Peranakan Heritage in Melaka

With Joel in toll and Benjamin in my tummy, I went on family getaway with my brother, his wife to be and my mother to Malaysia.

We left home about 11pm and reached Malacca at 2.30pm. From the North South highway we exited Ayer Keroh and spent about 30min going through traffic junctions one after another. Each traffic stop was 100 secs! We stopped at a local produce store enroute. The Tan Kim Hock store has different types of local food products made in house from chilli padi, coffee powder to honey lime but prices are quite inflated.

I found out that Malacca along with Penang was inaugurated into the UNESCO world heritage list since 7th July 2008. Since gaining the status, it has seen a huge influx of visitors and quite a touch up of the tourism industry. My last visit to the town was just a stopover at Mahkota, a shopping complex.

We stayed at Hotel Puri, a converted Peranakan heritage home of the late Tan Kim Seng into a boutique hotel. When I first saw the narrow external facade of the hotel, I wondered at how it could possibly house 50 rooms. But looks can be deceiving as the house was built to a great depth typical of the Peranakan homes.

The hotel ambience is pleasant and I was doubly pleased to see real swallows building their nests at the lofts in one of the guests’ halls. Rooms are amply equipped and designed according to the heritage theme but otherwise pretty standard. The king sized bed suited the needs of grandmother, mother and child. Haha three generations in one room.

Joel was easily entertained by Disney channel while the two older and slightly handicapped ladies took a quick nap. The hotel is situated in the heart of Chinatown and across the river is the historic center where the ‘red dutch colonial’ houses are situated. We walked down the Jonker street which is filled with converted houses into eating establishments or antique curios souvenir shops. The street Jln Tan Cheng Lock otherwise known as Heeren Street where our hotel is located has retained much more of the traditional peranakan culture but most of the houses seemed to have been abandoned.

We made a visit to the baba-nyonya heritage museum the next day for RM8 per adult which came with a 30min guided tour of the house. It now belongs to the fifth generation of the Chan family whose the ancestral head was a Chinese trader from Fujian province who then intermarried with a local Indonesian  Malay (a Bugis). The difference is that the Chinese forefathers did not convert to Muslim and their subsequent descendents form the peranakan group which has inherited both the Malay and Chinese cultures.

Our guide provided just sufficient information regarding the house but seemed more ready to get her job done than making an effort to introduce the place.  Most visitors to this museum are apparently Singaporeans; interest heightened by the local drama The Little Nyonya.

Some interesting tidbits include how rich the family was as most of the furniture was imported from European countries, England, Italy and Portugal as well as china art pieces. A lot of the traditions about life, marriage and birth are still Chinese rooted although the food and dressing were more Malay based. Regarding marriage ladies had to be married by 20yrs or be considered un-marriageable and one is not considered an adult until they are married because marriage brings about responsibilities. Ha!

From Jonker, we crossed the Malacca river into the historic center with throngs of tourists even at 5pm in the afternoon. We got onto a trishaw for a 10min ride for RM10 from Christ Church up to A Formosa the site of the remaining ruins of a 16th century St Paul’s church and Dutch fortress. We didn’t stop for a visit so got only a quick glimpse.

Then a slow stroll along the quayside which saw the birth of the importance of the Malacca straits and its subsequent development. Malacca had progressed through three colonial rulers, from the Portuguese, the Dutch and then the British before surrendering to the Japanese occupation and subsequent independence in 1957. A lot of modern development is taking place along the riverside and I can imagine that this place will look just like any other riverside establishment in a few years.

At the end of the ongoing river development is the maritime museum where part of the displays are found on board a restored Portuguese nau. Entrance is only a paltry RM3 which gained you entrance to the ship as well as the next door museum. What was novel for both Joel and me was being on board a real ship from the middle ages and exploring the lower decks. I was a bit disappointed that the displays were more on the maritime trade than on what actually transpired inside the ship while out at sea, i.e. crew duties and what each part of the ship was for. Oh well.

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