Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Middleburg Bastion To Boost Tourism

Malacca now boosts another attraction to cash on the tourism dollars. The replica of the Middleburg Bastion is now opened to public when I visited there on Dec 9, 08.

The project is not without controversy from the first day its foundation was unearthed by workers constructing the Taming Sari Revolving Tower.

A few parties have voiced conflicting views how best the monument should be preserved.

Ar John Koh in his Badan Warisan column- "The Old Melaka Fort"- even go so far as to accord the site as the next most important archaeological find in the Malay Peninsula after the discovery of Hindu Cendi in Bujang Valley, Kedah.

For hard core conservationists, no viable option is acceptable except to leave the bastion foundation unmolested.

On the other extreme, policy makers were more interested in turning the site into a grand tourism scheme by 'remaking' the bastion.

RM12.8 million and almost a year later and you've another tourist attraction.

Needless to say, critics of the project were aghast at the turn of event.

The entire development took place when no expert could verify the authenticity of bastion design or the height of the wall.

The bastion was part of a larger fortress the A Famosa - which was first constructed by the Portuguese and reinforced later by the Dutch before British Captain W. Farquhar almost demolished it all in the 18th century.

All working reference for the project was based on sketchy illustrations and tell-tales provided by ancient sea farers. Yet the people who mooted the rebuilding task were adamant about giving the project the go-ahead.

Now the bastion project is completed and I am for one tend to agree that maybe the replica could benefit the lay men. It works wonderfully to stir up their imagination of the ancient bastion.

The fact of the matter is that they are the bulk of the visitors to Malacca and historical sites like Middleburg appeal to folks more interested in snapping some memorable pictures but hardly excited with the historical value of this momentous archaeological find.

Fortunately in my view, a few ingenious designs have been incorporated into this RM12.8 million project and we are able to appreciate the remnants of the original bastion foundation and the laterite coral rocks hidden underneath.

Walk around the structure and you could find a few openings in the ground previously discovered by archaeologists to give visitors some insights about the original foundation.
Visitors however, will be disappointed to find information on the bastion lacking because there are no captions available but I believe this would be overcome soon.

My favorite is the glass bridge next to the main structure if one is on their way to the top of bastion.
It allows visitors take a walk over the original laterite foundation and appreciate the depth of the original foundation underground.

If you think rebuilding the bastion structure goes against the acceptable heritage norm, then the VOC cannon replicas found on top of the bastion only reinforce the miserable the state of heritage in this country.

In fact, some key conservation players involved in the project appeared confused about their respective roles and how heritage should be safeguarded for the future generations.
Needless to say, such practices are symptomatic of the ever-blurring of conservation and tourism agendas in Malaysia.

Rampant manipulative interpretation of history would irk those who want to protect heritage at its core but their voices are silenced by groups calling for better cash cows for the economy. (For more related issue, refer to the article titled - "A Famosa Rescued?" - April 24, 08)

Who would have thought that the Middleburg Bastion given up for good over two centuries ago and left to fade from history has not only risen but it is basked in all its former glory in a bizarre twist of fate?

Hopefully, the bastion would spur new interests in the early history of Malacca fort in all of us minus all the bias instilled by certain segment of the community.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Firemen Usher New Twist in Traditional Circumcision

Few would argue that firemen are saviors of all emergencies, but in Malaysia, their expertise is called beyond the line of duties.

On December 10, 2008, the Army Fire Services based in Terendak Camp, Malacca were invited by the villagers of Kampung Pinang A, to Majlis Berkhatan or a religious circumcision ritual.

40 odd boys dressed in their finest Malay clothes then grouped in front of the red Mercedes Benz 911 before fire crew doused them wet.
When the shower ended about 15 minutes later, the boys proceed to a makeshift operating theatre at the back of the village’s surau for their unnerving and life-changing experience.

According to the elders, boys would traditionally take a dip at a nearby river or bathe near a well to build up courage. However, no one disputes that cold water whatever the sources are has a calming effect on the male organ before it is surgically mutilated.

Elaborate and expensive berkhatan ceremonies are now a trendy phenomenon and Malay kampung go to their wits to outdo each other with bigger sunat participants and a larger scheme of things.

Berkhatan or sunat was previously a low key and solemn religious affair, but now the event has a carnival-like atmosphere to it, and firemen and fire sprinkles are very much part of the repertoire.

Another victim of change is Tok Mudim or the village circumcision expert, and they too have fallen into redundant. In their place are medical assistants armed with sterilized tools to perform the rite of passage.

As the ceremony progressed, I saw how ZA 6326 found itself stuck in mud because of the weight the pump has to take. Fortunately, the villagers were around to save the day for the fire truck.

According to a local web source, Merc Benz 911 or otherwise known as Mercedes Munjung because of its large nose-like engine compartment was a favorite in Malaysian fire fighting scenes in the 80s until it was phased out.

True to the customary practice on school break, another grand circumcision ceremony was arranged three days later (Dec. 13, 08). The event was held at the nearby Pantai Puteri and saw an overwhelming participation from 200 kids.
Their mothers also played their parts and they each brought the beautiful bunga melur telur, a decorative bouquet made from egg shells, to accompany their boys on a loud and colorful procession down the road to a site next the beach.

Soon, they were greeted by firemen and the full water blast from Mercedes Benz Atego (No. BKA 8922) . As usual this marks the start of the bathing ritual, and the boys are in for an unforgettable event in their life journey and to usher the rich Muslim legacy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Taiping Museum To Be Revamped

The Taiping Museum built in 1883 and widely regarded as the grand dame of Malaysia’s historical repository will be given a fresh lease of life in a RM3.5 million refurbishment plan (The Star, Dec 2, 08).

High on the list of this ambitious project is the conservation of the century old façade.

However, the icing to the cake is the long overdue effort to bring change to the dusty and ill-kept galleries. Many of the galleries are reminiscent of Victorian era and often the bane of the visitors.

According to curator Norhanisah Ahmad, the main work involved the natural history, culture, Orang Asli and ceramics galleries. When completed in June 2009, the galleries are poised to position Taiping Museum amongst the country’s top with interactive features and captivating exhibits.

The rejuvenated museum will then be in a stronger position to welcome a new generation of historical buffs. Nevertheless, important question remains unanswered about the fate of the impressive ethnography and Malay-Paleo collections.

My fear is that the museum will discard the existing arrays of collection and take on a completely different theme in line with nationwide trend to alter historical development in this country according to whims and fancies of the powerful.

Other element of what is essentially a structural uplift by the museum department involves instilling the original wooden floorboards. Future museum visitors may be required to wear woolen sandals to protect the floors.

However the curator notes that fee will be imposed for the usage of the sandals and it doesn’t that a rocket scientist to fathom long how it will enrich the museum coffers.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Middlesburg's Skeleton On National Tour.

Middlesburg's 600 year old skeleton is now on a nation-wide tour. The Negeri Sembilan State Museum in Seremban is the first in the list of The Archaeology Discovery Exhibition co-organized by Malacca Museum Board(PERZIM) and Jabatan Muzium. (NST November 21, 08)

There is much excitement amongst Malay historical experts about the bones found at the excavation site of the Portuguese Bastion next to the Malacca River. If the carbon test is correct, the authorities now have in their hands a first skeleton remains from an era which saw the beginning of a growing Malay Sultanate in Malacca.

Nevertheless, the remains didn't reveal much about who and what the person's role is to Malacca early history, except the fact that it belongs to a male in his late 20s or early 30s. A more detailed research is required to further substantiate the findings, and bear in mind it was found at a site which was then the rivermouth and Malacca was a burstling seaport.

It is very obvious that these historical experts were quick at clamoring over the skeleton discovery and jumping the gun with the notion that the human bones are intrinsically linked to the Malay Sultanate.

Dennis Fire Trucks Surprise At Macau.

Dennis Fire truck aficionados will be pleased to know that the Macau Fire Services Museum is home to two well preserved historical vehicles from Guildford factory, marked as M-01-25 and M-01-27.

Dennis M-01-27, I believe, is a Low Load 60/70HP model which first saw service in the early 30s. Popularly known as Dennis Big 6, the vehicle specifications include White and Poppe 6 cylinder petrol engine rated at 45hp with a bore and stroke of 110 x 140mm. (Peter Williams)

Mounted at its center is a Dennis No. 3, 900gpm pump. It has a transportable aerial ladder at its rear mounting to cope with Macau rising skyline.

