From the summt I was able to sort out the various parts of the city and notice the greenery, the flatness and how low every building actually was. Looked very pleasant place. I watched a lizzard which was camera shy for a while which was a pity as it was worth a photo. There was a steady flow of folk arriving and takng pictures of themselves on the summit. I decided to go down by a different pathway as this would take me past some Wats which sounded interesting. This was a path less used. I did. Spend some time trying to get a picture of several very attractive butterflies but they would not oblige and land near me. A pity as they were different to our New Zealand ones and quite colourful. Actually on this trip I am spending a lot of time on similar efforts to 'capture the moment' Mostly it is the big winged butterflies. I want to get but it sees that I am only photographing smaller ones.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Sunday, November 6, 2011
I was in conversation with a backpacker a while back when I was planning to visit Malaysia. He and his wife lived in Singapore. When I mentioned that I was keen to visit Penang he asked me why. I replied that I had the impression that it had lots of evidence of its long colonial history and I was interested in seeing that aspect. His comment was pretty much that I was wasting my time and that I would get all I needed in Melaka. So just in case he was correct I included Melaka in my plans – but I still kept Penang in there as well. I just lengthen my time in Malaysia.
In the end as much as I enjoyed Melaka, I believe that Penang was more preferable. My impression, subjective of course.
Getting to Melaka was fairly straight forward. I had spent the night in Kuala Lumpur and it was only a 15 minute walk from the hostel to a rapid light rail station. From here I travelled another 15 minutes to the station for the Southern Transit Centre. Up and down a vairety of steps and stair cases and I was in the bus depot.
Glancing around I noticed that this newly constructed depot had all the characterisitics of an airport terminal. On the level I was on were booking counters and food concessions. Providing you could show your ticket then you could pass the checkpoint at the top of the esculator and descend to the departure level. Each bus had a gate to gather at before the queue would be let throught the gate check and onto the bus.
Above the gate was a electronic timetable and departure details for this gate.
But first I had to get a ticket. There were some long queues but I spied a window without a line and went up and asked where I got a ticket for Melaka. The attendant must have taken pity on me because she organised a ticket for a bus although I would have a 90 minute of so wait.
The bus was crowded but I managed to get a single seat near the front beside the window. We left more of less on time but the journey down the expressway which would normall take two hours took nearly three. With a holiday coming up the traffic over the three and four lanes was bumper to bumper and often moved at a snail pace.
Although the window was not really clean enught to take photos through I did take some. Mostly of palm plantations. I assumed that most were oil palms. We did not pass through many towns as the expressway was designed to by pass them.
Finally we turned off the expressway and went through the toll booth and into increasing urbanisation. We made a few brief stops to drop off passengers before we reached the Melaka Sentral Bus Station. Unfortunately this has been built almost 5 kms from the city centre and you need to get a feeder bus or taxi to get into the centre.
I walked through the very congested terminal to find the local departure bay and bus #17 which for a couple RM would take me to Dutch Square according to guide books.
The bus was already crowded as I pulled my bag on board and moved down the asile a bit. A ticket collector came through and collected my money. As we pulled off a young man stepped out of a slightly wider gap between seats and indicated that I should put my case there which I did. I was the only European on the bus and as it turned out the only English speaker. Being a national holiday the bus had covered most of the window area with flags. All I could see out was through a narrow gap at the bottom of the window.
Now knowing that the trip was only a few kilometres, I began to get worried as to where the stop was. In the seats beside me were a couple young women. I asked them if I had passed by Dutch Square but they didn't recognise the name. I showed then a map and they began to suggest that we had passed it. Ask the driver they said. The driver thought for a moment and then said “Soon”.
So we continued the tiki tour through the back streets of Melaka until at a point along a busy multi lane highway the bus stopped and the driver indicated I should get off. Lots of others were as well. The two girls repeated that this was were I should alight. I did, the driver got out and pointed the way I should go. The girls had already explained that I had to go through a shopping mall cross another road and go behind the next mall.
I do not find new or strange shopping malls the easyist to find my way in. However, I finally navigated my way across the first highway and found the girls waiting for me. They explained that they would show me the way. Now that was really appreciated. The first mall was a breeze going along behind them. The through the next mall car park, cross another mulitlane road and they took me along the street to the end of the shops. The foot path came and went according to the shop it was in front of. Different levels as well. Round past MacDonalds and over a low wall and into a park. Now I began to see older buildings, musems and the occasional ancient fortification.
