Saturday July 24, 2010
Malacca and Penang: History in abundance
THE saying ‘Old is Gold’ certainly holds true for many things.
Among the things that appreciate over time are family relationships, friendships and the value of some tangible things like real estate.
Many so-called “city folks” in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya actually do not hail from the city; their hometowns are in other parts of the country.
Home is where the heart is and many of us have set up homes in places where we work, after settling down with our own family, and have children attending schools or colleges in the city.
The Malacca government has turned the once old and quiet Jonker Street into the now vibrant and ‘happening’ Jonker Walk.
With passing time and wisdom, we learn to appreciate our loved ones better.
And despite the “rat race” of city life, it is important to stay connected with our loved ones and old friends back in the kampung or in other places.
Likewise in the built environment, we can find many undiscovered gems around, which, in spite of their old physical exterior, are actually hidden treasures with strong history and many untold stories within their walls.
The first thing that comes to mind is the many pre-war houses and buildings that can be found in large numbers in the inner cities of Penang and Malacca.
Despite being old and dilapidated, many have the potential to be restored and given a new lease of life.
Some of the ways to reuse these buildings and “monetise” them include turning them into museums, heritage hotels, alfresco dining and restaurants specialising in local fares.
It is interesting to compare Penang and Malacca as they share many similar traits and history.
Both will benefit by learning from each other new ways to improve and manage their built and unbuilt environment.
Since my other half is a Malaccan, I must admit that I tend to compare my hometown, Penang’s George Town, with Malacca whenever I’m back for holidays or family events.
After all, both have been declared Unesco World Heritage Sites and have many interesting buildings and structures that are reminiscent of their rich history and heritage.
Penang and Malacca are both former Straits Settlement states with a long history of early settlers from various parts of the world converging there for trade.
And both are renowned for their Baba/Nyonya culture and heritage.
Being port states, both also have strong foreign connection and influence.
Penang was a bastion of trade for the English and the East India Company after it was founded by Captain Francis Light in 1786, while Malacca was a confluence of Portuguese, Dutch and English influence.
Those influences can still be clearly seen in the architecture of the buildings today.
It is evident that both Penang and Malacca have their own distinctive assets and attractions that have endeared them to many loyal visitors who throng the cities in droves whenever there is a long stretch of holidays.
This could be one of the reasons for the traffic-choked roads during the holiday season and major festivities.
It is common to find many outstation cars among the long lines of cars on the roads during such times.
To give a boost to their intrinsic value as natural tourist attractions, there is a need to improve the public transport system in the two heritage cities to ensure that the different modes of transport are well integrated and connected to each other.
Being on the radar screen of tourists is one thing, but it is equally important to ensure that visitors have convenient access to a good public transport network.
More should also be done to further boost the alluring old world charms of these cities while at the same time, revitalise the inner cities and keep them alive as living heritage.
To achieve this, the old and new attractions and facilities should co-exist and blend seamlessly with one another to make them relevant and refreshing to the people.
Malacca has made some interesting headway in this regard with many old buildings and “once quiet” historical enclaves being given a new lease of life.
One just needs to hop over to the happening and vibrant Jonker Walk, which comes alive every evening, teeming with traders and visitors.
Penangites can certainly take a leaf from their Malaccan counterparts to liven up George Town’s dilapidated inner city.
■ Deputy news editor Angie Ng is keeping her fingers crossed that the old and new charms of our cities will be the pride of our present and future generations.