In southeast Asia, there is one place to see a generous mixture of cultures. I went to Malacca and indulged in the old and new, where East meets West. I found myself delving into the beauty of this Malaysian city, which lives a soulful mixture of Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch, British, Chinese and Indian cultures and heritages.
Malacca is one of the states in the Peninsular Malaysia. As a historical city and a UNESCO World Heritage site, it has so many things to offer people whether domiciled there or just plain visiting. One thing for sure, Malacca will leave you breathless and wanting to come back for more, and more, just as it did to me.
In Jalan Gereja or Church Street, I imagined that I was somewhere in Europe. There is a very striking church in the middle of the square, painted in coral red and done in Dutch colonial architecture. The Christ Church Malacca is one of the beautiful finds in this lovely quiet city, especially for first-time visitors. It was built by the Dutch when they took possession of Malacca from the Portuguese 1753, to celebrate a century of Dutch occupation. The interior of the cathedral has 200-year-old, handmade pews, decorative fanlights and plaques that honour Dutch soldiers and locals. Outside the church is the lovely Queen Victoria Fountain which was built by the British in 1901. One unique thing outside the church grounds that I have never seen in other churches was the colourful trishaw, with local Indian uncles driving and taking tourists around, for a more engaging city tour experience. In order to complete my cravings to see religious sites, I gladly took a trishaw, to get to the Cheng Hon Teng Temple, nicknamed “the Temple of Green Cloud” which is the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia. I proceeded to see and pay respect to Kampong Kling Mosque, a beautiful and unique structure, representing the three distinct groups of Muslims, Malays, Chinese and Indians. Unlike other mosques, its minaret resembles a pagoda. The interior features well-designed Hindu and Chinese-style carvings plus Moorish cast-iron lamp-posts.
In Malacca, I forgot for a while that I was in a Muslim country, presuming that I did not know Malaysia is Muslim. The colonial remembrance from the past is very evident, judging from the remnants left by the Portuguese during their colony in 1511. The A Famosa (The Famous) ground, is a beautiful display of the Portuguese fortification and is the oldest surviving European architecture remaining in South East Asia. Porta de Santiago is the only remaining part of the fortress that is standing up to this day.
When I went around the old-town Malacca, I was reminded me that I was roaming an ancient district, a beautiful old town with a rich culture and heritage from Arab traders, who have settled in Malacca since the 14th century. I was told that Malacca came from the Arab word Malakat, meaning market ,because the place enjoyed a prime location as a prosperous trading town. Then in the mid-15th century came the Chinese traders came and contact between Malacca and China increased. To stabilize their presence, they married local Malay women, thus Peranakan was born out of the intermarriage between Chinese and Muslims. I did not forget to try Peranakan cuisine such as the famous otak-otak or spicy fish cake.
My Malacca trip was special, a collection of memorable thoughts that were significant to history, culture and heritage in South East Asia. Indeed, Malaysia is truly Asia!