Suddenly we were in a small square and the girls pointed to a little bridge which I knew I had to cross. Dutch Square was small, very small and little more that a traffic island with a flower garden with some old brown buildings, one of which was Christ Church. This has been the landmark I had been looking for.
So I warmly thanked the two girls and told them they were my 'guardian angels' The did look very pleasant with their beaming smiles and national Malay costumes. One was dressed in black and the other in a bright floral pattern, both dressed from neck to ankle.
Later I realised that although the guide book and the Hostelworld instructions refered to 'Dutch Square' more commonly it seems to be known as 'Town Square'.
I crossed the bidge and entred the extremely busy old commercial area. The street ahead of me was 'wall to wall' shoppers and tourists. Mostly local families enjoying time out. I did not feel like dragging my roller bag through this street, but with the map could see and alternative route – one street to the right. This was the street my hostel was in. So I headed along the riverside road to what I thought would be my street, but it had a different name. Oh well the next one may be it. Still the name and the map did not coincide.
As I was standing on the corner a middle age woman called out to ask if I needed help. I showed her the hostel address. Yes the road I thought would be the correct one was but as she pointed out, that too had a lot of traffic. She suggested I go down to road I was beside. Reach the T intersection ( about 100m) turn left, come to a crossroad, look right to see an Indian temple and the hostel is a couple of doors along. Actually this was the check in hostel but the building I was staying in was just a 100m away closer to the river.
The hostel, Jalan Jalan, was a converted townhouse with a double story centre space where the lounge and coffee facilities were located. Most of the rooms were upstairs, toilets downstairs. My room was an adequate size with a window opening onto the corridor and a large fan. Above the window was a message ' ok you are in a hot country, keep the window shut and live in an oven'. Opening the window and the fan did obviously make a difference. Generally, I was more than happy with the guest house although perhaps providing breakfast would have been helpful. At least there were coffee and tea making facilities provided.
While I was in Melaka I had the effects of a heavy cold with at one point a slight fever. Fortunately it did not last too long. So I didn't make as much of the opportunities here as perhaps I may have had I not been 'off colour'. Being a bit 'under the weather' made me more aware of the heat and this slowed me down a lot. So perhaps I did not make as much from the 'Melaka experience' as I normally would have.
In the old town precict the streets were laid out in a basic grid pattern. Down each street the buildings tended to be double story house shops. So even in the main shopping streets the businesses were in small buildings. I found it interesting to wander along these streets. The area around Jonker and Heeren streets is a major historic residential area despite the shops. This area is just across the river from the Town/Dutch Square. Many of these century plus old homes were built by Chinese traders. Quite a few have decorative work across their front or at second floor level.
The streets are all narrow and with cars parked along them, passing traffic was one way. This resulted in the night market stalles being closer and the crowd more compressed; I think.
There are several old homes, a little more grand than others, which have been done up as museums. I had a look around one which celebrates the exploits of Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He)the famous Chinese explorer, who established a trading base at Melaka. Cheng Ho led the first of the seven great treasure fleets which set out from China in the early 15th century. The first of seven fleets – not all were led by Cheng Ho, set out in 1405 for Calcutta and returned home in 1407 with ship loads of goods. There were 62 ships in the great fleet including four very large vessels. All up around 30,000 men were in the fleet.
Obviously one of the great sea captains who sailed from China as far as the Persian Gulf and East Africa in later voyages. There is evidence to suggest that some of the ships in one voyage also reached Northern Australia.
The final great fleet voyage was 1431-33 after which the emperor banned further voyages. By this stage the Portugese and the Spanish explorers where coming into the Indian Ocean and Asia via South Africa and South America.
There was also a large reproduction of the Chinese map which Cheng Ho's voyages helped produce. They certainly had a good knowledge of SE Asia and Indian Ocean. They also used the compass – and 11th century Chinese invention.
