguese masterpiece.

Nearby, menacing cannons from an era long gone-by guard the gateway. A closer look reveals they are merely crafty duplicates made in time for Queen Elizabeth II formal visit to Malacca not too long ago. Visitors may have no qualms of the authenticity but with a clever imagination the cries of the fiery years where countless lives were lost defending the fortress still resonates.

Ironically the legacy of A Famosa is given a jump-start lately. Two previously buried bastions facing what was the coastal line of Malacca were uncovered when construction crew of state sponsored development projects stumbled upon the foundations. While excavation is painfully slow, the intriguing details of the magnitude of this ancient military complex have generated astonishing interest.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Malacca River Losing Its Lustre.

Malacca River or Sungai Melaka the main waterway traversing this historic town is slowly but surely losing its lustre.
Now elevated to a World Heritage Site by UNESCO but I personally feel that the recognizition came too late to save its traditional role and function.

After five centuries of receiving traders and sailors from all corners of the world, life around the river recently comes to a forcedly halt to accommodate a RM130 million (US$60 million) Malacca River Beautification Project.

At its core, the project clamors after the San Antonio Riverfront and just about everything there with no qulams or discreet about the historical value of Sungai Melaka.

The project first launched in the new millennium was ambitious and its justification was music to many ears. High on the wish list is to stop the repeats of the Great Flood 1971, halt the local habit of turning the river into a favorite dumpsite, and rejuvenate river's marine life.

However, as we appraoach the tail end of the redevelopment project, one will discover that in its place is a prettified riverfront, with an annoying similarity to Singapore's Clarke Quay.

Ask its advocators and they would argue that the river now is spotting a popular thoroughfare to reach different venues in the town, but probably true for tourists and unfortunately little else for Malaccans.

Aestically, the so-called beautification project has cast a cement veil over parts of the historical river and it is no different from the canals found along the confluence of Gombak and Klang Rivers in KL.
The rows of stilted shoplots in Kampung Ulu, Kampung Pantai and Kampung Jawa apparently were an eye sore for foreigners.

At worst, it highlighted a disappointing and a lack of genuine idea on the people involved in the project. Concerned Malaccans are right to be alarmed at another poor example of the authority'to foolishly strangle heritage for tourism dollars?

Monitor lizards and the occasional kingfisher once found lazily around stilts and the Sumatran schooners unloading charcoals at the river banks are all but disappeared.
Purple colored fishing trawlers once a common sight here when visiting Malacca is also history. Now the only motorized noise vibrating you get is from the state owned floating platoons cruising up and down the stream with paying human cargoes.

In the early 2005, treasure hunters can still be found on its muddy banks when tides ebb scavenging for remnants of Malacca's past. After all this water artery was the site where battles fought and history made. Judging by the men's enthusiasm and the risk they willing to take, one reckons these must be very profitable outings.

Today, the men are long gone and mudskippers suffered the same aweful fate too.

Currently Phase II of the project is in full swing. (June 2008) A tidal lock opposite the Flor De La Mar's replica is up and running, and thus ensuring that the river level is always ideal for the tourist platoons to sail the entire length of the river.

Malacca would then claim the misnomer title of "Venice of Asia".

Even Parameswara and D' Albuquerque would be strangers if they set their foot again here on the Sungai. The same sungai that gave birth to a proud Malaccan Sultanate and ushered the waves of European conquests into this part of the world.

Royal Malaysian Air Force Museum

The RMAF Museum (Free Admission. 3 out of 5 Stars) in the Sungai Besi Air Base (the first international airport in Malaysia, before Subang and definitely way before Sepang) has a thing or two to attract the most devout lot of museum aficionados.

The main draw is the fascinating array of aircraft in display. These flying machines were once the pride of the nation and Malaysia’s primary air defense arsenal. Visitors who want a glimpse of the air force humble past may kick off their tour with the memorabilia in the modest museum housed in an ex-officer barrack.

While the exhibits lack in creativity to capture visitors’ imagination, they compensate the fact with the historical importance of a struggling nation’s flying unit. The first gallery is adorned with many wooden plaques listing the names of previous Air Marshall and black and white photos of lanky colonial officers in their rather awkward pose in their songkok and their official Malay military gears.

The museum has a treasure or two to boast if you look hard enough for it. Located in the corner of this same gallery is the uncelebrated ejected pilot seat of F-5E jet.

