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.

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