Next to 27, is M-01-25, a 1944 Dennis Light 4 open cab with a 4 litre 4 cylinder petrol engine with about 70 bhp (Ron Hozack).

Besides the British-made Dennis, the museum commonly known by its colonial namesake - Museu Dos Bombeiros (Address - Estrada de Celho do Amaral. Free Admission) – offers visitors the opportunity to relish at firemen paraphernalia in halls the size of two basketball courts.

The exhibits go a long way to help one appreciates the fire fighting legacy in this ex-Portuguese colony and definitely worth the 15 minutes walk from the Ruins of St. Paul’s.

From its strategic location in the heart of the Inner Harbor, the former Central Fire Station served diligently until a typical dilemma in land scarce Macau caught up with it.

Macau was in desperate need of a modern centre command facility. Fortunately, compromise was reached and this fabulous European structure was preserved as the museum. In no time, a new Fire Brigade Headquarter began to take shape right at its backyard and now is home to an impressive fleet of Scania and Mercedes.

The 350 square meter museum is not on everyone’s must-see list but my visit there in November 2008 was pleasantly rewarding.

Visitors can view rare footages of fire fighting and rescue missions. One section is devoted to how firemen rescued suicidal desperadoes from Macau’s skyscrapers.

Others may not be so lucky but my guess is gruesome photos don’t fit in a museum dedicated to Macau’s rescue elite.

The museum is manned by members of Macau Fire Services but communicating with them in English is a challenge if we need information beyond the captions.

Fire fighting enthusiasts flying in and out of the Macau International Airport should also look out for Iveco Magirus 260-32AH/DL 50 - at the main runway.

The chance to see one of the world’s most advanced Airport Fire Fighting Vehicle is perhaps the perfect eye-opener to discover the fire fighting heritage in Macau.

Monday, November 10, 2008

PERZIM Latest Gimmick - Pulau Besar Mystery Exhibition

The Malacca Museum Board (PERZIM) is organizing an event titled “Pameran Menyingkap Sejarah and Misteri Pulau Besar” or Appreciating Pulau Besar History and Mystery Exhibition. It was launched by the Chief Minister of Malacca on Sunday, Nov 9, 08 (Berita Harian).

Pulau Besar, located off the coast of Malacca has for generations exude a mysterious shroud among locals and visitors that the island is the realm of an omnipotent ‘dato’.

Taboos were many if you’re holidaying in Pulau Besar. Non-Muslim visitors are well advised to abstain from their favorite ‘non-halal’ meals preferably a day earlier or else the 20 minutes boat journey from Umbai could be a catastrophic one.

A few individual cemeteries with extra large parameters dot the landscape at the southern tip of the island. They are believed to be the final resting place of renowned warriors or even royalties from the Malacca Sultanate, hence their magical prowess.

In the 80s, several large scale tourism plans were in the pipeline to transform the rustic island into a mega tourism draw. Spearheading the transformation is the State religious body with an ambitious task to clear the island from these kurafah elements. Sacred tombs and shrines (keramat) were demolished but if you ask the villagers, the taboos and superstitions remain strong.

However, modern day Pulau Besar now boasts a 18-hole golf course. Visitors armed with glossy colorful brochures have turned blind eyes to these taboos. Villagers expressed shock and disbelief about this turnabout event and puzzled how tourists have no qualms about frolicking with their loved ones in this island.

Historically, Pulau Besar, the largest of the five Malacca islets was conspicuously missing in all known annals or maps compare to nearby islands i.e Pulau Upeh and Pulau Panjang (now Pulau Melaka after being reclaimed).

Pulau Upeh was instrumental to the Portuguese in the construction of a newly fortified Malacca and together with Pulau Panjang played crucial roles in resisting naval attacks on Malacca in the subsequent centuries.

During the closing hours of World War II, Pulau Besar was the site of horrid mass executions carried out by the defeated Japanese Imperial Army. Countless bayoneted bodies of locals (mainly of Chinese descent) charged or otherwise with collaborating with the Allied Forces were believed to have being dumped inside a large well.

Unfortunately, the details on this historical well and its vicinity have being whitewashed and they too have fallen victim to the state government’s mid-80s wonton rush to turn the island into a holiday paradise. Despite its dark chapter in the state’s history, there is no mention of the tumultuous event in the island.

There is vague information on what is the focus of this PERZIM event. My best guess is that the central theme would feature the tombs, keramat and the island’s role during and the aftermath following the fall of the Malacca Sultanate Empire.

Few have doubts about PERZIM ability to organize a thorough and well researched exhibition. Numerous past PERZIM activities have critically fell short of achieving the objective of presenting events relevant and concurrent to Malacca’s development as the nation’s premier historical state and for the betterment of the local population.

“Pameran Menyingkap Sejarah and Misteri Pulau Besar” only reaffirms the cynics lack of enthusiasm with the state museum boards and its peculiarity towards mysticism and the unknown realms.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Firecracker Heritage of Macau

Miniscule Macau with no natural resources to call its own has always bellied on the skills and the cheap wages of its industrious people. I attribute this as their only mean of survival.

Modern visitors to Macau like myself may have a hard time to comprehend this notion but the economic landscape of the former Portuguese enclave after the Second World War was vastly in contrast to the present day soaring casinos one find adorning Macau’s futuristic skyline.

Before the arrivals of Venetian and the likes of other casino operators, the backbone industry of the 50s and 60s in Macau was the labor intensive firecrackers making trade.

Meager wages from making firecrackers fed mouths and offered hope to the destitute, some of whom had just escaped from the brutal uncertainty of a newly installed Communist regime across its border.

The period was known as the Golden Years of traditional working industries and it ushered a rapid growth of firecrackers factories.

At its height, Macau boasted seven such factories and top in terms of local employment. ‘Fabreco en Macao’ miniature explosives soon became the must-have ingredients for all Chinese festivals world-over.

Unfortunately, not much of this proud Macau heritage remains today.

However, I've discovered the existence of a firecracker factory during my recent visit there for the benefit of historical buffs.

A visit to the grayish two-storey that once housed the Kwong Hing Tai Firecracker Manufacturer tells us vividly the scale of the industry in Macau during its hey day.

Located along the busy Rua das Lorchas next to Macau Masters Hotel, the now disused building offers a rare glimpse into a firecracker making facility and Macau’s past.

Perhaps as a safety caution, the factory stands on top of concrete stilts above the muddy waters of the Inner Harbor, in case I guess, the unforeseeable happens.

Making firecrackers began to take a backseat in the 80s. Wage earners left in droves to seek better paid jobs and the safer working environment in the textile and toy making industries. Mainland China too was emerging as the new firecracker powerhouse.

Museum of Macau (Admission – 15 Pataca/Adult) should be your next destination on the trail of Macau Firecrackers History. The 2nd level exhibit in the museum devotes an interesting corner to showcase the tools of trade and offers visitors a glimpse of the environment where firecrackers are made.

The exhibits also include colorful firecracker brands produced in Macau. Rare old photos further reveal how firecrackers are manually prepared by workers mixing the explosive cocktail and the bare essential worker must work with.

Needless to say, the curator has done a remarkable job of preserving the artifacts and presenting them for our appreciation to an important historical chapter in Macau’s history.

The icing to one’s quest for the firecracker heritage in Macau is without any doubt the opportunity to witness what has being described as some of the most awesome displays of pyrotechnic creativity in this region.

The popular Macau International Fireworks Display Contest takes place annually over the weekends in late September and early October. Tourist arrivals are often at its peak and hotels full during the events.

My visit to Macau in late October 2008 does not coincide with the event but it is understood that the areas in the waterfront near the Macau Tower are some of the perfect spots to catch the firework displays.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fort Cornwallis Lighhouse - Penang's Hidden Historical Gem

The 19th century Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse is one of the best hidden colonial gems in Penang’s UNESCO heritage enclave.

Many visitors often give it a miss although it is just a stone throw away from the iconic British fortress of the same name. Penang tourism players fare no better and they too overlook the lighthouse potential and its historical importance to Penang’s maritime role.

The British built the lighthouse in 1882 when harbour traffic began to grow for a prosperous Penang. Now in its advance age, the historic lighthouse no longer served to warn ships approaching the Penang cape.

