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Friday, September 27, 2013

Taman Sentosa, Melaka: As I remember it

Taman Sentosa, Melaka: As I remember it
by C. S. Wan

 As soon as I open my eyes, the sounds assail my ears:  the   incessant drone of cars, the intermittent roar of motorcycles and the sudden, shrill scream of a siren. Above the din, the call of the adzan, from a nearby mosque, reverberates across the Taman. 

Cars and motorcycles along Lebuh Ayer Keroh

I remember, in the early 1970s, when we first moved into the Taman, all we could hear during the pre-dawn hour was the chirps of the early birds and the wail of the wind that swept from the open ground.
Back then, the highway leading to the Ayer Keroh toll had not been constructed and we had to use the narrow, dimly-lit Padang Jambu Road or the Penghulu Abbas Road from Bukit Baru.

Map of Taman Sentosa, Melaka  (1970)
 At night we could take a leisurely drive along the sinuous Padang Jambu Road without encountering a single car and we were often reminded not to stop for anyone who might flag us down along the lonely stretch of road.

Padang Jambu Road which has been widened
One night while driving home from town, the car’s headlights revealed a long, murky form making its way slowly from a hill overlooking the Taman to the other side of the road. Thinking it was a python, I pulled over to the road shoulder and was pleasantly surprised to see a mother civet with five cubs on tow. I watched enthralled at the slow-moving procession until it melted into the darkness.
The nearby hill was clad in verdant foliage, but sometimes, either by accident or design, part of the hill would be razed by fire and laid bare and hence it came to known as Bukit Gondol or Bare Hill. The hill  was not only home for the civets, but a haven for other denizens of the wild. Monitor lizards could be seen waddling languidly across the road and I even spotted tortoises and a pangolin in the Taman.
 Now, much of the hill is occupied by stark brick buildings and the wild inhabitants have been displaced from their natural habitats and forced to seek sanctuary in nearby woodlots or in human homes.

Buildings on the hill

Buildings at the foot of the hill

At the first light of dawn, I peer through the half-open window. Just beyond the garden wall, a stately tree with spreading branches and thick umbrella-like canopy, at one corner of the playing field, looms large before my eyes. Silhouetted against a hazy, but brightening sky, a tower crane and a condominium, still shrouded in green netting, rise behind a distinct line of tree tops.

In the 1970s, the present playground was just an uneven, vacant ground fringed with head-tall elephant grass. There were no tall trees to obscure our view and from the front balcony we could have an unimpeded view of the distant hills in Batu Berendam and even make out the white tombstones that stippled their slopes.

The playground in 2013

There were only about fifty double storey bungalow houses in the Taman then, as the present Taman Sentosa Dua had not been developed.

Road leading to Taman Sentosa Dua

 The present well- lit and paved road which leads from Taman Sentosa Dua to  Bukit Beruang Road was just a  narrow dirt track flanked by tall grass and shrubs and inaccessible to cars. 

Road leading to Bukit Beruang

 Before we moved into the Taman only about five houses in the Taman were occupied by the owners while most of the others were rented to army officers from the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade who were based in Terendak Camp, Melaka.
When the Brigade withdrew from Malaysia in 1970s, the rented houses were put up for sale with prices ranging from RM20,000 to RM30,000. The bungalows were of standard design and their mostly bare gardens were enclosed with chain link fences which were fitted with manually operated metal gates.

A house with the original design

Today,except for a few houses with original design, most of the original buildings have been replaced by individually designed houses to suit the owner’s lifestyle.  High brick walls equipped with auto gates and some with CCTV cameras conceal well manicured lawn or wholly paved garden where children play within its confines. 

Some of the old and new houses in the Taman

I remember at the back of our house was a vacant land, covered with a tangled thicket of undergrowth and greenery, that stretched from the Taman's approach road to the low hills at Padang Jambu. Wild rhododendrons, noni, and kamunting grew in abundance and we could even pick the edible kamunting berries through the chain fencing. Women, their heads laden with firewood, could be seen making their way along a hard- beaten dirt track that ran from the nearby villages to Bukit Gondol. 
 We used to keep two geese at the back of the house and their raucous  honking would warn us of trespassers and  keep the snakes at bay. The geese have ceased honking a long time ago. Their loud honking have been replaced by the  honking of cars. 

In the mid 1970s when more families moved into the Taman, a few residents decided that it was time to form a Residents' Association to look after the interest and welfare of the residents. Our first meeting was held at No. C-53, which was then owned by Brig. Gen Mustapha who was also elected as the Chairman while Mr. Oh Bah Chee was elected as Secretary. Once the Association was registered, the committee began the task of improving and upgrading the existing facilities in the Taman.
The Committee got the developer to donate the vacant land in the Taman for a children playground and once the approval was given they  set about clearing the land. 

In the late 1970s, there was a spate of break-ins and attempted break-ins and the residents decided to engage  two security guards from a security firm to patrol the Taman during the night. With donations from the residents, a pondok was erected at one corner of the playground as a base for the guards. 
One night, the Chairman was passing by the pondok when he noticed it was dark and quiet. When he peered inside the pondok he found both guards were fast asleep. He quietly wheeled one of their bicycles to his house and the next morning a coy and apologetic guard appeared at the house to claim his 'missing' bicycle. Their service was terminated prematurely.

Successive committees played a significant role in enhancing the living environment of the residents.

The existing facilities were further improved:

the playground was leveled and equipped with swings, slides, see-saws, and monkey bars;

a tennis court was built at one corner of the playground, but had to be removed a few years later, as tree roots had damaged its asphalt surface;

Participating in a game at the tennis court

the pondok was given a face-lift and fitted with awnings

The pondok at one corner of the playground

the road was upgraded and road humps were placed at strategic locations;

Roadwork  in progress

Road humps with signboards

 more street lights were installed;

The well-lit road

a signboard with a map of the Taman and fitted with CCTV camera 
was erected at the entrance to the Taman.

Neighbourhood events, such as get-together for festive occasions, pot-luck party, and children's games were also organised to bring the residents closer together

Registering for games


Words of encouragement

"You can do it
 Taman Sentosa has seen a lot of transformation both socially and physically. Some of the original residents have moved to other states or countries while others have passed on. The children whose shouts and laughter once rang and resonated round the Taman are now grown- ups and have children of their own. Many of the original houses are now beyond recognition as they  have been converted  into  massive mansions.
 As my friends, John and Nancy, who came back from Australia to look at their former house, remarked, "We can hardly recognise our own house".  
To the new residents  I hope this article  will give an insight of how the Taman was like  in the early days, while for the old and  ex-residents of Taman Sentosa,  I hope it will help bring back many fond   memories of your stay in the Taman. 

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