Friday, April 17, 2009

Kg. Banda Kaba Joins Heritage Status

Two urban villages in historical Malacca Town to be declared Heritage Villages.

Khamis Abas, GM for PERZIM – the state museum board - briefed about 80 families in Kampung Banda Kaba and Kampung Bukit Cina on April 14, 09 on the Chief Minister’s plan to accord them as Heritage Village – Kampung Warisan. Khamis said that these “special status” villages are created to enhance and safeguard the development of Malacca as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The two villages totaling 276 households and 54 houses, if they are successfully listed under the Malacca Conservation Enactment 1993, would join other urban villages in the state namely Kampung Morten, Kampung Chetti and Portuguese Settlement and Chinatown enclaves in Heeren Street and Jonker Walk to be accorded the special status.

According to Khamis, by listing the villages with the status would help to preserve the heritage there. And he adds that the move would draw the tourists to the areas.

This turn of event may be a lifeline of hope to residents in the affected areas.

Because of its proximity to the town center, the population consisting of mostly wage earners and small petty traders has for decades stayed in their houses without knowing when the ironic ball of development will strike their stilted homes next.

Previously a quaint and peaceful inter racial settlement but their fate lingers by the tender hooks with low cost flats and other property projects mushrooming next to their neighborhood. Amongst in the pipeline, a multi storey condominium set to overlook the Banda Kaba surau.

The result is a downgrade affecting the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood. Old residents suffer unbearable ding from traffic jams all day long and the narrow roads are choked with outstation registered vehicles on weekends and holidays.

However, the affected residents could face headaches to renovate their mostly wooden houses and the state is unashamedly vague on this crucial matters because some structures are weathered and in dire needs of repair.

Upgrading their homes may prove more troublesome now because the occupants must now seek special permission from the MBMB (Malacca’s City Hall) and PERZIM for approval.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Giving way to Fast Development.

NST Reporter Zalina Mohd Som (NST Traveltimes, April 14, 2009) wrote this feature about how much she missed the old Malacca and how much development has eroded and put the historical legacy in Malacca at risk. The Malaysian mainstream media (MSM) are not bold enough, perhaps apathy to voice out the worrisome progress taking shape in the state.

Zalina’s effort may be a start but it takes more than having a feature in a leisure segment of Malaysian leading paper to shake into the conscious of the power-to-be to the awful fate awaiting Malacca Old Town.

Below is the article.

Giving way to Fast Development - Zalina Mohd Som (NST Travel Times, April 14, 09)

THOUGH it has been three decades, I can still remember vividly my first visit to Malacca. What fascinated me then was standing on the river bank, watching hundreds of mudskippers while the Portuguese fortress of A’ Famosa stood silently not too far away. Though the fish caught my fancy, I was more overwhelmed by the aura surrounding the historic location. The pages from my history book came alive before my eyes. I imagined myself standing between the Portuguese who had taken shelter inside the fortress and the invading Dutch ships in the Straits of Malacca.

Then, as I turned to look at the vast lawn of Padang Pahlawan, a black and white image played in my mind – I could feel the euphoria as hundreds of Malaysians gathered around Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first Prime Minister, who was there to announce the date of our Independence Day. Then, 12 years later, I revisited Malacca as a college student and tried to find the same spot where I had stood mesmerised as a 10-year-old. But things had changed. Where was the water’s edge? There were rows of stalls stocked with local handicraft and souvenirs separating the historic fortress and the big padang.

There was a big kereta lembu (bullock cart) monument at the edge of the padang and next to it were some over-decorated bullock carts (with real bulls) from which dondang sayang songs (Malaccan traditional song) were being blasted out. On the roadside, a row of wooden stalls sold Malacca specialties like asam pedas, ikan bakar and sambal tumis. Today, my job requires me to travel to historic Malacca again and again and each time I can find something different at Dataran Pahlawan. Some years ago, I was shocked to find a huge commercial centre opposite Dataran Pahlawan.

The view of the Straits of Malacca was obstructed by tall commercial buildings – hotels, shopping mall and hospital. The stalls where I had some of the best asam pedas, had moved and there was only a short row of stalls at the end of the field, opposite the Hotel Renaissance Melaka. On my latest trip a couple of months ago, I saw more changes.

Not only had the stalls been demolished, but a big, probably century-old angsana tree was no longer standing. The brick road in front of the high-end of Dataran Pahlawan Mall was choked with traffic. The construction of the mall had somehow reduced the size of the field. Ironically, construction works on the site had unearthed another Portuguese fort facing the A’Famosa.