The lighthouse is now manned by Jabatan Laut, Malaysia’s Maritime Authority, and offers fascinating opportunity to acquaint oneself with a bygone maritime era. Admission is free and it is accessible from a small northern entrance of the historical complex.

Walk inside the lighthouse, and you will learn why it is structurally one of its kinds in this country. Most lighthouses in the Malay archipelagos consist traditionally of a lone silo structure i.e. Tanjung Tuan(1880), fitted with warning beacons on the top.

Not Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse.

It has a white coated light tower which sits on a huge steel frame and next to it, a 21-meter T-shaped mast. Together, they fill the entire landscape and probe the curious about the fate of this ex-guardian of the narrow Penang Strait.

For most visitors, the slow climb, about 15 minutes, to the top of the claustrophobic watch tower and the warning beacon is undoubtedly the highlight of the visit.

Walking up on the steel staircase might prove daunting for the vertical challenged. A wrong step could spell disaster to anyone’s holiday and when the steps are particularly slippery after a drizzle. Parents with small children are best cautioned against taking the challenge.

However the panoramic view at the tower is worth the effort. Visitors will be rewarded with an all-round perspective of the city, strait and the mainland.

In the distance, the full views of multi-coloured Penang ferries come unfold. Catch also cargo laden vessels berthing to take Penang goods to the world. Stretch your viewing canvas and the iconic Penang Bridge fills the background.

On the ground level, a small chamber houses a delightful mini museum and showcases lighthouse artefacts like communication equipments and giant bulbs used before GPS and satellite controlled gadgetries made them obsolete.

Penang State should work on this oversight and promote the lighthouse as a full fledge tourist attraction but more urgently, accord and preserve it with a heritage status.

Imjingak The Fascinating Korean War Heritage Site

Imjingak Tourist Resort with its 4-storey metallic pavilion and the semi arch observation platform is perfectly located to view the iconic Bridge of Freedom. About 13,000 Allied prisoners-of-war made their final desperate dash for freedom across this wooden bridge at the closing stage of the brutal Korean War in 1953.

Since the new millennium, South Korean authority keen on reunification with its communist North brethrens has embarked on making Imjingak a heritage site. The venue makes an ideal living museum to prepare the uninitiated on the issues confronting the Korean dilemma.

Imjingak is even adeptly lauded by tourist brochures as the must-see venue to witness the only divided country in the world!

Getting to Imjingak is easy and travelers have a choice of car, bus or rail, and it is merely an hour drive away from Seoul.

Tourists will be greeted by its impressive Visitor Center which overlooks the heavily fortified banks of Imjin River and beyond the reclusive North Korea.

Unfortunately, most tour guides would want you to believe that Imjingak sits on the world’s most volatile border in modern history but soldiers guarding on the banks of the Imjin River are mainly South Korean.

Nevertheless, the much feared and trigger-happy North Koreans are in fact positioned a further seven km north from Imjingak.
Needless to say, South Korean military fearing a potential large scale strike from its Red neighbors, has designated defence lines in by placing barbed wires and army lookout posts on the edges of the Civilian Passage Restricted Line (CPRL).

Thus, visitors often get the false impression that South Korea ends at Imjingak, and the Imjin River the natural border between these two hostile neighbors.

A quick check on the maps will reveal that the fences at Imjingak are actually the Southern CPRL, with a heavily guarded buffer zone lining parallel to the Northern CPRL inside North Korea territory.
There is also the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) central to the buffer zone and together they cut the Peninsula into halves.

During my visit to see first-hand the cold war frontier in late September 2008, it got off to an unexpected start when we were stopped in our car by heavily armed South Korean personnel and our guide informed us that the army is conducting a drill to detonate two nearby road tunnels leading to the north border. (Naturally no photos were taken for fear of antagonizing the M-16 guys)

The Military Demarcation Line is the de facto border agreed by these two warring factions, amid reluctantly, and explains why Korea is also home to 30,000 plus American infantrymen.

The entire stretch of land within the CPRL is a no-man territory, but is more popularly known as Demilitarized Zone or DMZ. Interestingly, only foreigners holding valid passports are allowed near the epic center of DMZ or Panmunjum.

Here, one is only a breath away from North Korean guards smacking in their customary military attire from the Soviet era.
Their Southern counterparts have their peculiarity too. Dark sunglasses and arms folded in karate pose are their choice of instilling fear and awe.
Panmunjum is however, a no-go for Korean nationals. The furthermost point Koreans are allowed to go near their Northern neighbors is the border town of Dorasan.

Today, tourists take the scheduled Korail trains on the reconstructed 4 kilometer long Gyeongui Line to Dorasan Station from Imjingak Station (Train fare - KW2,000 / US$2 return).

For many years, the railway line was the main steel artery for intra Korea travel but the war cut it short at Imjingak.

At Dorasan, one can spy with the coin operated binoculars (KW700) on the North Korean industrial city of Gaeseong. Not to be missed is the guided tour inside the 3rd Tunnel, a must for those who doubt North Korean aggressive ambition.

A rusty steam locomotive outside the Imjingak mini museum casts a vivid reminder of the once extensive railway networks connecting all corners of the Korean Peninsula prior to the devastating war.

Take a few steps towards the outdoor exhibition behind the museum, more war relics and the scales of battles fought greet you – The Sherman that pounded on the North Korean tanks or perhaps you may intrigued by the Sabres that triumphed over the MiGs in the Korean skies.
Even the most bewildered visitor is unlikely to escape the highly charged atmosphere between both sides at the border.
A sense of heightened tension prevails here although on the surface everyone goes on with his routine.
However, you can feel and understand the fragility of tranquility in these areas. You can then appreciate why no one in his right mind is willing to gamble away the peaceful existence or risk provoking enemies who have no qualms to unleash the perils of Cold War on all.
My visit to Imjingak has left me with an overwhelming realization of this long lasting border conflict and how all aspects of border life are teeming with military alertness.

While border areas may have the notion that human life is cheap, Imjingak also provides the venue for the most enduring emotional expressions.
Imjingak is where Korean families torn by the war come on an annual pilgrimage to celebrate Chuseok - Korean's Thanksgiving.
It is here they express their longing for their last remaining relatives living across the barbed wires.
Interestingly, besides the ruined railway bridge and antiqued military displays, the visit to Imjingak offers visitors an everlasting view on the terrible human cost brought by ideological conflicts.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Malacca - An Oasis of History.

This article touches vividly the very essence of issue between conservation versus development that is taking place within the historic enclave of Malacca but sadly overlook by the authority too eager to seek quick tourist dollars.

Read on and you would appreciate the images conjour by writer and why it is important to safeguard the remaining treasures still found here.

Essence of a Colonial Past Infuses Neglected Malacca
By Thomas Fuller (IHT, Fri, MARCH 19, 1999)

MALACCA, Malaysia: In a country where "old" is often defined as pre-1970, this city with its hibiscus-red colonial buildings and ornately carved facades is an oasis of history.

As progress and development have marched across Malaysia, one small corner of the country seems to have been spared. Still intact are Malacca's centuries-old shop-houses, its church built in 1753 and the ruins of a fort erected by the Portuguese about 450 years ago to secure the once strategic port.

As one ambles through the streets of the city, it is difficult to fathom Malacca's crucial role in the region's — and indeed the world's — commercial history. An adage from the early years of European colonialism in Asia perhaps says it best: "He who is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice."

Malacca was the gateway to the spice islands, an entrepot for cloves, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg. The narrow straits off the city, still some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, held the key to the lucrative spice trade for Europeans, who began their trips to the region in the early 1500s.

It was only in the last century, when the British moved their regional headquarters south to Singapore, that Malacca lost its strategic significance.

Today, the city's charm is its neglect. The local government has done little to polish the appearance of the historic district, a series of streets packed with sometimes rickety, narrow shop-houses. Local officials refuse to pay for renovations of the 18th-century church — the Dutch government paid the last time, in the 1980s — and talk of building a pedestrian promenade beside the oldest houses has remained just that.

The result: Many parts of the historic center still function independently of tourist dollars. Dilapidated buildings replete with elaborate tiles and carvings house barber shops, loan sharks, funeral parlors and furniture shops. Local patrons of tea stalls mingle and converse oblivious of the tourists who walk past the shops' marble-top tables and distinctive wooden chairs.
The hidden splendor of these buildings has not gone entirely unnoticed. Singaporeans, among others, are buying up the old houses and converting them into boutique hotels and cafés to complement the art galleries and trinket shops.

