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.

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