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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Melaka, my hometown: Treasured moments of yester years

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
The mid-fifties: "Good morning, sir!" The cheery greetings fill the quiet morning air and resonate along the school's corridor.

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 CafĂ© 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.
Jalan Gereja

 In the Dutch Square, trishaw riders wait for foreign tourists, their vehicles heavily decked with artificial flowers.
Trishaws decked with artificial flowers

Cinema Theaters
Federal Theater, 2012

A Saturday morning finds us in the darkness of a dimly-lit theater as we wait for the cheap matinee’s film to begin. A number of our kampung friends have not arrived, so the arm-rests of the few seats next to us have been knotted with handkerchiefs to indicate that they have been reserved. The  stragglers walk in just as the grainy, black-and-white News of the World appears on the screen. As the news hold little interest for us, we  talk in low whispers with mouths fill with fried ground nuts. A lion’s roar echoes round the hall and we  sit upright, knowing the film is about to begin.

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.


  1. What a wonderful, nostalgic account...albeit a little sad at times, knowing that the atmosphere of that bygone era will never return.

    Ironically, the sign posted outside the walls of the charred Lido Cinema (some promotional for a supermarket sale) says `Kebakaran' (Fire)!

  2. I do remember the White House during the time when it was still white...had some good chicken rice there!