But history in Malacca resides not only in the rows of old shop-houses and nearby fort and church. There are gems throughout the city, although many are lost in Malacca's sometimes ugly and congested streets.
One is tucked away behind the fort: a small cemetery that speaks of the history of early colonists and their travails. Amid tombstones of former governors and military officers is the grave of Edward Hugh Massy, the 1-year-old son of a British lieutenant stationed in Malacca in the early 1800s. His grieving parents left a little piece of poetry on his gravestone: "This lovely bud so young and fair calld hence by early doom just came to shew how sweet a flower in paradise would bloom."

Signposts of the Past
It is through such tombstones that Malacca betrays the identities of its past and present inhabitants. Few cities in the world can claim such an eclectic heritage.
Malacca was founded by a Sumatran prince in the 14th century and saw successive waves of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists met by traders from India, China and Java, among other places.

Some groups, like the Chittys from India and the descendants of Portuguese settlers, formed separate communities that remain today. Each race and culture has left its mark on the city — whether it is the spicy Portuguese food or the Armenian inscriptions on the floor of Christ Church. Indeed, part of the challenge for visitors to this old port is to try to disentangle the city's European and Oriental influences.

VISITORS today range from Singaporeans who drive here on weekends, to the droves of Europeans who, as their ancestors did, often come in groups.

Malacca is halfway between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore — two cities that have clearly succumbed to concrete and steel — making it an easy destination for a day trip.

Visitors who stay the night have choices among four and five-star hotels or boutique hotels in the historic part of town, a neighborhood recently made more lively with the addition of bars that stay open late.

At the heart of the historic area, next to the Dutch-built Christ Church, is the creaking State Historical Museum, housed in the former Dutch governor's house, and filled with dioramas, furniture and period costumes. Next door is the Youth Museum, a dark and puzzling series of rooms filled with sports trophies and dedicated to the not-so-youthful politicians who built it.
to be avoided is a nightly outdoor historical performance, derided by Malaccans as the sound, light and mosquito show.

But no visit to the city is complete without a journey to the top of St. Paul's hill, where the ruins of a fortress mix with the giant, 17th-century tomb markers of fallen Dutchmen.

In the distance, plying the muddy straits, are the outlines of container ships that all but ignore once-mighty Malacca.

RMAF Museum - Home of Malaysian Aviation Heritage

The RMAF Museum or Muzium TUDM (3 out of 5 Stars) in the Sungai Besi Air Base (the first international airport in Malaysia, before Subang and Sepang) has a thing or two to attract the most devout lot of museum aficionados.

The main draw is the fascinating array of aircraft in display. These flying machines were once the pride of the nation and Malaysia’s primary air defense arsenal.
Visitors who want a glimpse of the air force humble past may kick off their tour with the memorabilia in the modest museum housed in an ex-officer barrack. While the exhibits lack in creativity to capture visitors’ imagination, they compensate the fact with the historical importance of a struggling nation’s flying unit.

The first gallery is adorned with many wooden plaques listing the names of previous Air Marshall and black and white photos of colonial officers in their rather awkward pose in their songkok and their official Malay military gears.

The museum has a treasure or two to boast if you look hard enough for it. Located in the corner of this same gallery is the uncelebrated ejected pilot seat of F-5E jet. Not much is told about the incident but a little notice nearby discloses the uneventful fate of the fighter jet which crashed off the coasts of Terengganu in the 80s.

However, kids and their dads will have a field day discovering more about the aircraft parked next to the derelict hangar located close to the runway. Kids would love to explore the interiors of the large wing Caribou. These hard working Canadian transporters were the backbones of air force logistic need, and when standing in the narrow cabin one can still feel the adrenalin rush of a paratrooper waiting his turn to jump off the plane.

With luck, visitors can catch the air force’s Nuri (transport helicopter) or Police's Pilatus in operation from the nearby runway. More surprises inside the hangar. There, the A-4 Skyhawk - the supersonic jet fighter that once ruled our skies in the 80s before the arrivals of the Hornets, Sukhoi and MiGs, now greets visitors amid silently.

Retired helicopters are also valuable exhibits to allow visitors hand-on experience on the working of a rotor blade aircraft. The historical biplane that served in the formation years of RMAF is another attraction not to be missed.

Nevertheless, it is heart breaking that parts of the aircraft body which is covered with flimsy cloth-like material, are tears everywhere due to lack of care and poor maintenance.That is probably the main contention of visitors to this museum.

Muzium TUDM has in their procession some of the priceless artifacts showcasing our country’s momentous start in aerial military yet all the exhibits are covered with a thick layer of dust or worst condemned under the unforgiving tropical sun. Many outdoor exhibits including Ferrer Scout Car, Grumman Seaplane and others are left to rust. Information or the lack of it on the displays is another thing that the curator should be dismayed with.

Questions should be asked now if another more committed conservation entity should assume the role as the repository of Malaysian Air Force heritage.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Merdeka Stadium Wins Unesco Award

A jury of 12 conservation experts gave Merdeka Stadium the Award of Excellence and the Suffolk house in Penang the Award of Distinction in the Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture and Heritage Conservation held in Bangkok. (NST Sept 8, 08)

For those who fought hard to preserve the stadium’s historical importance, the award is a well earned recognition for a national monument that symbolizes our nationhood and its birth.

Not all share the belief unfortunately, and in the late 90s, the fate of Merdeka Stadium laid precariously in the hands of development juggernaut. A would-be victim of an outrageous trading chip by Tun Mahathir to fund his fancy Commonwealth Sports Complex in Bukit Jalil.

The more cynical ones perceived it all part of an elaborate scheme to discard the memoirs of our beloved Tunku - Malaysia’s first Prime Minister. Merdeka Stadium was to suffer the same fate as Subang Airport in a wipe out exercise of Tunku's legacy.

However, the arrival of Pak Lah at the power helm, finally offered a ray of hope to the iconic football stadium.

Award-winning architect cum conservationist Laurence Loh was put in charge to put the glory back to Stadium Merdeka. Soon, an army of jackhammers and hard hats descended on the bitumen track and concrete stands to give the stadium a new facelift.

Its seating capacity of previous high of 60,000 was scaled back to the heydays of Merdeka at under 20,000.

The reduced seating capacity is far from the days when the Stadium housed Malaysia as an Asian football power house, but the new overall look is similar to what Tunku had envisioned when he led JKR engineers to transform Kuala Lumpur in time to celebrate our independence from the British.

At the core of the conservation plan is the preservation of the main façade of the grandstand. A mini museum cum photo gallery was included to showcase the stadium and its many historical events.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

KEKWA Chasing The Wrong Heritage.

Half a century after the nation freed from European dominance, Malaysian heritage experts are reported to be in an overdrive mode to bring back national wealth from overseas museums and private collectors. (NST – July 3, 08) Nevertheless, the vigorous and very expensive quest to retrieve this priceless heritage falls short to elevate Malaysia to become the proud heirloom of ancient Malay artifacts. According to the paper, topping this shopping list is Malay manuscripts circa around late 19th century and early 20th century.

These manuscripts in my best comprehension would include the various royal seals and letters from the Malay sultanates used in Treaties and official or private correspondence currently kept inside the vaults of the British libraries, museums and universities, and to a lesser extend Dutch repository.

The rationale to spend the hard earned tax payers’ money in this shopping spree while we all suffer from the escalation of cost to run the country and also the unfavorable exchange rate is most baffling. Unless, of course if we can comprehend that the Museum Department and the National Archives are now an instrument to pursue Agenda Melayu.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see how such an acquisition, however costly, would be the perfect ingredients for not just heritage triumph but also a political one too.
Acquiring these long forgotten Malay treasures and finally taking these precious documents home from the foreign thieves. Follow up with the right dose from the spin doctors from the main stream media and the directors from these two institutions would be hailed as national heroes and champions of the race.

Again you don’t need college algebra to figure the difficulty or the lack of it to buy what is essentially an item listed in Museum manuals.

Taking a step further and it will be just a snap of the fingers to picture politicians especially those from the battle scarred UMNO joining the hero bandwagon.