Not much is told about the incident but a little notice nearby discloses the uneventful fate of the fighter jet which crashed off the coasts of Terengganu in the 80s.

However, kids and their dads will have a field day discovering more about the aircraft parked next to the derelict hangar located close to the runway.

Kids would love to explore the interiors of the large wing Caribou. These hard working Canadian transporters were the backbones of air force logistic need, and when standing in the narrow cabin one can still feel the adrenalin rush of a paratrooper waiting his turn to jump off the plane.

With luck, visitors can catch the air force’s Nuri (transport helicopter) or Police Pilatus in operation from the nearby runway.

More surprises inside the hangar.

There, the A-4 Skyhawk - the supersonic jet fighter that once ruled our skies in the 80s before the arrivals of the Hornets, Sukhoi and MiGs, now greets visitors amid silently.

Retired helicopters are also valuable exhibits to allow visitors hand-on experience on the working of a rotor blade aircraft.

The historical biplane that served in the formation years of RMAF is another attraction not to be missed. Nevertheless it is heart breaking that parts of the aircraft body which is covered with flimsy cloth-like material, are tears everywhere due to lack of care and poor maintenance.

That is probably the main contention of visitors to this museum.

Muzium TUDM has in their procession some of the priceless artifacts showcasing our country’s momentous start in aerial military yet all the exhibits are covered with a thick layer of dust or worst condemned under the unforgiving tropical sun. Many outdoor exhibits including Ferrer Scout Car, Grumman Seaplane and others are left to rust.

Lack of informative displays is another thing that the curator should be dismayed with.

Questions should be asked now if another more committed conservation entity should assume the role as the repository of Malaysian Air Force heritage.

Fun Museums for August School Holidays

Aug18-22, 08 marks the beginning of the 2nd. Malaysian School Break.

Most parents with kids would crank their heads over their holiday plans. I think holidaying in Malaysia is a rewarding break for the kids if parents make a point to include visits to museums.

I believe that there is at least one museum worth visiting in each of the Malaysian states. Some states boost more but the important thing is to identify one which the kids can enjoy and for an hour or two, let their inquisitive minds probe for answers, and a warning for the parents - be prepared.

Many of the exhibits housed air-conditioned museums are a perfect substitute for the regular outings to shopping malls. It is the prefect opportunity to share with the kids a wider perspective of the people and places we all live in and for a brief moment train them discard the buy and buy mentality which they are learning when we visit shopping centers.

Malaysian museums are also affordable compared to our nearest neighbor – Singapore. Most museums except Muzium Negara operated by Jabatan Muzium have no admission charges whereas Singapore’s MICA run public museums do with charges varies from RM3.00-RM15.00 pax.

For a starter, go to a favorite outing spot for many in Kuala Lumpur particularly in areas like Lake Garden (3 museums, 1 memorial and 1 planetarium)

To help parents plan their museums outings I have listed the list below for reference according to the location, admission charges and exhibits.

1. The Royal Malaysian Police Museum

Why Kids Like It?

Daddy can be Boys again and together they could check out armored vehicles, aeroplane and a patrol boat.

The Gun Gallery has a fascinating array of sub-guns used terrorists, home made guns used by hunters and killing weapons by feuding gangsters.

The Darurat Gallery is a jungle setting with a Ferret scout car and tools of trade used by terrorists in the jungle warfare. Be Warned – some very graphic photos of defeated terrorists.

The Gallery showcasing the Malacca Sultanate days will open up the kids’imagination to the days where spices were bartered on the seafaring port.

Just compare the low tech weapons used by the Melaka defenders against the muskets and cannons used by the Portuguese invaders and it is easy to understand why 500 plus Portuguese and their sepoy can triumphed easily over.

2. Tun Abdul Razak Memorial - aka “Malaysia Former White House”

Why Kids Like It?

Step into the former residence of Malaysian 2nd. Prime Minister. Step inside on the 1st floor and you and the kids would be zapped back in time. Catch a glimpse of the Malaysian first family and what it is like in the 70s. Look out for the enormous sized black colored Jabatan Telekom telephones.

3. Muzium Negara - The National Museum
Renovation which began in 2006 is still on going (May 2008). Gallery A and B (on ground floor) are closed. Visitors now have access only to Gallery C and D (on the first floor) and make you wonder why they still charged you for full RM2 admission.

