{Malaysia 2012} A dose of heritage in Malacca

I’m still alive! In case anybody was wondering. I’ve just been soooo tired, mostly mentally and psychologically, which is why there hasn’t been any new stuff on the blog lately. Even though I’ve still been baking, it’s been a bit of a challenge for me to settle down in front of a computer to write, so I thought it would be nice to pull something out of the archives as I try to push through this little “blogger’s block” of mine.

I think it’s beyond ridiculous that I am only now writing about a vacation I had last Christmas. And yet here we are. I’ve been struggling quite a bit to find time to blog for weeks now, but I am by no means about to abandon this. I love what I’m doing here too much to stop. Although things may be a little slow around here until everything going in my life settles back to normal, rest assured there will still be posts. Please do bear with me. (The delay for this set of travel posts was also due to the fact that I spent a ton of time picking good pictures to share with you all. I tried to scale down on the number of them. Alas, there are too many things I want to show you!)

Anyway, over the holidays last year, my family and I (with some friends of the family plus a few of my cousins = fun times) took part in a Malaysia-Singapore tour. We flew to Singapore first but immediately boarded a bus to Malaysia. Thank goodness the bus was spacious because I do not take to crammed spaces when traveling, and neither do my brothers as we’re all rather tall and long-legged. It took about 5 hours before we arrived at our first destination: Malacca, Malaysia.

It was already dinnertime when we got to Malacca (Melaka in Malaysian) so our guide decided to take us to a small hawker centre called Medan Selera Newton (Newton Food Court) at Bandar Hilir in Malacca. I don’t mind this sort of thing at the least because hawker food is probably one of the most normal things in the life of an Asian living in Asia (yay!). It’s a great opportunity to get a head start on sampling authentic local dishes too, which was pretty much what I had been raring to do the moment the plane landed on foreign soil.

The place was pretty packed! At first we found empty tables and no chairs, but then tables are really the important thing here. All the tables in this hawker centre are numbered. When you place your order, the seller asks you your table number and tells you to get seated while they cook your food. After a few minutes they deliver it to you, and usually that’s the time you pay. They don’t quite like it when customers crowd in front of their stalls as the space is quite limited, but the choices are anything but.

There are a lot of interesting things to eat here, and I would’ve explored the more exotic fare if we weren’t in such a hurry to get to our hotel. (Sometimes that’s what sucks about being in a tour group.) My brother Jason– who is usually my partner-in-crime when the family travels- and I went over the whole place quickly before settling on what to eat. I’m going to be frank with you: The moment I found out there were plans to visit Malaysia/Singapore, the thing that immediately entered my mind was an image of me and a piping hot bowl of slowly-emptying laksa.

And oh was there a glorious lot of it.

It started this very first evening, when we ordered a large bowl of fiery (1) Nyonya Curry Laksa. There was also a plate of deliciously spicy (2) Oyster Omelet, and the highly-recommended (3) Barbecue Wings. We bought some (4) Layered Milk Teas to put out the fire in our mouths, but really Milk Teas are one of our favourite drinks so that was just a lame excuse to buy them. Jason and I shared everything except the drink, yet the meal was filling just the same.

We sat a few tables away from the other members of my family, and my Dad (who is a “budding food photographer”) snapped a couple shots of the stuff they ordered. He had some (5) Meatball and Dumplings Noodle Soup, and my baby brother had (6) Teriyaki Chicken. I forgot to take photos of these yummy Malaysian fresh spring rolls because I was too busy devouring them. I do like fresh rolls more than the fried ones, but they were so good I would recommend you try them should you find yourself in Malacca some time.

A full tummy and a good night’s sleep later, we were off to see the sights that Malacca had to behold. Malacca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because this was where a lot of Malaysia’s important historic events took place. According to local folklore, the area was named after the Melaka Tree by Parameswara, the last sultan of Singapura before the Europeans took over. We followed the Melacca Heritage Trail to get a grasp of the story behind this historically rich place, and the first stop was the Malacca Club, a memorial which houses all the photographs and artifacts of Malaysia’s struggle towards independence until it was finally attained in 1985.

According to our tour guide, this club used to be a place where Malaysian and European soldiers spent their freetime exercising and playing cards- literally a club- but it is now being used as a museum.

The Sultanate Palace Museum (below) is a lovely reconstruction of the palaces former sultans lived in in this area. Because we were down here overly early, we didn’t get a chance to explore inside. The exterior and architecture is impressive though, reminiscent of most pagodas built in Asia though perhaps not as impressive as the ones I’ve seen in Thailand and Japan (but that’s just me). The landscaping greens add quite the touch.

Across the battery nearby, there is an uneven flight of stairs leading up St. Paul’s Hill. Atop the hill stands the ruins of what was formerly St. Paul’s Church. Even though what is left are the rough and weathered concrete blocks of the church structure and not much else, I don’t have much of a difficult time imagining the splendour of this church at its prime. This Church started out as a two-storey chapel built by the Portuguese, but when the Dutch took over it was rebuilt and renamed St. Paul’s Church.

If I remember correctly, the first Catholic school was established by St. Francis Xavier in this very church during the Portuguese rule. This is why a statue of him was commissioned to be put in front of the church ruins, to remind people of the work he did here for the children.