Personally, the huge expense the Ministry of Culture, Heritage and Arts is willing to commit to this endeavor defies common sense and show what priority the Ministry is taking to safeguard Malaysian Heritage.

In my posting Conquer Culture Coup – Jul 23, 08, I urged the same Ministry to revalue its priority and focus to live up to its much acclaimed role as the repository of MALAYSIAN heritage. Valueless Peranakan heritage were permanently lost to Singapore when the owner in Penang was offered an amount, I guess just too hard to say NO to.

Why KEKWA officials are so adamant about fighting tooth and nail for treasures housed in some foreign institutions which are world class research centers but are somewhat less than enthusiastic about treasures while may not of the same category but definitely the same value slipped away right under our very nose. Why?

Jul 3,08

Related Articles

Priceless relics making the way home - NST –July 3,08

KUALA LUMPUR: The country's priceless relics, which were transported abroad and kept out of the country for years, are slowly being identified and brought home. Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry deputy secretary-general (Heritage) Datuk Nor Azmal Mohd Nazir said research was ongoing to establish the authenticity of the artifacts.

"The National Heritage Department was assigned to conduct studies and research on heritage items since its formation in 2006.

"They have identified several artifacts, including relics, overseas, but formal announcements of identification are only made with clear facts and documents." He added that the Museums Department and the National Archives would also take part in the research as there were many procedures involved.

"It is not an easy task. When the artifacts are identified, they have to go through several tests and carbonisation processes. So it takes time." Azmal said, sometimes, the process of tracking down the artifacts was tough, especially when they were kept in personal collections."We can try our best to procure the artifacts, but some of the individuals ask for a very high price.

"We don't even know how the artifacts ended with them in the first place."

Last month, the New Straits Times front-paged a report on the efforts to retrieve Malay manuscripts abroad by the National Library and the National Archives.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Museum Director Victim of Political Tug-of-War.

The new political landscape following the 12th. General Elections in Selangor may have a hand in the latest change in Perbadanan Muzium Selangor (PMS) - The Star Jun 15, 08. PMS is the museum authority overseeing the Shah Alam Museum and the Bukit Melawati Museum in Kuala Selangor and several Royal Burial sites in the state.

While the new Mentri Besar was quick to refute any claim of political victimization, many would view this development with trepilation. Such a move is likely to signal how the Pakatan led state government want a new approach in museum establishments under the auspice of PMS.

Political observers may interpret the removal of the state museum director is akin to the tug-of- war between UMNO and PKR, but museum afficinados in this country would regard it as another worrisome trend in this country to position public funded state museums as vehicles to propagate their myopic interpretations of history.

Public funded museums supported by our hard earned money will continue to be feted with vested interests groups who have no qualms about distorting historical events and cultural practices. Some are even guilty of 'ethnic cleansing' in their overzealous endeavors to champion the course of a particular race or a political party, and completely sideline the role other communities play in this same land we all call home.

Changing of the top guard in Malaysian State Museums according to the whims and fancies of the political masters is nothing new. Nevertheless Malaysians should view such interference with concern and urge restraint if we aim to have Malaysian museums to be the rightful institution that embodies the richness of our multi-racial and multi-religious heritage.

Malaysians museums as political fall guys are not completely a strange phenomenon. The latest development in Selangor is a political boomerang which come back to haunt the once perpetrators from UMNO. What goes around comes around.

In 2006, Penang Museum Curator and conservationist, Khoo Boo Chia - The Sun, March 24, 06 - was removed from his post prematurely by the state executive in charge of culture and arts, a rising UMNO political stalwart himself. The museum under Khoo's tenure was besieged by calls to showcase more the communities from Penang's mainland side, previously an UMNO fertile ground. There were few but loud disgrunts from the party members about the State Museum 'over-emphasizing' communities from the Penang Island.

Further south, in Barisan stronghold state of Malacca, PERZIM, the state museum authority went a step further in galvanizing this prominent political establishment when it opened a dedicated UMNO Museum in the tourist belt in Banda Hilir. Visit the Historical Museum in Stadhuys and discerning visitors will be disappointed to find to find loopsided interpretations of the main political players and their contributions, in the historic state and also the country. Prominent role played by non- Malay communities in their collective fight for Malaya's Independence were overshadowed by the 'heroic' political mastery from their UMNO brethens. Exhibitions on the state colorful and vibrant minorities are best patronizing and worst misleading in their lackadaisical attempts.

Hopefully the change we are witnessing in Selangor marks a departure from the old ways which museums are merely a propaganda tool and set our sight to elevate museums into a reputable heritage cum historical establishment that all Malaysians can proud of.

Jun 16, 08

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bukit China Now A Heritage Zone?

In an unprecedented turnabout by Malacca authority, Bukit China and the 10,000 or more graves are now considered worthy of being accorded heritage site. This latest announcement must be music to the souls from the largest Chinese Cemetery outside of China and now they can rest in peace.

This latest twist of event is a remarkable departure from an earlier hostile policy to ‘redevelop’ Bukit China in the mid 80s initiated by the then rising UMNO stalwart and former CM, Abdul Rahim Thamby Chik. This controversial and elaborate scheme calls for the remains of the graves to be exhumed and the entire hill leveled to spur Malacca property markets. Centuries old cemeteries will be replaced with hotels and shop lots. A multilevel pagoda will also be built to house the urns of the deceased and served to remind Malaccans of the sanctity of this burial site.

There were huge uproars among the Chinese communities and the many living descendents who feared such a move has devastating impact on family fengshui and their future well being.
Opposition politicians from DAP won rousing support and its leader Lim Kit Siang was hailed as hero when he confronted the masterminds on this massive plan.

History would showed that locals eventually voiced their displeasure by voting out the Chinese representatives from the ruling component parties on the election day. Following this thrashing at the ballot box, wisdom won the day and the political masters were quick to heed the clear message from the Chinese community.

Owner of the Bukit China, the Chen Hoon Teng Temple and monks then spearheaded a clean up project to make the cemeteries more accessible to the Malaccans. Soon, Bukit China became the favorite jogging site for health enthusiasts. Some well concerned individuals contributed time, sweats and money to green up the entrance leading to the climb to the hill top.

Soon, Bukit China too became Malacca’s scout troopers’ favorite venue. After night fall, countless young scouts were ‘ordained’ here especially after they have successfully ’subjected’ themselves to a test of faith within a stone throw away from the cemetery.

While the latest call from current CM Ali Rustam goes a long way to safeguard Bukit China from wanton development, at least for the time being, one can’t help wondering if these are part of a shrewd political maneuver to win back the hearts of the minority in the country following the 12th General Election. Malaysians are too familiar with too many instances when promises were broken even before the inks dry.

The on-off development curse that lingers around Bukit China is an example of the complexity that brews out of political necessity but if it is allowed to go ahead will surely have far reaching consequence on the community and Malacca’s unique position as the Malaysia’s foremost cultural melting pot.

The real fear is that Bukit China may again become the pawn of flicked politicians whose agenda is not revealed till the damages have come irreversible.

June 5, 2008

Related Reading

The Star -Thursday June 5, 2008

Bukit China now in Malacca heritage zone

MALACCA: The state’s well-known historical landmark, Bukit China, has been included in Malacca and Penang’s joint bid for listing as a World Heritage Site next month.
The decision to bring the 256ha hill within the state’s conservation buffer zone comes into immediate effect following a recommendation by the United Nations International Council on Monuments and Sites to include it as part of the listing effort.
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said the hill was deemed to have historical value and significance dating back to the 15th century Malacca Sultanate.

“Besides being recognised as the largest Chinese cemetery outside of China, the hill is also the site of the ruins of a 16th century Portuguese monastery,” he said after chairing the state exco meeting yesterday.

With this, Mohd Ali said, the buffer zone to protect the state’s 235ha core heritage zone in the heart of the old city would be enlarged to 1,049ha from the previous 793ha.

“This will mean that the hill will now be preserved. Any proposed development must now obtain approval from the relevant conservation agencies,” he said, adding that the World Heritage Council would sit in Quebec, Canada, next month to decide on the joint bid.

“It has taken eight years for us to prepare the dossier for submission to the World Heritage Council in Paris and there’s a good chance that we can succeed,” Mohd Ali said.

