The spice of the daytime

By PHOOWADON DUANGMEE
THE NATION Malaysia

Christ Church was built by the Dutch in 1753 and painted white, like the Stadthuys, clock tower and windmill. The British, who took over in 1826, painted the town red. Christ Church boasts jointless ceiling skylights, a copper replica of the Bible, a head

The small Malaysian city of Malacca has a discernible “mixed pot of spices”, either for its flavour or design, dating back to the old colonial days when the European fleets came in search of spices and gold.

Malacca has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2008, and draws millions of tourists every year for its old colonial charm and promising food.

I arrived in Malacca in October on a road trip down the peninsula. At first glance it looks like Singapore without the bars and towering skyline.

To the south is the Strait of Malacca, while the Malacca River is in the west. Jump on a tourist cruise of the river and you see its old communities, Christian churches, Chinese shrines, Muslim mosques and historic landmarks rolling by, one after another, like a slide show.

The Portuguese came and captured Malacca in 1511. They wanted to make this seaside town a port of the spice trade. Alas, the Portuguese also declared war on the local sultans to win the bargains they wanted in the marketplaces.

The Dutch, with help of the sultanates, packed off the Portuguese in 1641, and guess what was the first thing they built: a windmill. Yes, a world away from the North Sea and the Dutch still missed their windmills.

In fact, the Dutch contributed much more to Malacca.

Strolling on the Old Square you see the historic red (pink to me) buildings – Stadthuys, the residence of the Dutch governor; Christ Church; and St Paul’s Church. These buildings become a kind of trademark for Malacca.

“They were white in the days of Dutch,” says a local guide as we walk around the square. “It was the British who repainted the town red because they love their colonial towns red, like in India, for example.”

The Chinese and Indians also had a fair influence on Malacca, but left their marks on the plate rather than the building exteriors.

At Ole Sayang restaurant on Taman Melaka Raya Street, we ordered fish curry, cuttlefish in sweet and sour sauce, steamed fish in spicy coconut sauce and steamed rice. There’s a nice balance between Indian spices and the signature Chinese sweet and sour, and we eat more than we deserve. How shameful.

What you don’t have in Malacca is some promising nightlife, like they have in Singapore and Bangkok.

By late evening all the shops and households are closed and the streets are dark. You don’t see many people going out to eat and drink.

One night around 9pm, my friend and I walked from our hotel to the Jetty, the chief hangout that takes the form of ship’s dock. It’s supposed to be the coolest place in Malacca.

We took a long walk from one side of the dock to its end, only to retrace our steps to buy cans of beer at the grocery shop.

Here, in Malacca, the old square and historic building might be breathtaking, but there is nothing to write home about when it’s getting dark.

Source link