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.