He said the state would receive recognition as “Malacca and George Town Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca” if successful.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bring Back The Trams To Penang

By Diana Chin
The Sun, June 4, 2008

GEORGE TOWN: Citizens groups in Penang have initiated a lobby to have the billion-ringgit monorail project replaced with a tram system in the state.

The movement stems from an increasingly popular notion that the monorail is far too costly and would bring about adverse effects to the heritage streets and green landscape of Penang.
'Penangites for Tram' campaign coordinator Anil Netto explained that investment required for developing a tram network would be much lower than for constructing the monorail.

"The tram is a more substantial choice as we can revive the system based on already existing old tram lines that Penang used to have, thereby eliminating excessive additional costs," he said.
Netto said trams would blend in with George Town’s heritage and greenery, while the monorail would obstruct views of buildings and mar the attractiveness of the island.

He said a good tram system would also encourage people not to drive private vehicles within the town area, allowing them to save following the increase in fuel charges.
"If we give the people a better alternative in public transport, there will be less traffic congestion and more parking spaces in town," he said.

As the roads of Penang are narrow, they suited the concept of the trams, he added. The campaign is currently being supported by 25 bloggers and websites. Heritage writer Khoo Salma Nasution noted that the Penang Island Municipal Council was the first local government to introduce electric trams in the inner city in the early part of the last century.

"People think the tram is a thing of the past, but they are wrong because it is actually the thing of the future," she said. "It is clean, energy saving and user-friendly not to mention fast, efficient and also cheap." She said the tram could provide an iconic identity for Penang and help revitalise the heritage of the inner city.

Khoo, who published a book titled ‘Penang Trams, Trolleybuses & Railways: Municipal Transport History 1880s-1963’,said trams could also help traffic calming in Penang’s roads.
Aliran and Penang Heritage Trust activist Ahmad Chik said the campaign is calling for a traffic master plan for Penang that would include feasibility studies for trams as compared to monorails and underground transit systems.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Making Museums Research Centres, too

Making museums research centres, too - The Star May 25, 08

KUALA LUMPUR: The Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry will request several museums in other countries to temporarily exhibit their artefacts and treasures in Malaysian museums.

Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said these museums were in England, France, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam.

“This is one aspect we are looking into, to make museums not only venues for exhibitions but also research centres for youths and students.”

Mohd Shafie said this after flagging off participants at a Muziumthon held in conjunction with International Museums Day at the National Museum yesterday. – Bernama

Uproar Over Looming Demolition of Historic WWII Jail

Uproar over looming demolition of historic WWII jail
47 minutes ago

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Plans to demolish Malaysia's historic Pudu jail, where allied prisoners were imprisoned and executed during the brutal Japanese occupation, have Second World War veterans up in arms. The site of prisoner-of-war tortures, interrogations and modern-day infamous hangings is set to be torn down later this year, to be replaced by a commercial centre and condominium complex on the prime downtown location.

"Pudu jail should be preserved," said Charles Edwards, 89, who was a private in the Australian 8th Division, part of Commonwealth forces that defended Malaya, as it was then known, at the outset of the 1939-1945 war. "So many Australians and allied soldiers died in places like Pudu, defending democracy and the lives of the people of Malaya," Edwards said from his home outside Melbourne. "They made the ultimate sacrifice and Pudu is a reminder of that sacrifice which led to the freedom we enjoy now," he told AFP.

Japanese forces swept down the peninsula within days of the December 8, 1941 landings on the beaches of Singora and Pattani in southern Thailand and in Kota Bharu in Malaysia's northern Kelantan state.

By January 11, they had taken Kuala Lumpur which had been abandoned by the retreating British and pushed further south, capturing Singapore on February 15, 1942 and bringing the Malayan Campaign to an end in just 70 days. With just 30,000 soldiers, the Japanese captured 150,000 British and Commonwealth troops in what wartime British prime minister Winston Churchill called "the worst disaster and greatest capitulation of British history."

"I was one of the first 30 Australians taken prisoner by the Japanese in World War II," said Edwards, who was captured in Johor state which lies next to Singapore. Along with 1,000 other men, Edwards spent nine months in Pudu, which had been built to house just 600 prisoners.
The cells were horrific, he said, each with a window the size of a shoebox. "The conditions were shocking with wounded men, the cookhouse and the hastily dug benjos (latrine pits) all within metres of each other," he said. "Men were milling around with no leadership, filthy dirty, lice-filled and surviving on a half a cup of water per day. "More men were brought in as the days went by until there were about 600 men in this small area of about 20 by 20 metres."

At great danger to himself, Edwards helped six men escape but they were caught and brought back to the jail where they were executed. Edwards was one of many POWs who were sent on to Changi jail in Singapore and then to Thailand to build the the infamous Siam-Burma death railway, from which most never returned. After the end of the war, Pudu continued to be used as a prison. In July 1986, Briton Kevin Barlow and Australian Brian Chambers were hanged there, the first Westerners to lose their lives under Malaysia's tough anti-narcotics laws.
The two were convicted of drug trafficking in an internationally publicised trial, and an appeal for clemency by the Australian prime minister was turned down.

A decade later, Pudu was closed to make way for a prison museum but poor visitor numbers spelt a quick end to the venture and since 2005 it has been used as a holding centre for prisoners undergoing trial. The Urban Development Authority is now preparing to tear down the jail. Its chairman Baharum Mohamad says the site was handed over in exchange for the construction of a new prison on the outskirts of the capital.

But the decision to demolish Pudu has upset many.

"It is a historic building and there should be some trace of it," said Ahmad Sarji, chairman of the Malaysian Heritage Board. "Even if you could keep the facade, about 20 feet (6 metres) to the left and right of the main gate which shows the date of its founding, that would be good," he said.
Historians say Pudu's fate reflects a lack of interest in heritage in Malaysia, where significant buildings continue to be torn down, including the charming century-old Bok House in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

An early example of the fusion between European and local architecture, it was nevertheless demolished in 2007 after only a brief outcry. Military historian Brian Farrell, who has written extensively on the Malayan Campaign, said the authorities should consider preserving part of the building, one of the few intact 19th century prisons in the region. "The real significance of Pudu is that it is right in the heart of the city and yet it has survived intact and undamaged," he said. "If nothing else, at least preserve some of the walls, the gate and have a small museum."

In contrast, plans to tear down the infamous Changi Prison in neighbouring Singapore were met with stiff opposition in 2001.

"When news leaked that Changi was to be demolished, there was a chorus of protests not only from locals but also from many overseas," says Jeyathurai Ayadurai, Director of the Changi Prison Museum. "Five Australian ministers wrote to the Singapore government asking for a reversion of the decision," he said. "It was partly due to this protest and outcry that a section of the Changi Prison wall and its iconic gates were preserved."
Pudu is unlikely to benefit from such a campaign as each year sees the number of veterans decline. "Unfortunately, I do not think there are enough voices left here in Australia or in the UK to launch a protest in the same way Changi supporters managed," said Australian historian Lynette Silver.

Secret Weapon to Keep Our Borders

The fight for Pulau Batu Putih (PBP), or Pedra Branca as Singapore prefers it, was over even before the lawyers could face it off in The Hague. Malaysians had apparently embarked on a ‘war path’ without the one vital ammunition which could have inflicted the knockout punch on their opponents from across the causeway.

Chief negotiator and Ambassador-at-large Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Mohamad had revealed how the search for the correspondence from a British Governor in Butterworth to the Johore Temenggong seeking approval to build the Horsburgh Lighthouse was met with dead end. This futile effort was revealed in the Malaysian Parliament (The Star, May 26, 08) when lawyer cum opposition politician Karpal Singh put the government to task for the loss of PBP. He claimed it was ‘foolhardly to have the case before ICJ” without this solid piece of material.

The missing piece of the 19th. Century document proved to be the coup de grace in our argument that the rocky islet was indeed historically ours. It was the vital material to further support the claim that the British crown colony’s presence there was the outcome of Johorean courtesy.

Other parliamentarians too joined in the fray and some of their favourite punching bags were the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the National Archives (Arkib Negara). A backbencher not wanting to be outdone during the heated debate, even go so far to attribute the PBP loss to the lackadaisical attitude from the Unity, Cultural, Arts and Heritage Ministry in living up to its reputation as the guardians of Malaysia’s heritage.

The ministry’s costly oversight in securing and preserving historical documents has manifested into permanently deleting part of our southern border off from the map. While there are now frantic calls to preserve documents, maps and relics pertaining to our littoral heritage before more islands are lost, they have come too late for PBP.

