Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Defensive Remnants

Porta de Santiago
One of the older structures in Melaka, the Porta de Santiago was originally built by the Portuguese in 1512 as one of the four main gates to its fortress during their 130 year colonial rule. Restoration was undertaken by the Dutch. Sadly, the British destroyed the A'Famosa fortress, with only the one gate remaining. Upon entering the arched interior, visitors had a mini concert provided by a few guitarists and singers.

Until 2006, the ruins of the Portuguese fortress/wall lay buried underground. It was the intended site for the city's tower, which was subsequently relocated. Laterite rocks from nearby Upeh Island were used to rebuild the watch tower.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Christ Church, Melaka

Perhaps the most photographed building in Melaka is the Christ Church and is the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia . Built in 1753 with bricks brought from Holland, the church sits at the heart of what is known as the Dutch Square. The Christ Church was repainted to more closely match the pinkish original bricks, starting a fashion trend for façade colors in the vicinity.

Our tour guide pointed out its original door with characteristically large hinges. Overall, the interior was quite simple and unadorned. The pews, pulpit and windows were original.  Dark 30 foot beams spanned the ceiling, each from a single tree. Lining its floor are several tombstones written in Portuguese and likely from St. Paul's Church within the fortress.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Red Around the Roundabout: Melaka's Dutch Square

Easily the most recognizable section of Melaka, this red façade historical section is a favorite gathering place. With its town hall (Stadhuys -built in 1650 and is the oldest surviving Dutch building in the East), church, market square and a school, visitors are are temporarily transported to a typical old European town. According to our tour guide (I went on a free tour provided by the Melaka State Government whose tourism center is right next to the square) it was Christ Church (center building, above) that was given this salmon color in order to match the original pinkish bricks that were showing through the whitewashed exterior. It also helped cover the reddish soil that splashed against the building during the prevalent tropical rains. Another story stated that the practical British repainted it the salmon color to hide the red from the unsightly habit of spitting chewed betel nuts. (Having traveled in India, I can attest to the ugly marring of buildings from betel nut spitting).   Other heritage buildings were then repainted to match.
Our tour guide eagerly pointed out the large windows so typical of Dutch architecture, which opened outward and louvered to provide ventilation. On the Stadhuys building as pictured on the right side), the black metal pieces helped support the beam areas. 
When the original clock on the clock tower ceased functioning, a replacement from England was sought but supposedly not available. Locals were not happy with getting a Japanese one, but at least the clock is up and running.
The figures in the roundabout retell the legend of Melaka where the Hindu founder saw a dog being kicked into the river there by white strong mouse deer.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Masjid Melange

As I've already mentioned, Malaysia is a mixture of cultures. The Masjid Kampung Kling in Melaka is a great example of this. A neighbor of the Cheng Hoon Teng Chinese temple, this mosque dates back to 1748, with the current brick structure erected in 1872. According to the sign on front, "the architecture of this mosque is Sumatran, with strong Hindu influences. This is particularly evident in the minaret, which resembles a pagoda. On closer inspection, you will find an unusual blend of English and Portuguese glazed tiles, Corinthian columns with symmetrical arches in the main prayer hall, a Victorian chandelier, a wooden pulpit with Hindu and Chinese-style carvings, and Moorish cast iron lamp posts in the place of ablution for pre-prayer cleansing."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

One highlight of my time in Melaka was at the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple. Built in 1645 (, it is Malaysia's oldest functioning Chinese temple. Dedicated to the goddess of Mercy (Kuan Yin), its name means "Temple of the Evergreen Cloud." With its colorful entry gate, the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is easy to spot on Jalan To'kong. Rebuilt in 1801, its artisans were brought from the southern Chinese provinces Fujian and Guandong. 
An active temple, Cheng Hoon Teng is equally devoted to the three doctrines of Chinese Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. 

The interior contained dark wood beams, elaborate woodcarvings, pretty lanterns, and extensive lacquer work. Columns made from timber are flat, rather than round. Feng Shui was employed in the entire structure. In one of its three bays (typically the temples only have one),  a solid bronze was displayed of Kuan Yin brought from India in the 19th century. The main shrine hall was constructed without any nails - quite the carpentry masterpiece.

Like other Chinese temples I would visit in Malaysia, it had ornate Chien Nien (literally meaning "cut and paste" porcelain mosaic-like works on the roof. Mythical creatures, animals, birds, and human figures were a feast for the eye. Such fun to photograph! 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Red and Green Baba Beauty

Some more beautiful Baba and Nyonya (Straits Chinese) of Melaka, a UNESCO World Heritage City in Malaysia. Typical of Chinese settlements, Lanterns were a popular decoration.

A cut paper piece from the Red Handicraft store (above). The artist uses a small, sharp scissors to cut about 3-4 pieces of paper at a time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Baba Nyonya Architecture of Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock

Chee Mansion
Of the streets in the UNESCO World Heritage Site town of Melaka, perhaps the most well-known is Jonker Street. I would have to say that I liked the street parallel to it - Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. This street acquired the nickname "Millionaire's Row" because of the wealth and status of its residents. Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock was home to a community of Chinese also known as the Peranakans a.k.a. Babas and Nyonyas. Highly successful entrepreneurs particularly during the mid 19-20th century, the Babas and Nyonyas proudly displayed their wealth in highly ornate homes. As taxes of the time was based on the width of the home, these Straits Chinese built their homes to be narrow but quite deep. 
Many of these homes/shops have been revitalized, with some being converted into hotels, shops and cafés. One of the homes has been opened up to the public as the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum. The tour (15 RM ticket - about $5) was led by a very informative volunteer and gave me an introduction to the Straits Chinese. Although photography wasn't allowed, we viewed the beautiful interior architecture (including open courtyards and carved wooden screens), furniture, clothing, and other belongings of the Chan family (home built 1861). 

Roof and decorative tiles on some homes along Jalan Tun Tang Cheng Lock