The fenced-up area was probably where I had stood as a little girl watching mud-skippers. At the same spot now, I can only see the posh Dataran Pahlawan Mall and the parking lot of the revolving tower Menara Taming Sari.

Tomorrow, as Malacca celebrates the sixth anniversary of its Historical City status, I wonder if the city will be able to sustain its historical charm when all evidence points to a preference for dynamic modernisation.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hotels Development a Peril At Malacca River.

The recent ground breaking of the Rio Hotel across the river from the Maritime Museum marks the beginning of an ambitious plan by the state authority to follow suits with similar hotels along the Malacca River.

The chief minister has announced that the Plaza Inn, abandoned over the last decade will take a new shape in 2009. The state has bought and completed the renovation of the 3-star hotel opposite the old Cathay cinema, and according to the CM, it will offer visitors unobstructed view of the river at an affordable price.

My guess is that the state aims to seize on the opportunity that come with the completion of River Beautification Project in late 2007. So far, the project seems to have an upper hand to eradicate some of the earlier concerns about pollution in the river but the verdict is still far from over.

In my view the project has many flaws and it has struck a final nail to the coffin to the river historical link to malacca's hey day as a powerful maritime state. Taking away the unique character of river barter trade and stopping Sumateran schooners and purple fishing trawlers to berth is to deprive the river from functioning naturally.

At this rate, parts of the river within the Malacca historical enclave would soon be home to multi level concrete structures. If the development of the hotels are left unchecked, it would pose serious threat to the classic chinatown ambience which the enclave is so famous and attracts millions of visitors from all over the world.

The Rio Hotel, spotting an Iberarian architecture and building more cubic shaped hotels in the enclave are only affront to the heritage legacy in the old town and also an eye sore. The plan to build more hotels is also a sickening similarity with Singapore.

Unfortunately, modern visitors staying in hotels at the Malacca River will see nothing of its vibrant past and what they will find is a largely a mundane canal waterways with unimpressive views of river life.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Malacca Gets Thumb Down in a Damning Report.

The popular National Geographic Traveler(NGT)Nov/Dec 08 issue decries at the over-development inside the Malacca’s historical enclave. It further adds that if it is left unchecked this iconic Malaysian city may face a bleak future.

A distressing development is creeping over the entire town. Tourism facades have superseded conservation efforts and permanently marred the original cityscape. The culprit is the chief minister in guise of state development agencies and they are relentless in their new pursue.

They are known to embrace a worrisome keenness to replace the town’s colorful past with artificial attractions, mechanical joy rides and flickering neon lights in place of colonial ruins.

Hence, the unfavorable notion that the town has turned into a ‘Disneyland’ and commercialization has bred its ugly heads.

This alarming review by the widely circulated travel publication has inevitably thrown a spanner to the state tourism promotion plan. It is a critical wake up call for the state to revamp its approach to reap benefits from tourism and to leave the historical heritage unmolested.

The authority should also be mindful of the damages brought by these short term tourism projects and the impact to the historical enclave.

A theme park setting within Malacca’s fragile environment will dilute and worst, threaten unique historical features. To rely on these man-made trump cards would only incur further wraths for damning and jeopardizing Malacca’s fabulous past.

All stakeholders, from the Chief Minister to the lay men on the streets must acknowledge the extent of the damages caused by these overzealous attempts. They must take heed to arrest further the downgrading of Malacca Old Town.

A list of 109 historic places from over the world was compiled and rated in the NGT issue; Malacca was positioned at 98th whilst Georgetown fared slightly better at 68th .

Below is the excerpt from NGT.

Malaysia: Old port of Malacca
Score: 50

"One of the most fascinating destinations in Asia. It is rich in history as a gateway into Asia for early Europeans. The old churches, China Town, and vernacular Malay houses are beautifully maintained."

"The major problem for Malacca is the incredible extent of the land reclamation that has taken place at the mouth of the historic river, now heavily developed with high-rise residential and commercial buildings. As a result, the historic connection between Malacca and the sea, which is fundamental to its significance, has been almost totally obscured."

"There is very little left in Malacca that is authentic. The city has been Disneyfied and commercialized to a degree that has to be seen to be believed."

"Landfill on the town side of the Straits has forever altered the historic connection with the Straits."

"You have to make an extra effort to find 'authentic' Malacca behind the very carefully manicured heritage facade."