At hindsight, these developments could have taught us the valuable lesson to consider another perspective on how best we can safeguard our sovereign integrity.

Policymakers no longer can justify protecting our shores by going on shopping spree and spending our hard earned ringgit on military hardware. Similarly, they must adopt fresh approach to meet our defensive needs and look at threats from a whole different angle. When we finally arrive at this juncture, the future solution to prevent encroachment to our territory lies not in the billions we spent on the Sukhoi or Scorpene, but the fight is waged closer to our hearts and minds, by protecting our heritage.

Therefore, it is not too far stretched to argue that our vibrant and rich history could well be the preferred armament to avoid more geopolitical skirmish.

Perhaps it is not too late yet for Malaysians to come with terms that our fight to settle future disputes and defend our territorial rights begins with the first step to Arkib Negara and the quality and volume of its heritage collections. In this new playing field, conservationists, museum curators and historians would join ranks with army generals and panglima in assuming the role of safeguarding our national sovereignty.

Heritage will be the weapon of choice to keep Malaysian borders intact.

May 27,08

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New Look For Malaysian Heritage?

New Look for Malaysian Historical and Cultural Heritage?

The purported guardians of the Malaysian heritage will soon find themselves tasked with redefining the appropriate context for a country with the new political awakening.

This scenario may be the direct result from the recent 12th General Poll which saw the country’s minorities voicing their discontent through the ballot boxes. Key amongst their woes is the feelings that the minorities are systematically sidelined from the mainstream of Malaysia’s political, economical, and educational sectors.

Nevertheless, it is perhaps timely too that calls made by those who won in the elections championing the fight for justice and equality in the political arenas should entails similar voice calling for greater but more importantly equal representation in matters constituting minority cultural heritage and their historical contribution to this nation.

Only through an earnest and strong effort brought forth by this new political reality can the fate of minorities in Malaysia see light at the end of the tunnel. This noble quest will offer deserving minorities and their forefathers whose forgotten sacrifices made through the generations be recognized and accorded the rightful place in Malaysian History.

Visit Muzium Negara and the State Museums in this country (with the exception of a handful like in Penang), and you are bound to be confronted with a dire situation where exhibit highlights on minorities’ history, culture and social economical involvement is almost non existence and if they are, the exhibits are mere patronizing and left you with a foul aftertaste. Nothing is more infuriating when you come face-to-face with minority related exhibitions that sorely lack research and depths, and insult our intelligence.

State Museum Boards in Melaka, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, are in my view the top culprits in marginalizing minority communities in their choice of exhibits. PERZIM of Melaka for example, has over the years founded and built more than ten separately themed museums. A few were runaway success with tourists flocking for ample photography opportunity yet none focus any significant feature on the state’s rich and diverse communities like the Peranakan and the Portuguese.

Recent development in Singapore is another great concern to Malaysians who love our heritage. While Malaysia profusely claims to be the cradle of Baba and Nyonya heritage, the recently launched Peranakan Museum in downtown Singapore opened its door to a few surprises. Featured prominently in its main collection and a pride of its curator is the jaw dropping ancestral Baba Nyonya wares and artefacts from Penang!

This event is tantamount to a Cultural coup and should serve as an alarm to our heritage amnesia guardians. Malaysians can ill afford to have its priceless heritage sold to the highest bidder and let it fell into foreigner’s hands. All of us bear some of the blame too and we must seek answers on why and what happened to the much hyped Jabatan Muzium dan Ankuiti initiative in the 90s to have the Malaysian version of a similar Peranakan Museum in the Malacca historical enclave.

This dreadful situation is also compounded by a band of cultural chauvinists who has for too long guilty of ignoring the historical development in this country. Instead, these self appointed cultural and heritage gatekeepers perpetrated historical interpretation that borders cleansing of the country multi ethnic composition.

Perhaps it is appropriate that we demand a different breed of dedicated historians and conservationists who value and ready to embrace the multi racial and multi religious components of our Malaysian Heritage. They will boldly tackle new role as the heritage and history vanguards to take diversity and historical accuracy in Malaysia to greater heights.

In turn, Malaysian museums will gradually showcase these revolutionized interpretations of our diversity and history. They will be the undisputable establishment and the perfect platform to unify and to usher in a new era of mutual understanding and learning from one and other for all Malaysians.

Friday, May 23, 2008

War Graves for British War Ships

The Malaysian power-to-be have appeared to adopt a giant shift in recognition of World War II events in this country.

The DPM made the bold call to the ministry in concern to give our former colonial masters a place in our history and their roles to defend Malaya against Imperial Japanese Forces during World War II. (NST , May 23, 08)

Personally, I welcome the stance taken by Najib and it is a big wake-up call for historical and cultural guardians in this country from their overdue cultural amnesia.

In an Aljazeera talk show- 101 East, one of the panelist from Malaysia remarks that Malaysian government lacks the political will to 'punish' the Japanese after the war as compared to other countries like South Korea and China because we had agreed to the compensation money offered by the Japanese and the war basically affected the minority Chinese more and little on the Malays.

Hence the sufferings inflicted on the people in this country is 'proportioned' and not the entire population as we all made to believe.

However, my experience of talking to family members and Malaysians who experienced the horrors of World War II from 1941 to 1945, it is easily to conclude the adverse impact it had on us, yet the authorities especially at the federal level have shied away from this topic.

The Japanese Army cruelty and brutality during this period are all too well recorded and the mental scars affected on its victims still refuse to go away although 60 years have gone by.

Their compelling and heart touching tales of grieves and nighmares would soon die one day with them if the government continues to detach itself from the need to capture their oral history. Something must urgently be done.

Like many Malaysians I too have my share of stories we heard from our loved ones. Like how bomb from a Zero fighter almost killed my grandfather who was out looking for food to feed his young family.

How a relative in Batu Pahat survived being bayoneted but later died from infection. How mother and terrified Malaccans woke up to see human skulls paraded around the Victoria fountain at the Stadhuys to warn people to behave. How my mother-in-law and all the village's damsels took to the jungle to evade the Japanese troops hungry for what else.

Needlessly to say, the lack of action from the Heritage authority is mind bothering. No official monument to showcase what is one of the bleakest years in our nation.

No museums to tell the ferocity of General Yamashita aka The Tiger of Malaya and his bicycle brigade. No memorials to mark the thousands of war deaths and the innocent lives committed to the building of the Death Railway on the Thai-Burma Border.

Even the annual ANZAC ceremonies in Labuan and Perak to honor the soldiers sacrified in the futile battles to stop the advancing Japanese were lowkey event worthy of brief mention in local English newspaper while nothing in the mass Malay print house.

What we have on this subject in this country is pathetic.

An unworthy museum in Kota Bahru covered in non descriptive photos. In Malacca, a lone monument next to Hang Li Poh Well stands dedicated to the local population who died in the hands of occupiers.

In Kepala Batas, Penang, British built defensive fortress is the villagers favorite dumpsite. While in Kelantan. they lie in ruins and on the brink of collapse from the continuous pounding of the sea waves.

Article from NST Friday, May 23, 2008

Najib: Register WW2 warships as war graves.

The Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage should consider registering the sunken warships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales as war graves and protected from illegal encroachment.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the ministry should include the two ships in the Malaysia Government Protected Heritage list.HMS Repulse and the Prince of Wales were sunk on Dec 10, 1941, off the coast of Kuantan during World War Two. More than 800 people died.

Najib yesterday handed over the bell from the Prince of Wales to the commanding officer of HMS Edinburgh for safe passage to the United Kingdom. It will be returned to its permanent home at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. The bell has been in Malaysia since October as the main showpiece of the "Relationships" project, an initiative by Malaysia to honour those who died in the sinking of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales.

The ceremony was witnessed by British High Commissioner to Malaysia Boyd McCleary, Royal Malaysian Navy chief Admiral Datuk Abdul Aziz Jaafar and Admiral (R) Mohd Tan Sri Anwar Mohd Nor, former RMN chief and chief of defence. McCleary said: "Malaysia has paid great tribute to the fallen heroes of both ships. " The bell has played a part in this historical project, an indication of the strength and depth of UK-Malaysia relations."