Kids will love the new Gallery C. It now has delightful exhibitions and children can ‘board’ a Portuguese galleon attacking Melaka, pretends to be a British soldierer guarding Fort Cornwallis.
There are also excellent exhibits on how rubber trees were tapped. Look out for the tapper mannequin and the container for mosquito coils at her sides.

The tin dredge model the size of Volvo is also a fun place for the kids to discover how the floating factory works.

4. Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

World class collections with fascinating exhibits but it can be daunting for kids whose grasp for details last no longer than 5 seconds.

Kids however would love IAMM for its many interactive kiosks and try-on gadgetry which are important part of the learning process.

Parents may opt for the library next to Mediterranean restaurant housed in the museum after the hefty tour. On weekends, children activities are organized to spur their curiosity for knowledge.

5. Planetarium

Take your kids to space and beyond! Despite its relatively small size (about the size of one and half basketball court) and a pricier ticket, the planetarium offer enough rocket and planetary exhibits. Just don’t expect Houston Control Central and you won’t be disappointed.

There are few interactive kiosks where children will have fun time experimenting. The ‘Space Walk’ is a must.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Chasing the Wrong Malaysian Heritage.

Half a century after the nation freed from European dominance, Malaysian heritage experts are reported to be in an overdrive mode to bring back national wealth from overseas museums and private collectors. (New Strait Times – July 3, 08)

Nevertheless, the vigorous and very expensive quest to retrieve this priceless heritage falls short to elevate Malaysia to become the proud heirloom of ancient Malay artifacts.

According to the paper, topping this shopping list is Malay manuscripts circa around late 19th century and early 20th century.
These manuscripts in my best comprehension would include the various royal seals and letters from the Malay sultanates used in Treaties and official or private correspondence currently kept inside the vaults of the British libraries, museums and universities, and to a lesser extend Dutch repository.

The rationale to spend the hard earned tax payers’ money in this shopping spree while we all suffer from the escalation of cost to run the country and also the unfavorable exchange rate is most baffling. Unless, of course if we can comprehend that the Museum Department and the National Archives are now an instrument to pursue Agenda Melayu.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see how such an acquisition, however costly, would be the perfect ingredients for not just heritage triumph but also a political one too.

Acquiring these long forgotten Malay treasures and finally taking these precious documents home from the foreign thieves. Follow up with the right dose from the spin doctors from the main stream media and the directors from these two institutions would be hailed as national heroes and champions of the race.

Again you don’t need college algebra to figure the difficulty or the lack of it to buy what is essentially an item listed in Museum manuals.

Taking a step further and it will be just a snap of the fingers to picture politicians especially those from the battle scarred UMNO joining the hero bandwagon.

Personally, the huge expense the Ministry of Culture, Heritage and Arts is willing to commit to this endeavor defies common sense and show what priority the Ministry is taking to safeguard Malaysian Heritage.

In my posting Conquer This Culture Coup – (Jun 9, 08), I urged the same Ministry to revalue its priority and focus to live up to its much acclaimed role as the repository of MALAYSIAN heritage. Valueless Peranakan heritage were permanently lost to Singapore when the owner in Penang was offered an amount, I guess just too hard to say NO to.

Why KEKKWA officials are so adamant about fighting tooth and nail for treasures housed in some foreign institutions which are world class research centers but are somewhat less than enthusiastic about treasures while may not of the same category but definitely the same value slipped away right under our very nose. Why?

Jul 3,08

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Priceless relics making the way home NST –July 3,08

KUALA LUMPUR: The country's priceless relics, which were transported abroad and kept out of the country for years, are slowly being identified and brought home. Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry deputy secretary-general (Heritage) Datuk Nor Azmal Mohd Nazir said research was ongoing to establish the authenticity of the artifacts.

"The National Heritage Department was assigned to conduct studies and research on heritage items since its formation in 2006.

"They have identified several artifacts, including relics, overseas, but formal announcements of identification are only made with clear facts and documents."

He added that the Museums Department and the National Archives would also take part in the research as there were many procedures involved.

"It is not an easy task. When the artifacts are identified, they have to go through several tests and carbonisation processes. So it takes time." Azmal said, sometimes, the process of tracking down the artifacts was tough, especially when they were kept in personal collections.

"We can try our best to procure the artifacts, but some of the individuals ask for a very high price."We don't even know how the artifacts ended with them in the first place."

Last month, the New Straits Times front-paged a report on the efforts to retrieve Malay manuscripts abroad by the National Library and the National Archives.