Afloat in South Asia

Afloat in South Asia
Reclining Buddha; Rangoon

Friday, February 11, 2011

Malacca - Fri., Jan.21st

Ah, Malacca. We have wanted to explore the Straits settlements for years. These communities, set up by traders hundreds of years ago - first the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the Brits - evoke the romance and danger of the spice trade on the high seas. This particular port has grown pretty sleepy. As you can see, tourists are a major source of revenue, though frankly there are not even that many tourists.

Like many other “traditions” in this part of the world, the flowers on the trishaws are of recent vintage…they date to some event in the 1990’s!

We hauled ourselves up the hill, past the remains of the Portuguese fort. From the hulk of the Dutch church, we saw a magnificent white-bellied sea eagle land on the adjacent radio tower.

We took a tour of a terrific Baba Malay (see Peranakans above) house. It was tucked into a lane in a very Chinese-looking neighborhood. Behind the ordinary fa├žade there was a complex that included seven courtyards and carved woodwork that looked so Chinese in its carving and gilding – yet the wood was teak and therefore had a softer look to it. Here is the exterior. Unfortunately, like many private museums, this one did not allow interior photography.

One thing that struck me here reinforced something I’d noticed in Singapore – many of the charming older shophouses date back only to the 1920’s and 1930’s. The years before the Depression took hold were grand days in these parts. Great fortunes were made and then lost. Just to give an idea of the scale of the decline, the price of rubber was $1.20 per pound in 1910. By 1935 it was $0.20 per pound. It seems Malacca has been been waiting quietly for about 75 years to see what the next great thing will be.....

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