Eaching evening the full length of Jonkers Walk became a night market with a performance area where a couple of streets converged, forming a triangular 'square'. Here there seemed to be a nightly comptetition for karoke preformers. Some were not very good but most could sing with confidence. One evening there was a prize giving being held with mostly young people gaining impressively large cups and plaques. The prizes were for making dragons out of found materials, sych as shells, drink cans, drink can pull tabs and so on. Most included light bulbs so that their dragons glowed in the dark. I was impressed by several of the constructions.
The night market itself was fun to wander through. Always crowded with a mixture of jostling individuals, including many western tourists. There were lots of food and drink stands, clothing, Tee shirts of course and avariety of novelties and toys. One stand specialsed in raddish cake another produced blocks of toffee which they then chipped up with a hammer bagging the small pieces for customers. It looked teeth breaking. There was ice shavings covered in various syrups, hot dogs 'latest style', which was a saussage cooked inside a waffle.
I discovered a new drink which appealed to me. Sour plum and lime juice. The sour plum was the red dried and salted Chinese plum which is nice to have on its own. There were several stalls selling their own variations of this.
A block away from Jonkers I discovered the Baboon House, a nice coffee bar. It had a central courtyard full with tropical plants interspersed with small tables and chairs. Each time I called in there was the same group of locals and expats working around a grouping of tables. I decided that they were a production group prodicing a publication of some sort. One was obviously the photographer and from time to time the group would discuss a picture with him.
I found a couple of other coffee cafes which appealed to me. One was in Julan Tikang Besi, just along from the hostel. Here the young owner had a classic Volkswagen Combi restored and converted into a mobile coffee cart, but parked inside the cafe to become the barista's base. The espressos were good as was the simple range of Italian inspired snacks. It was a fun place to have coffee. In fact I had my last Melaka coffee here on the way to catch the bus.
Along Julian Tikang Besi were more places of interest. For instance, the oldest mosque in Maleka was just along the road from the guest house. Every morning around 5:30am I was woken by the amplified call to prayer, which was repeated several other times during the day. I had a wander around the mosque There was an interesting mixture of archectural styles here. Arab and Indian I thought that I could spot.
Further along the road is the the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. It can be dated at least as far back as 1685. But with the Cheng Ho trading post having been established a couple of hundred years earlier, perhaps the temple can go back even more? An interesting thought.
When I went one sunny and hot afternoon, an elderly Chinese gentleman pointed out to me a special plant growing in the temple. I had flowers that had the shape of a small bird formed by their petals. Unusual but smewhat fascinating and something for me to photograph. The temple compond was crowded with visitors and many were taking the opportunity to worship and burn inscence at the various altars around trhe complex.
More or less across the road was a modern building housing a Buddhist Association which also contained many statues and several altars. It was however more of a museum than a temple.
Throughout the town I came across several more Chinese temples or clan houses. Most were closed so I assume they were more of a clan house than a general temple. The Chinese temples were to be expected because the area I was staying in is known as 'Chinatown'. There is also 'Little India' – I guess the term Indiatown would not sound as good. I visited the area but only during the day and thought that it was really a little dissapointing.
Also in the street near the guest house was an Indian temple. I didn't actually go into this as it was not always open when I passed by. However, there were times when it was and then, there was usually some form of Hindu ceremony in progress.
Across the river in the area of Town/Dutch Square, there were three churches of note. Right in the square was a Dutch Protestant Church which visitors were allowed into but not to take photographs. This is the oldest Protestant Church in Malaysia and was built between 1741 and 1753.
The interior of Christ Church was a little cooller than outside which was a welcome relief. It was a fairly plain interior with little decoration, a reflection of the Protestant practices of the 18th century.
These days the exterior, like everything else in the Square is painted a dull reddish brown colour. Most likely not the original colour at all. I read that the bricks to construct it came out from Holland.
Just along the road a bit is the twin spired white painted Roman Catholic Church. I found my way in and it too was a cooller spot. Nor was it over decrative either. Thanks to the windows it was light and brighter inside that was Christ Church.
The other church is in ruins. Positioned on the summit of a small hill behind Dutch Square is St Pauls. A well used path leads up to the complex of roofless walls. The Portugese, who originally controlled Maleka built it in 1521 and I think its commanding position would have dominated the area for quite a distance around the old settlement.
