Melaka, my hometown: Treasured moments of yesteryears
By Wan Chwee Seng
In the 1950s and 1960s Melaka was known as a sleepy hollow and a retirement town. It was in the mid-fifties when my family and I returned from Kuala Pilah to the sleepy hollow, our hometown, prior to our father’s retirement. My brother and I continued our secondary education in Malacca High School, while sisters joined the Methodist Girls School.Recently, I took a leisurely drive to Melaka Town and showed my wife the familiar landmarks of my schooldays while I tried to recollect the treasured moments of yesteryears.
Malacca High School
|Malacca High School, 2012|
It is mid-afternoon. The topic of the imaginative composition, “The blood on the knife” has been written on the board and our Form V teacher is already comfortably ensconced in his chair behind the teacher’s table. We are left to let our young and fertile imaginations take flight. Above us a ceiling fan is slowly stirring the still afternoon air while below us Chan Koon Cheng Road lies in somnolent silence.
“Next! Yoooou ….. .
The stentorian voice of a Maths teacher from an adjacent class jolt us out of our reverie.
2012: "Selamat pagi, cikgu!" The same greetings, but in a different language, drift from a classroom to mingle with the hums of cars along Jalan Chan Koon Cheng.
Bandar Hilir, opposite the Equatorial Hotel
|Picturesque view of the sea in the mid-fifties, as I remembr it|
We wait in the dappled shadows cast by the spreading boughs of angsana trees for our school-bus, the Batang Bus, which will take us back to our respective homes in Batu Berendam and Durian Tunggal. Like a sea-weary sailor on look-out duty, I scan the distant horizon. Against a background of blue sky with fleecy clouds, the mystic island of Pulau Besar lies in the tranquil sea like a woman in deep slumber. Further inland women and children in ankle-deep brackish water chisel away at oyster-encrusted rocks. Most of these tiny oysters will find their way to some night stalls where the proprietors will use their culinary skills to whip up divine, delectable oh chien( oyster omelette). And below us, at the foot of an embankment, mud skippers squirm and splash in the squidgy shallows.
2012: The place where we used to wait for our school bus and watch the wide picturesque sea-view is now a concrete jungle, and the gentle lapping of waves against rocks has been replaced by the incessant drones of cars.
|Equatorial Hotel, 2012|
|The place where we waited for our school bus|
|This was once part of the sea|
A long walk to the bus terminal
Our rickety school bus has failed to turn up again. With my schoolmates, Wahab, Saad, Hamdan and Hassan we make the long walk to the bus terminal which is located at the far end of Kee Ann Road. In the scorching heat of the late afternoon sun, keeping well to the shadows , we make our way down Chan Koon Cheng Road, Banda Kaba Road, Wolferstan Road and follow a narrow side lane which ends at Tai Chong Ice Café along Bunga Raya Road.
|Banda Kaba Road|
|Tai Chong Ice Cafe|
The sight of the refreshing drinks in the shop, such as ice-cream, cendol, and Ais Batu campur(ABC), add to our growing thirst, but we cannot stop to indulge in the little luxury as a slight delay means we will miss our bus.
|Bunga Raya Road|
Although, Bunga Raya Road is the town's business hub, we cross the road with ease as the few cars we encounter are mostly the slow-moving Morris Minor and Austin, . We hurry along the narrow, murky Jawa Lane and scurry past the sleazy, squalid huts of Kampung Jawa.
|2012: Stalls in front of Kampung Jawa|
|2012: Where the bus terminal and wet market stood|
2012:The city roads are now choked with rush hour's traffic.
The Dutch Square, Melaka
We sit at a table in the White House and tug at the skewered meat, relishing every morsel of the satay which costs ten cents per stick. The White House is a coffee shop which stands at one end of Church Street and so named, because its whitewashed building stands in sharp contrast to the salmon red colour of the Dutch buildings in its immediate vicinity.
|The White House in 2012. The once white-washed building is now paited salmon red.|
Nyonyas in richly embroidered kebayas adorned with gold brooches stroll leisurely towards a waiting trishaw in front of the clock tower . The rider is dozing under a stately angsana tree, enjoying the cool breeze that blows from the nearby Melaka river. And the breeze carries the steady chugs of of a motor as a fishing boat laden with the morning’s catch steams upriver. A few multi-ethnic government officers walk with purposeful steps toward the Stadhuys where some government offices are located.
|The Stadhuys in 2012|
We cross over to Lim Brothers and Thai Kuang Bookstore on the opposite side of the road and are soon browsing through the books and magazines on the racks, before purchasing a Reader’s Digest which costs one Malayan dollar.
|The charred facade of a a shop near Lim Brothers Bookstore, 2012|
2012: Nyonyas in kebayas, without the once familiar gold brooches, walk warily along Jalan Gereja as motorcyclists roar past them.
In the Dutch Square, trishaw riders wait for foreign tourists, their vehicles heavily decked with artificial flowers.
|Trishaws decked with artificial flowers|
|Federal Theater, 2012|
2012: Rex theater has been demolished and a modern building stands in its place.
Capitol theater is an abandoned, derelict building while all that is left of Lido theater is a charred building.
|Capitol Theatre, 2012|
|Lido Theatre, 2012|
Melaka is now a developed and vibrant city. However, like most of my senior Malaccan friends, I prefer the leisurely pace of those bygone years to the hustle and bustle of today’s city life.