Melaka : Chinese New Year (a day late)

Malacca Travel Blog

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The Discovery Cafe: cool, cheap place to stay in Melaka

“Hello, my name is Michelle Yeoh, and I would like to talk to you about the dangers of calcium deficiency.”

Well would ya now Michelle.  This quaint public health broadcast from one of Malaysia’s foremost celebs accompanies my journey from Melaka’s main bus terminal to the city centre.

“I don’t want calcium deficiency to effect the decisions I make in my life and neither should you.”

Quite right Michelle, I do not want this to happen.  Melaka is about 150km south of Kuala Lumpur.  Rich in historical, architectural and cultural charm it is the 2nd of only two cities in the Malacca Straights to have recently been awarded UNESCO World Heritage City status.

  Georgetown in Penang being the other.

“That’s why I drink high calcium content milk.”

Yeah, yeah.  Enough already Michelle.  Thanks luv. 

Melaka is an extremely charming city.  Steeped in the history of wave after wave of life under one colonial boot or another and all the confusion and lack of unity that this can bestow upon a city’s identity, Melaka seems now calmed, comfortable and at one with itself now that the colonial dusts have settled.  The main square sets the scene very nicely with its large water fountain and the armada of colourful tri-shaws that gather here before wending their way about the city.

Line of Tri-shaws
  Each one of these a work of art in its own right.  The owners clearly taking pride in coming up with the gaudiest, most complex, colourful and surreal arrangement of décor possible for their little vehicles.  Fake flowers, fans, mirrors, Barbie dolls, reconstituted motorbike parts and horns, fairy lights and tinsel abound.  They are moving public psychedelic shows.  Their battery powered hi-fis blare out an incongruous mix of hindi music, euro-dance, Guns ‘n’ Roses or Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ amongst others.  Quite at odds, but at once perfectly in keeping with the calm-carnival air of the city.  It’s Chinese New Year and this is clearly holiday town for the Malay Chinese, here in vast numbers during my stay.

Beyond the reigns of the original Malay Sultanate Kingdom and Monarchy Melaka passed into the possession of first the Portugese (1511) following Francisco de Gama‘s conquests in India at the end of the 15th century, then to the Dutch (1641) and then finally the British (1786).

Melaka tri-shaw bike (detail)
  The Japanese seized Melaka briefly during the Second World War but following the return of the state to post war British rule it was not to be long before independence was sought for and (as usual, painfully) achieved.  The declaration of the state’s independence was delivered in Melaka by Tunku Abdul Rahman in early 1956 who went on to be the first Prime Minister of the unified nation state of Malaysia formed on 16 September 1963.  As an interesting side point this nation state originally incorporated Singapore but owing to certain political irreconcilables Singapore ceded to become an independent nation state on 9 August 1965.

My walking tour of the old port area of the city today takes in first the Melaka Sultanate Palace, a replica of the original home of the Malay Royal Family following its historical destruction by fire.

Reproduction palace
  It now houses the Melaka Cultural Museum and ‘Secret Garden’.  Nearby is Fort A’ Formosa, or what little remains of this former Portugese fort (basically a stone gate and ornamental cannon) after the British near raised it to the ground.  Up the hill or ‘bukit’ behind the remaining fort gate sits St.Paul’s Church.  Originally again of Portugese construction, taken over by the Dutch whilst they constructed their own Christ’s Church (that resides in all its bright red splendour in the old town square) and latterly used as an ammunition and gunpowder store by the Brits.  Oh yes! We were a respectful lot as usual.

I then move on to the Maritime Museum (situated on the Jalang Quayside).  This is worth a visit if nothing else, for the rather fab ‘building’ that it is housed within.

The Secret Garden (detail)
  A full scale replica Portugese galleon ship, the ‘Flor de la Mar’, a vessel that once sank off the Melaka coast.  Inside the visitor is presented with an overview of the maritime and trade history of the pivotal port of Melaka.  As with Penang, the history; the fate of the port and its town being so bound to the politics, invaders and traders brought to its shores by the meeting of the two concourses of the monsoon ‘Trade Winds’ at this point of the peninsula.  Following this lesson in history I revert to the simpler pleasures of ice cream and a walk along the quayside.

In Melaka I am staying at the very eye-catching ‘Discovery Café’ that sits right by the town centre and the canal side.  It’s relaxed and has good vibes.  I sit and read and resist the urge as long as I can to buy a beer, but it’s Chinese New Year and turning into such a beautiful evening so “what the hey!”.

The Secret Garden attached to the reproduction palace/ museum
  The hot sun is cooling down into the duskier shades of blue evening.  A large vociferous flock of birds swarm about and sing within a large tree across the road.  One can of cold beer definitely hit’s the spot!  Probably reflective of the low alcohol intake I have these days and the often more modest amounts of food being taken in at meal times.