Apparently, the body of St Francis Xavior, the Jesuit mission was buried here for a period before being taken elsewhere. Today the empty tomb area is fenced off. I did read that St Francis had briefly visited the church as well while he was still alive of course.
Around the walls are leaning a variety of old tombstones mostly Dutch, dating back into the 1600's. Some make interesting reading. One talks about the wife as being 'chaste, pios and beloved' (1697). Another from 1915 records the fact that the gravestone of Frau Van Riebeck, wife of John Van Riekeck, founder of Cape Town had been removed and sent to South Africa.
Several of the tombstones contained a skull and some a scull and cross bones in their decoration.
From 1567 to 1596 the church became a fortress as the Portuguese resisted the growth of Dutch influence in the area. The siege ended with Dutch winning control.
There is quite a pleasant view out over the city from here.
I carried on down a path to the small ruins of a fortress gate complete a canon or two placed in front. This is all that remains of Porta de Santiago a part of A Famosa the Portugese fort. Most of what actually remains was a Dutch reconstruction.
Also in the Dutch Square is Stadthuys, built in 1660 by the Dutch. It was .a sort of old town hall and today houses a museum. However I nevver got myself into gear to go and have a look inside. Most likely I missed something really interesting – so be it.
Near the square was a sort of open air transport museum which included an old airoplane, railway engine and carriages, bullock cart and several other items. Near by was a reconstruction of a 16th century Portuguese merchant sailing ship. It looks quite imposing standing there on dry land, but I don't really think I would have wanted to sail around the world in it. It wasn't all that big really.
The ship was part of the Marintime Museum. There was also an Islamic World Museum and I think one or two others in the general area as well.
Between the old square and the modern shopping mall was a twll revoving tower which you could ride up for a view and then rotate slowly down again. My feeling was that the hill was a better viewpoint. Any way the hill blocked out a portion of the tower's view.
I made a copule of visits to the Mall, the largest in Southern Malaysia mainly to visit the supermarket. But it was also a cool place to be in, temperature wise and a fountain or two and a fish pond help make it feel cool. Other than that it was pretty much everthing you would expect to find in a shopping mall anywhere around the world - just with a local flavour and foods in the food hall.
The Melaka River is a distinctive feature of the town. Water level is maintained by a lock or weir system just a bit down stream from the old town.
Along each bank there is a walkway and so I went walking. It was a pleasant, I hot, activity. As I wandered along a steady flow of river boats passed by usually with their collection of tourists on board sightseeing.
I enjoyed my walk and was able to look at the various buildings which lined the river in a bit of detail. Most were homes and over a century old. I talked to one owner and he explained the problems he was having with the local authorities as he wanted to do some renovations to his home.
In many places atractive potted plants, often flowing, lined the water's edge. The river curved its way along past some cafes and guest houses which were mixed in with the individual homes. Over all a pretty area and I wondered if this was the location know as 'Little Amsterdam'. The did all seem to have the distinctive red roof.
So I walked along, passing several bridges before I decided to cross over and continue the walk on the opposite bank and return to my starting point. This walk took me past more bars and riverside cafes and on a couple of ocasions briefly onto a street. While walking along the street I passed a pet shop with numerous crowded cages on the street frontage containing birds and animals such as cats dogs and rabbits. There was a distinctive smell coming from the shop and I expect that it would be obvious in the bar across the road. The steps beside the bar led me back onto the river bank – a more pleasant and for a while, shaded area.
At one point the walkway became more of a bridge as water was able to pass under it into a area of trees, perhaps mangroves. These boarded a traditional Malay village which was somewhat also like a shanty town. Looking down into the water I watched something which I first thought was a crocodile but finally decided was a large swimming lizard. It was over a metre in length.
A similar one was living in the covered drain near my hostel. I discovered neighbours looking down a drain hole and joined them to spy the head of a similarly large lizard steering back at us. On another occasion its head was looking out at ground level. I gathered that this was not really a normal thing to happen but must have been because of the recent rains.
On one of my later walks, I went into the Malay village from the road and wandered around some of the lanes that went through the busy community. No one seemed to mind and although the homes and buildings looked rather 'run down' there seemed to be plenty of happy family activity going on.
The lanes led me into the local busy local shopping streets. The shops were small and their stock overflowed onto the street providing a technicolor range of products.