Najib said in memory of the 50 year of Malaysia-British formal relationship and in conjunction with 50 years of independence, the government appreciated the efforts of the Relationships project team (RPT) and the British High Commission." I was quite impressed when I visited the RPT booth at the maritime exhibition at the last Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace."

HMS Edinburgh is a Type 42 destroyer which is in Port Klang on a routine visit from May 21 to 26. Commanding officer Commander Gavin Young will take the bell back to Liverpool. It had conducted sea exercises with the navies of Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand as part of the annual exercise schedule under the Five-Power Defence Arrangement.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More.... Fun Museums For School Holidays.

Continuing with the series on Fun and… mainly FREE Malaysian museums to bring kids to especially with the coming of new school break.

The RMAF Museum (3 out of 5 Stars) in the Sungai Besi Air Base (the first international airport in Malaysia, before Subang and definitely way before Sepang) has a thing or two to attract the most devout lot of museum aficionados. The main draw is the fascinating array of aircraft in display. These flying machines were once the pride of the nation and Malaysia’s primary air defense arsenal.

Visitors who want a glimpse of the air force humble past may kick off their tour with the memorabilia in the modest museum housed in an ex-officer barrack. While the exhibits lack in creativity to capture visitors’ imagination, they compensate the fact with the historical importance of a struggling nation’s flying unit. The first gallery is adorned with many wooden plaques listing the names of previous Air Marshall and black and white photos of colonial officers in their rather awkward pose in their songkok and their official Malay military gears.

The museum has a treasure or two to boast if you look hard enough for it. Located in the corner of this same gallery is the uncelebrated ejected pilot seat of F-5E jet. Not much is told about the incident but a little notice nearby discloses the uneventful fate of the fighter jet which crashed off the coasts of Terengganu in the 80s.

However, kids and their dads will have a field day discovering more about the aircraft parked next to the derelict hangar located close to the runway. Kids would love to explore the interiors of the large wing Caribou. These hard working Canadian transporters were the backbones of air force logistic need, and when standing in the narrow cabin one can still feel the adrenalin rush of a paratrooper waiting his turn to jump off the plane.

With luck, visitors can catch the air force’s Nuri (transport helicopter) or Police Pilatus in operation from the nearby runway.

More surprises inside the hangar. There, the A-4 Skyhawk - the supersonic jet fighter that once ruled our skies in the 80s before the arrivals of the Hornets, Sukhoi and MiGs, now greets visitors amid silently. Retired helicopters are also valuable exhibits to allow visitors hand-on experience on the working of a rotor blade aircraft.

The historical biplane that served in the formation years of RMAF is another attraction not to be missed. Nevertheless it is heart breaking that parts of the aircraft body which is covered with flimsy cloth-like material, are tears everywhere due to lack of care and poor maintenance.

That is probably the main contention of visitors to this museum.

Muzium TUDM has in their procession some of the priceless artifacts showcasing our country’s momentous start in aerial military yet all the exhibits are covered with a thick layer of dust or worst condemned under the unforgiving tropical sun. Many outdoor exhibits including Ferrer Scout Car, Grumman Seaplane and others are left to rust. Information or the lack of it on the displays is another thing that the curator should be dismayed with. Questions should be asked now if another more committed conservation entity should assume the role as the repository of Malaysian Air Force heritage.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fun Museums for School Holidays

May 26, 08 marks the beginning of the Malaysian school break and most parents with kids would crank their heads over their holiday plans. I think holidaying in Malaysia is a rewarding break for the kids if parents make a point to include visits to museums.

I believe that there is at least one museum worth visiting in each of the Malaysian states. Some states boost more but the important thing is to identify one which the kids can enjoy and for an hour or two, let their inquisitive minds probe for answers, and a warning for the parents - be prepared.

Many of the exhibits housed air-conditioned museums are a perfect substitute for the regular outings to shopping malls. It is the prefect opportunity to share with the kids a wider perspective of the people, events and places that Malaysians have all lived through.

Furthermore, for a brief moment we are training them to discard the buy and consume mentality we parents indulge them with whenever we visit shopping centers.

We are lucky alot in a sense. Malaysian museums are also affordable compared to our nearest neighbor – Singapore. Most museums except Muzium Negara operated by Jabatan Muzium have no admission charges whereas Singapore’s MICA run public museums do with charges varies from S$1 -5 pax.

For a starter, go to a favorite outing spot for many in Kuala Lumpur particularly in areas like Lake Garden (3 museums, 1 memorial and 1 planetarium). To help parents plan their museums outings I have listed the list below for reference according to the location, admission charges and exhibits. Allocate about 1 hour to 1 and half hour for each visit to the museums.

The Royal Malaysian Police Museum - 4 out of 5 Stars
Admission - Free

Why Kids Like It?

Daddies can be Boys again and together they could check out armored vehicles, aeroplane and a patrol boat.

The Gun Gallery housed in a fortified chamber has a fascinating array of submachine-guns used by the security forces and terrorists, bow pipes used by hunters not to hunt but kill and weapons of choice by feuding gangsters. Kids may love the guns but parents must warn them of the damage they may caused.

The Darurat Gallery is a decent jungle setting with a Ferret scout car and tools of trade ( including condoms) used by terrorists in the jungle warfare. Be Warned – some very graphic photos of defeated terrorists. Check out also some pornograhic material on display aka the handkerchiefs.

The First Gallery showcasing the Malacca Sultanate days is a perfect spot to let a child plays the imaginery role of traders bartering spices or a Sultan warrior guarding the seafaring port.

Just compare the low tech weapons used by the Melaka defenders against the muskets and cannons used by the Portuguese invaders and it is easy to understand why 500 plus Portuguese and their sepoy can triumphed easily over.

The Tun Razak Memorial -'Malaysia Former White House' - 2 half of 5 Stars
Admission -Free

Why Kids Like It?

Tough to expect your kids to like this place because a substantial portion of the memorial is dedicated to Tun Razak's political contributions. Never mind the kids, adults too might not take it too well here.

But give it a chance and step into the former residence of 2nd. Malaysian Prime Minister. Go to the 1st floor and you and the kids would be zapped back in time. Catch a glimpse of the Malaysian first family and what it is like to live with the technology of the 70s. Look out for the enormous black colored Jabatan Telekom telephones. Check out too the then trendy boxy television sets to gauge how far we have come from that to the flat screen LCD etc.

Muzium Negara -'The Granddaddy of Malaysian Museum' - 3 out of 5 stars
Admission - Yes (Adult – RM 2/ kids under age of 12 or wearing school uniform - free)

Why Kids Like It?

Renovation which began in 2006 is still on-going (May 2008). Gallery A and B (on ground floor) are closed. Visitors now have access only to Gallery C and D (on the first floor) and make you wonder why they still charge you for full RM2 admission.

Kids will love the new Gallery C. It now has delightful exhibitions and children can ‘board’ a Portuguese galleon attacking Melaka, pretends to be a British soldier guarding Fort Cornwallis.
There are also excellent exhibits on how rubber trees were tapped. Look out for the tapper mannequin and the container for mosquito coils at her sides.

The tin dredge model the size of Volvo is also a fun place for the kids to discover how the floating factory works.

Gallery D is rather disappointing. The vast hall is used to garnish the momentous leap this country supposedly have had made since Aug 31, 1957. But after visiting Galeri C, you are forgiven if think that the museum designer had suddenly lost its creativity in this final galeri. The displays despite the colorful variants and themes make you wonder if we were back to the Georgian style of museology.

Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia - 3 out 5 of stars
Admission - Yes

Why Kids Like It?

The museum boost world class collections with fascinating exhibits but it can be daunting for kids whose grasp for details last no longer than 5 seconds. For the true afficiendos, some of the collections were purportedly on loan from Sultan of Brunei and they are worth millions!

Kids however would love IAMM for its many interactive kiosks and try-on gadgetry which are important part of the learning process.

Parents may opt for the delicious Mediterranean restaurant housed in the same museum after the hefty tour.

Planetarium - 3 out of 5 stars
Admission - Yes

Why Kids Like It?

Take your kids to space and beyond! Despite its relatively small size (about the size of one and half basketball court) and a pricier ticket, the planetarium offer enough rocket and planetary exhibits. Just don’t expect Houston Control Central and you won’t be disappointed.

There are few interactive kiosks where children will have fun time experimenting. The ‘Space Walk’ tunnel and slide is a must for the kids.