April 8, 2016, Melaka
Today is a "free" day. We "hire" Kamal, a trishaw driver we met last night, to take us to some of the sites on the "Malacca Dutch Heritage Trail". The first stop is the "Dutch Square" where we visit the Christ Church, formerly named the Dutch Reformed Church. On the floor are headstones of graves with Dutch names and Dutch inscriptions. After visiting many temples, it feels a bit like a "homecoming" experience standing in a church with the rows of chairs - the bigger ones up front for the higher class - the pulpit up front off to the right and the cross on the wall.
At the centre of the Dutch Square is a fountain with a pillar in the middle. The pillar has inscripted the important dates of the reign of Queen Victoria - a reminder of the British occupation after the Dutch.
From there Kamal drives us over the bridge - we have to get out of the trishaw and help push it over the bridge - to the Dutch Quarters with the Heeren and Jonker Straat. Beside the river is an antique crane which unloaded the ships coming to the harbour in Melaka. Kamal shows us one of the earliest Dutch buildings - now a hotel (Hotel Puri). He gives us a guided tour through the common areas of the hotel. Beautiful woodwork everywhere (the Dutch shipped the dark wood from Africa), mother of pearl furniture and a historical room with photos, artifacts and a (horse drawn) coach. The atmosphere is one of peaceful elegance. I don't think we could stay at the Puri Hotel for the same price that Intrepid pays for us at the Mimosa!
Outside the heat envelops us again. Kamal then takes us to a store where they make tiny shoes. These tiny shoes are examples of the shoes that were made for Chinese ladies in earlier times when their feet were bound and so prevented from growing. It was a status symbol for a woman to have her feet bound because it meant that she did not and could not work. She also could not walk and this was also a way to oppress women. Photos from that time show how mis-formed the women's feet became.
From there we went back over the bridge to the "Porte de Santiago" - an old fort dating from the Portugese occupation. We climb up the hill to the fort - quite an accomplishment in the heat - and have a good view of the city. Kamal tells us a bit about his personal life. He has been all over the world when he was in the navy. After the second world war he was on a mine sweeper. He met his "Scottish " wife in one of the ports where the ship was anchored. He tells us that when he saw her across the room he felt an instant attraction. He did not talk to her, but when she came by his table, he asked her: "Will you marry me?" She looked at him and said "Yes". That was it! They have been married for 41 years, have four grown up children and 4 grandchildren. They live in Melaka and are members of the Muslim community. One of his sons is an under water welder and works at the moment in Nova Scotia. We are touched by his story and the love that shows in his face when he talks about his wife and family. Then he has to leave us because he has to pick up his granddaughter from kindergarten.
We are walking down the hill to visit the "Dutch" cemetery. Is is supposed to have a few graves of Dutch people from the Dutch period. We cannot find them and slowly walk back up the hill.
We escape the incredible mid-day heat by going into a mall across the street and get a very cool drink! When we have cooled down a bit and gotten some energy back, we approach a trishaw driver, waiting for customers, and negotiate (well Brian does the negotiating!) a price to take us back to our hotel. We enjoy a nice lunch at the hotel restaurant, take a shower and relax in our room.
At 5:30pm we meet Ant and the other group members in the lobby of our hotel; we all walk across the bridge to Jonker Straat again where there is a large night market happening. It is very busy. Lot of tables with stuff lined up on both sides of the street. They sell street food, toys, trinkets, sunglasses, etc. We see little in the way of crafts and/or art. We all decide to have some dinner at the "Bistro 1673". This restaurant is in a Dutch heritage building from 1673. The building was the "boom kantoor" or tax office for the "Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie" where the "havengelden" or harbour taxes had to be paid. The doors and windows are still the original ones, cast from 17th century metal. We are sitting in the open air courtyard with a fan blowing air on us. Eke orders the "nasi goreng", but without all the spices!
After dinner we walk back to our hotel and get our bags ready for the journey to Singapore in the morning.