Having walked along a long stretch of the river bank, I decided to join the trend and do the boat trip as well. So next morning I was down to the landing by Dutch Square and go a good seat on the next boat to leave. Esentially, the trip just followed my previous route but went on further. We past a very well laid out Melakan village (Kampong Morten) which I suspect was a show village. It had all similar designed homes along with moque and administration offices. One, Villa Sentosa, was set up as a show home or museum for tourists. It is family run.
The trip came to a up river landing beside what apperared to be a fun park before returning back down the river. I was interested to see the overhead mono rail in action and wondered if it was just a fun park attraction or a working commuter line. I never did find out. On the return journey the tape recording was switched on and a commentary played. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the commentary and the scenery got out of sync as we sailed along and it got fairly useless as a commentary. Ajusting the boat speed could have cured it but that did not happen.
One of the attractive features of Dutch Square are the many coloured trishaws. Here the owners had decorated their bicycle powered rickshaws with multitudes of artifical coloured flowers and ribbons. Plus what ever else takes their fancy – flags perhaps. Each trishaw also seems to have its own ghetto blaster sound system. So as they peddle along, there is this loud music as well. Western hit tunes from the 1960's and 70's seemed especially popular. Some local music was aired as well though. Often a whole line of these vehicles would come along the street iogether but fortunately only a couple in the line would play music then. I guess the tricycles added a lot of colour to the locality.
My visit to Melaka coincided with a National holiday so every day the square area and Jonker Walk would be crowded with visitors. Lots of families as well and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves very much. There was a real holiday spirit around. It wsas interesting to note that most seemed to be Malaysians and appeared to be making their first visit to Melaka; judging by their reactions to everything.
The holiday did mean that my buses to and from Melaka were both full and the terminal crowded. But the interesting thing to me as I have traveled through Asia is that even when there is a national holiday, most of the business activities seem to carry on uneffected. OK, I did see some with notices indicating that they would be closed for the holidays but always these were the minority in Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos.
I did not visit all the places I could have. For instance, I didn't go to see the Portuguese area on the coast. I was told that it was recently reconstructed or even 'constructed' and was mostly resturants, but not much actual historic features to see. That could be true. The tourist leaflet talks about Portugese Sqaure being built in the late 1980's and 'inspired' by Portuguese architecture.
I haven't mentioned the Baba-Nyonya culture either. This is from the Chinese who came to Melaka and married locals. There are examples of the culture in many restuarants where their special cooking style and dishes are featured. There is also a museum full of Chinese rosewood furniture but which is in a mixture of designs. It borrows from Chinese, Dutch and Victorian British designs. I came across this is various shops and cafes as well as in museums in other places, such as Penang.
Interesting but a bit heavy and solid for my personal taste.
Looking back now, I have to agree that Melaka was an interesting, if hot, city to visit. I would say that I enjoyed the colonial history of Georgetown more, but never the less, Melaka had lots to offer in a small accessable area.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Penang is a real mix of cultures and their religions.
During my stay in Georgetown, I overlapped the end of the Moslem observance of Ramadhan ( a month of daytime fasting) and the celebration of Hari Raya Puasa (a time of forgiveness and sharing). Everywhere there were Hari Raya Puasa banners and posters. Decorations stretched across some streets. Many Moslems return to their village and family so the festival stretches over a full week for many. It is party time, the feast to mark the end of fasting. Crowds turned up at the mosques, especially in the evening and especially at the mosque I saw most regularly -Kapitan Keling Mosque.
In fact Georgetown, like the rest of Malaysia is full of mosques of various sizes. Some I saw were very large, but there were smaller ones as well – these were often older than the obviously modern buildings.
But Islam was not the only religion. I also saw several Hindu temples in the city and they looked old enough to have been around for a long time. They had towers full of carvings of various Hindu dieties and were tremendously complicated in the mixing of the sculptures. Unfortunately the main ones which I would like to have visited were always locked each time I went past.
Georgetown has the highest density of population in Malaysia. It is presently something around 45% compared with 28% nationally. It has been much higher on Penang reaching around 70% in the past. So as would be expected, there are a large number of Chinese temples. There are 36 Clan temples as well as others. They almost seem to be in every street. Consequently, I visited several. Most are at least a century old and some look rather run down. But many, perhaps most, are well maintained and used.
