When I first heard that I was to make my home in Malacca, I groaned and frantically wondered how one could possibly exist in such an antiquated hole. My mistake was due to not knowing what a charming little town Malacca really is.
My train arrived at a tiny station, and during the drive to Tanjung Kling, my spirits sank to zero at the sight of narrow dusty streets, and architecture that would cause Christopher Wren to revolve rapidly in his grave. On arriving at a friend’s house, however, the sea cheered me considerably, and a good night’s rest completely restored the spirit of adventure which the long journey from Ipoh had smothered.
Next morning I sallied forth on my tour of discovery, feeling infinitely superior to Columbus. How different everything looked in the morning! Every narrow street held a promise of adventure: the quaint buildings were delightful in their variety, every scrap of ruined wall or pillar breathed history, and the curious stares of pedestrians showed a friendly interest.
The journey to town in an aged bus was a revelation. Unlike Singapore where no one bothers about his neighbour, the passengers were friendly. Perfect strangers chatted amicably; several kindly hands were out-stretched to help a mother and baby into a seat, while all joined in such a friendly curiosity concerning me, that it was impossible to take offence. A general spirit of good-will pervaded the bus. As we rattled down the streets, I was amazed at the low shop-houses, of which no two are alike; they vary in height, size, shape and colour, giving the impression that Malacca was never “planned” but just “grew” like a crop of mushrooms. The bus finally stopped at the river, besides the Customs shed. The river bank is lined with the greenest of tumbled-down, moss-grown houses, from whose windows the shopkeepers indulge in fishing when business is slack.
I walked from there to the centre of the town, a cluster of fine buildings around a minute park (humourously called the Botanic Gardens) adorned by a really classic fountain, and then inspected the quaint red stone Post Office, Church of England, and the Stadhuys. The Stadhuys is an enormous rambling building full of the quaintest nooks and crannies; old rooms, cellars, terraces, galleries and long halls where formerly the old Dutch Governors lived in state. At present it is occupied by Government Offices, the Museum and the Library.
From there I toiled, panting, up St. Paul’s Hill, which slopes up from the sea-front. On reaching the top (after I had got my breath back) I was enchanted with the wonderful view. All Malacca lay spread out around me. I could see the hills of Tampin in the distance; the coastline stretching away to Tanjong Kling on the right, acres of coconut trees and huts, and St. John’s Hill Fort; the sea dotted with islands in front, the fine buildings of the Bank and Messrs Sime Darby and Company; the multi-coloured roofs of the shops, and the Residence with its beautiful garden just below the Fort. On entering the Fort, I was met by an interesting custodian, who was thoroughly conversant with Malacca history, and made every stone live. I saw the tombstones of old Dutch and Portuguese settlers; the open grave where the body of St. Francis Xavier rested before its journey to Goa; the embrasures where the cannon rested, and the blocked up entrance to an underground passage. The building was originally a church, but was converted into a fort. At the foot of the hill stands the remains of the Old Gateway to the Fort. It was an unforgettable experience to stand in that ruin so rich in history, and listen to the stories vividly told by the guide.
Next I visited the shops lining streets so narrow that I could almost touch two sides. In the course of my wanderings, I came across the most fascinating curious, and shops where you could buy anything from a pin to an anchor for the proverbial “song.” These shops were so crammed with genuine antiques, and mere wrecks, that it was difficult to move. It was a revelation of how much junk could be picked up at auctions. With the greatest difficulty, I tore myself away, and took a bus home.
I have since learned that shopping in Malacca can be most exasperating, when you cannot find what you want in all the fine Bombay shops: when you try to buy a hat and find there are no hat shops, or long to see a play and there are no theatres. Nevertheless, we have two splendid Talkie Halls, a Cabaret, a Museum, a Library, an Amusement Park, plenty of ruins, three fairly wide streets, and the sea which is a never failing joy, so, all things considered. I am very pleased that I live in Malacca.
The Malaysia Message
Vol. 49 No. 5