Maybe you’re wondering why his statue has only one hand? The statue originally had two hands, but it’s actually quite an interesting story how it ended up this way:

About 62 years after his death, the then Pope requested for the right arm to be severed from Father Francis Xavier’s corpse in preparation for his canonisation into sainthood. It was said that when the arm was severed, blood gushed out of the arm even after all those years of him being dead. Immediately after he was canonised, the severed arm turned into a skeleton, while the rest of his body which was preserved in India remained whole. More than 300 years after this phenomenon, the statue was sculpted and set up in this area. One night, oddly enough a large tree fell right into the statue. Upon clearing the tangle of leaves and branches, the groundskeepers later found out that while the statue remained intact and undamaged, the statue’s right hand had broken off (if you look closely at the picture, you will see that it indeed had). It’s as if St. Francis Xavier wanted people to see and remember him as he is.

The story gives me goosebumps, but in a good way. If you’ll notice the right photo of the tree above, it kind of looks like a hand. I’m not so sure if this where the tree that fell unto the statue once stood, but it’s such a wondrous thing, isn’t it?

For our next stop, we descended the hill and walked across Dutch Square to see Christ Church, also known as the oldest Protestant Church in Malaysia.

The church is located in this large bustling square called the Malacca Town Square, lined by small stalls selling tourist items at the side, right beside the Stadthuys (the old Dutch apartments). This area is also called Dutch Square because when the British invaders took over from the Dutch, they retained most of the buildings built by their predecessors. The square is also called Red Square, due to obvious reasons. Apparently the buildings used to be redder- a salmon red, if you will- but Malaccan authorities decided to darken the colour of the buildings a little. The Square has a nice fountain at its heart, a small clock tower at one corner. 

All over the square, there are tricycles (see last photo above) decorated elaborately with flowers waiting about for tourists that might be interested for a little tour of the area. Most of the people I see riding these colourful tricycles are couples, probably because the flowers add some sort of romantic notion to this little novelty, but the blast of Gangnam Style from surprisingly loud speakers hidden somewhere in those trikes completely erases the sentiment. That song is just everywhere!

Following down the path towards Chinatown, we passed by the famous Malacca River, where we did not take a boat ride but it’s totally fine.

The river acts as a partition between the residential and commercial areas of Jonker and Heron Streets, both located in the “Chinatown” of Malacca. I say this because most of the people living here descended from Chinese immigrants. A lot of the people I came across here in Malacca are very good in Mandarin, and occasionally I come across those who can speak the Min-Nan or Hokkien dialect (something I learned from my grandma who is originally from Fujian, China).

Our tour guide took us to a mini-walking tour, crossing from street to street until finally getting us to Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat), basically the centre of the UNESCO World Heritage site here in Malacca.

Most of the houses on this narrow street are fashioned in the Chinese style, and most of them look like they’ve been there for the longest time. As I mentioned, a lot of Chinese immigrants flocked to this area back in the 1800’s, most of them coming through in clans. This is mainly the area where the clans became associated with each other.

The Chinese influence is the strongest in this area. Most of the store signs have Chinese characters on them, and a lot of the shops selling ceramics and souvenirs are taken after the Chinese style, more or less. Over at Temple Street (Jalan Tokong), there is the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple (above), one of the oldest functioning Buddhist temples in Malaysia.

It’s fairly interesting to see the jarring contrast between the very old 19th century structures right beside modern-day cars and vans. It’s almost like two different worlds colliding. This place reminds me quite a bit of the Chinatown we have here in the Philippines. The streets are a little wider perhaps, but they’re also a lot messier. This street also houses the Jonker Walk Night Market, which would explain why most of the shops here were closed that morning we came by. They’re probably quite alive in the evening.

After a quick lunch, we hopped onto the bus to finally head to Kuala Lumpur. But before that, we stopped over at Putrajaya, a planned city about 25 kilometres south of Kuala Lumpur.

Putrajaya is the new administrative centre of Malaysia. The seat of government transferred to this area around 1999 as a solution to the overcrowding that was happening in Kuala Lumpur. While KL remains the main business district of Malaysia, this is where the government offices- such as the Department of Finance, and Department of Justice, among others- are located. Putrajaya in Malay means “prince” (putra) and “success” (jaya). The main and most impressive building in Putrajaya is by far the Perdana Putra.

The Perdana Putra houses the office of the Prime Minister and his underlings. The architecture itself is a mixture of Islamic and European influences, coming together to create a very grand palace-like structure. It was intensely foggy and rainy when we stopped here so I couldn’t quite get a clear photograph, but the Perdana Putra is a sprawling complex of architectural beauty. It’s something I would like to build a miniature of, to be honest.

The other structure of note in Putrajaya is the Putra Mosque in the Putra Independence Square right across the Perdana Putra. First of all, I’ve never ever seen a pink mosque before in my life, and secondly, it truly is quite a sight to behold.

The architecture of the mosque is a combination of Middle Eastern and Malay influences this time. I especially loved the intricacy of the pink dome and the windows. I didn’t enter the mosque for fear of disturbing anyone who might be inside worshiping. The flags in front of the mosque represent the different states of Malaysia.

On the opposite end from where the Prime Minister’s office complex stood, one can get a view of the Putrajaya Lake.

The lake is completely man-made actually designed as a natural cooling system to help keep the city temperature down. Aside from that, it is mostly used for recreational purposes (water sports, etc.) There is a food court beside the lake (where you can buy the best Durian ice cream popsicles!) with a veranda that will allow you to fully appreciate the view of Putrajaya. Truth be told, I was pretty impressed by how such a thing could have possibly been man-made. Being in Malaysia for a mere two days, it already feels like we’ve seen quite a lot.


Other posts in this series:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.