One I visited a couple times was Teochew Temple on Chulia Street. The association was established by a small group of Teochew migrants in 1855 but the present temple was not completed until 1870. It underwent extensive restoration six years ago and so has a lovely fresh bright look. The paintwork is especially striking with the use of a lot of gold paint. I understand that the name was changed during the 20th century to Han Jiang Ancestral Temple.
On my second visit a large family group was involved in a ceremony of respect to their ancestors. This was followed by a meal or banquet. One of the family leaders who spoke excellent English explained the activity to me and warmly invited me to join in the lunch. In the end I felt rather shy and let the invitation pass by. A pity in a way as the invitation was genuine and it would have been a new experience fo me. But my confidence let me down on this occasion.
The Lum Yeong Tong Yap Kongsi clan has their temple Choo Chay Temple on the corner of Armenian Street and next to the clan house. It is only a block away from the large Kapitan Keling Mosque. Another is just at the end of the road. So I was interested in the overlapping sounds of the amplified Moslem call to prayer and the clashing cymbols of Chinese ceremonies.
My final evening in Penang coincided with the end of the Chinese Hungry Ghost festival. This is a time when ancestors are worshiped or more correctly honoured and respected by the present generations. They also try to respect lonely ancestoral spirits. I shall try to recall what I have been told.
Every Chinese family will have a small house shrine at which they may have ancestor photos but where they will leave small amounts of food offerings and burn incense. These ancestors are happy. However, some Chinese died but lack a family to continue to look after them. So they are hungry. In this festival therefore it is a time to respect these lonely ancestors or spirits.
At the Choo Chay Temple they had set up a large marque on the street and in it they had large paper effigies of either gods or ancestors. There were tables of food offerings and incense buring. At the other end of the block they had a stage and rows of seating. The two nights I went there there was a very active Chinese female performer doing her very best rock star effort. Regular costume changes as well. She seemed confident and talented. Of course no one seemed to see any problem with rock concert at one end and religious activity at the other. Sounds from both overlapping. Quite a cultural blending I thought.
On the final night I went back to watch again. This time they had taken over the crossroad beside the temple and were building up a rectangular wall of bick like bundles of paper money. False money of course as the spirits apparently don't know the difference. Then they laid great long strings of crackers around the 'wall; and along the road. Other strings were hung from lamp posts and poles. All the time cars and motor scotters were making their way past the construction.
Suddenly, in the marque a whole lot of crackers went off and the banging of cymbols began. Out came a parade of people holding the paper effigies high and others throwing fake money like confette at a wedding. There was lots of noise, shouts cymbols, drums as the parade went off round the block.
A few minutes later they came down the street towards the crossroads. Cars were trying to drive towards the parade but there was no room to pass so they pulled over as best they could. The paraded halted about 50 metres from the crossroads.Suddenly the strings of crackers started going off – some very close to the pulled over cars and their passengers. It was all very noisy. I was close enough to be pelted by pieces of cracker case and small stones thrown up from the road surface.
As the crackers stopped the fireworks began. A table set up by the paper money wall had numbers of display strength shooting and exploding balls. Very impressive and the cinders were dropping on me. You would never be this close back home. And the cars continued to drive right past – unbelieveable! But a fire brigade crew was on duty.
Once the fireworks were over, the parade advanced and the effigies where placed on the money pile.
Now great plastic bags of gold and red coloured paper, some rolled into cone shape, were piled up beneath the figures. Dozens of bag fulls were brought to the pile by excited participants.
Finally a circle of young people stood around the pile a flame was passed around and each lit a a tourch. Then in unison they all reached forward and lit the pile in front of them. In no time a great ring of flame appeared. As the crowds watched, the cars and scootters drove past and trhe rock concert continued, the pyre of paper qickly reduced to ashes.
The next morning as I walked to Komtar to catch my bus for Kuala Lumpur, I past ash pile after ash pile telling me that similar but smaller ceremonies had taken place. Most were just small household fires, indicating the range of scale for the ceremony.
The Hungry Ghosts had been made happy for another year.
A photo posting of the this even can be found several entries below.