By great good fortune Discovery Café have arranged for a traditional Lion Dance troupe to perform tonight.  This follows the setting off of a gigantic string of Chinese firecrackers suspended over the café entrance.  This dynamite strip cracks, bangs and burns sending sparks and a storm of bright red smokey paper shrapnel swirling through the air for a good five minutes or so!  It’s dangerous being a photographer tonight!  Then it is the lions’ turn.

Fort A'Formosa (all that remains od the Portugese ramparts)
  We are graced by the acrobatic performance of the Red Lion (for Courage) and the Golden Lion (for Liveliness) this evening.  To the vibrant beating of drums and cymbals they bob and jump, duck, dance and weave about one another.  Whirling into and out of the café and approaching mildly terrified onlookers.  Strewn on the floor are a bunch of oranges that one by one are ‘consumed’ by the lions, only to be given back to selected members of the audience as a sign of good luck and happiness.  The Golden Lion sets down over a plate of fruit and vegetables for a time, preparing what ends up looking like a giant ceremonial fruit salad, whilst Red continues to perform ever impressive acrobatic feats to the beats.  Great fun!  AND I am handed a good luck orange too!… but I have to say, slightly cheatingly.
Church atop the hill.
  The lion drops it from its mouth to the lady next to me but she seems keen to pass it to me instantly.  Hey, I’ll take good luck anyways I can get it.

This is definitely a celebratory improvement on Kuala Lumpur so far but I don’t feel immersed in the New Year yet.  Standing on a balcony at Discovery I stare out over the town and my eyes are drawn to a large red glow to the north side of town.  Descending to street level I head out along abandoned streets heavily illuminated with red neon lighting (nooo, not that sort of red lighting!) and strings of Chinese lanterns.  Soon I find myself stepping into the main bloodstream of the Malay Chinese New Year scene, the brightly illuminated, crowded neon and lantern drenched madness of Jonkers Street.

  Lanterns are strung from all windows and back and forth across the street.  Every child about seems to have little battery powered devils horns upon their heads and people sit and stand and drink at bars and eat from street vendors in large numbers.  A real party throng.  Not many foreigners here, if any, so again I am reduced to the silent observer, but it’s a beautiful, colourful, joyful scene and I finally feel I have a small taste of another peoples’ happiness during their New Year.

Stevie_Wes says:
Thanks Ella! I hope you have a wonderful time there! :)
Posted on: Feb 10, 2012
Ella01 says:
Good blog informative thanks. Looking forward to see Melaka next month !!! :-)
Posted on: Feb 09, 2012
Stevie_Wes says:
Oh yeah, I certainly did! I had those chicken balls twice and LOVED THEM!! Simple but pleasing :)
Posted on: Aug 03, 2009
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The Discovery Cafe: cool, cheap pl…
The Discovery Cafe: cool, cheap p…
Line of Tri-shaws
Line of Tri-shaws
Melaka tri-shaw bike (detail)
Melaka tri-shaw bike (detail)
Reproduction palace
Reproduction palace
The Secret Garden (detail)
The Secret Garden (detail)
The Secret Garden attached to the …
The Secret Garden attached to the…
Fort AFormosa (all that remains o…
Fort A'Formosa (all that remains …
Church atop the hill.
Church atop the hill.
Church in Melaka (forgive lack of …
Church in Melaka (forgive lack of…
Giant reproduction water wheel.
Giant reproduction water wheel.
The impressive housing of the Mela…
The impressive housing of the Mel…
Beautifully decorated tri-shaws sw…
Beautifully decorated tri-shaws s…
Lion Dancers prepare outside Disco…
Lion Dancers prepare outside Disc…
Christ Church
Christ Church
The fountain, church and other red…
The fountain, church and other re…
Melaka river/canal
Melaka river/canal
Lions heads
Lions heads
Melaka by night
Melaka by night
A fabulous, violent string of chin…
A fabulous, violent string of chi…
Neon sign (abstract)
Neon sign (abstract)
Many, many of the buildings in the…
Many, many of the buildings in th…
Chinese Quarter reflections 1
Chinese Quarter reflections 1
Lion and his oranges
Lion and his oranges
Golden Lion (abstract)
Golden Lion (abstract)
The drums and beats of the New Yea…
The drums and beats of the New Ye…
China Town lights
China Town lights
The neons of crazy coloured Jonker…
The neons of crazy coloured Jonke…
Chinese Quarter (melaka)
Chinese Quarter (melaka)
Chinese Quarter reflections 2
Chinese Quarter reflections 2
Stand tall Lion!
Stand tall Lion!
Jonker Street
Jonker Street
The fruit saladleft by the indus…
The 'fruit salad'left by the indu…
Jonker Street (detail)
Jonker Street (detail)
Special message also left by the l…
Special message also left by the …
Stevie and his licky Lion orange :)
Stevie and his licky Lion orange :)
Malacca
photo by: louise2553