Monday, April 27, 2009

Banda Kaba Joins Kampung Warisan

PERZIM head– Khamis Abas – hails as the Malacca conservation czar promptly went about his new business when he unveiled villagers in Banda Kaba and Bukit Cina as the state’s new recipient of Heritage Village status. (The Star, April17, 2009 – Two more villages to be gazetted).

These “special status” villages or Kampung Warisan, according to the GM of the museum board, are in line with the Chief Minister’s vision to enhance the development of Malacca as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The two villages – Banda Kaba and Bukit Cina - totaling some 280 families are two of the oldest settlements in the historic city. Once they are listed under the Malacca Conservation Enactment 1993, the villages join Kampung Morten, Kampung Chetti and Portuguese Settlement and Chinatown enclaves in Heeren Street and Jonker Walk to be accorded the special status.

Khamis is adamant that by enlisting the villages, it would go a long way to preserve the quaint kampong surrounding and the century old Malay attap houses. And this being Malacca, the move he adds would be a boon to tourist arrival in the areas.

This surprising turn of event may be the lifeline the residents in the affected areas are waiting for.

Because of its proximity to the town center, the population consisting of mostly wage earners and small petty traders has for decades lived without knowing when the juggernaut of development will strike their stilted homes next.

This previously peaceful racially mix settlement lost its earlier charm when public flats and other property projects made inroads into their neighborhood. In the pipeline, a condominium is set to cast its domineering shadow over Banda Kaba .

Those who lived their life here can vouch for what they see as a threat to the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood. Residents suffer unbearable ding from traffic jams and the narrow roads are choked with outstation vehicles.

However, the affected residents could face tougher headaches if they plan to renovate their homes under the new regime. The state is also unashamedly vague on this crucial matters because many of houses are weathered and battered, and in dire needs of repair.

Already the residents have been ‘advised’ that they must seek special permission from the City Hall and PERZIM for approval if they plan to uplift their homes. Like so many urban villages all over the world, their trouble is far from over yet. Sadly, the fate and the future of the affected villagers are in a limbo too.

In the end, they maybe just mere pawn in a bureaucratic nightmare created by the authority to juggle between conservation and money making ventures disguised as tourism.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hotel Projects a Threat to Malacca River.

The Malaccan authority is creating a property boom particularly in the hotel industry by leveraging on the River Beautification Project.

The ground breaking of the RM85 million Casa del Rio Hotel in February 2009 at a former godown site near the Malacca River marks the beginning of an ambitious but a foolhardy plan by the state to build similar riverfront accommodations.

Recently, the chief minister unfurled the scale of things to come when he announced that Plaza Inn Hotel, abandoned over the last decade, will take a new shape by Sept. 09 (NST Apr 3, 2009).

The state will spend some RM18 million to buy and renovate the 4-star white elephant near the demolished Central Market. According to the CM, Plaza Inn is one of the four new hotels in the pipeline to cater to visitors in the state but at what cost to Malacca River.

The beautification project completed in 2007 seems to have an upper hand in eradicating some of the earlier concerns about river pollution but the verdict is still far from over.
In my view the federal funded project has many flaws and struck a final nail to the coffin to link the river to Malacca's hey day as a powerful maritime state.

Instead of preserving the unique river barter trade, the authority deems it fit to stop Sumateran schooners and purple colored fishing trawlers from berthing at its banks. Unfortunately, at a stroke of pen, the soul of the river is forever lost.

If the state can have its way, parts of the river inside the historical enclave would soon be home to multi-level concrete structures. Needless to say, the hotels would pose serious threat to the authenticity of the Chinatown and the reason why millions come to see Malacca.

The Rio Hotel, with its Iberian fa├žade and other misnomer hotels are not just an eye sore but a mismatch attributes to preserve the historical enclave. The overall scheme also has a sickening similarity with the mistakes made in the colonial parts of Singapore River.

Soon, the hotels will open their doors, but their guests will see nothing of River’s vibrant past. Instead, what they will find is a mundane canal waterway with unimpressive sights of river life.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Aircraft Mishaps Not a Gamble Option in Macau.

With tourism arrivals skyrocketing in Asia’s most successful Casinoland, the Macau International Airport - Aeroporte Internacional de Macau has a pivotal role to ensure foreign visitors arrive safe and sound.
All flights at this former Portuguese enclave depend on the single elevated runway above the Pearl River Delta.

To undertake this precarious task of landing in Macau, only a selected breed of pilots can maneuver the runaway, and reputedly one of the narrowest airport runways in the world.

One false move and it is recipe for catastrophe.

But aircraft mishaps are far too great a risk to gamble even in Macau – which has some of the highest casinos per capita in the world.

Not wanting to take any chance, the airport has brought in three Rosenbauer state-of-the-art rescue and fire fighting vehicle in Nov. 2007.

In Oct. 08, I saw one of the Austrian-made vehicle- Unit #11 -parked at the runway edge from inside Air Asia A320. (main picture top above)

The performance spec. for the Rosenbauer Panther 6X6 is impressive. It can reach a top speed of 120km/h and cruising at that speed the fire truck could cover the entire length of the runway under the stipulated international response time of 3 minute or less. The CAT C-18 6 cylinders engine also gives enough power to hit 0-80km/h in 29 seconds.

Unit #12 - Photos courtesy of Melinda.
One of the vehicle (not sure which?) comes with a telesquirt or a long arm gadgetry to help fight fiery clash. The new generation fire truck has water and foam tanks carrying up to 12,500 litres and 1,500 litres respectively to help it take on missions successfully and make Macau Airport one of the safest too.

Damning Report On Malacca Old Town.

The popular National Geographic Traveler - NGT- magazine in its Nov/Dec 08 issue has decried at the over-development inside the Malacca’s historical enclave, and it cast a bleak future for this Malaysian historical gem.

In every corner of the historical town, tourism driven projects superseded conservation efforts and permanently marred the original cityscape. For too long now, the state exhibited a disturbing keenness to replace the town’s colorful past with artificial attractions in the forms of mechanical joy rides and flickering neon lights.

Hence, the unfavorable notion that the town has turned into a ‘Disneyland’ and commercialization has bred its ugly heads.

This alarming review by the widely circulated travel publication has inevitably thrown a spanner to the state tourism promotion plan. It is a critical wake up call for the state to revamp its approach to reap benefits from tourism and not to conjure an unsettling cocktail of happy hours with history.

The authority should also be mindful of the damages brought by these short sighted tourism projects to the historical enclave, and a theme park setting within the fragile environment is a sure way to dilute and threaten its unique features.

To rely on these man-made draw cards would only incur further wraths for damning Malacca’s historical legacy.

All stakeholders, from the Chief Minister to the lay men of the streets must acknowledge the extent of the damages caused by these overzealous attempts and take heed to arrest further the downgrading of Malacca Old Town.

A list of 109 historic places from over the world was compiled and rated in the NGT issue; Malacca was positioned at 98th. whilst Georgetown fared slightly better at 68th.

Below is the excerpt from NGT.

Malaysia: Old port of Malacca
Score: 50

"One of the most fascinating destinations in Asia. It is rich in history as a gateway into Asia for early Europeans. The old churches, China Town, and vernacular Malay houses are beautifully maintained."

"The major problem for Malacca is the incredible extent of the land reclamation that has taken place at the mouth of the historic river, now heavily developed with high-rise residential and commercial buildings. As a result, the historic connection between Malacca and the sea, which is fundamental to its significance, has been almost totally obscured."

"There is very little left in Malacca that is authentic. The city has been Disneyfied and commercialized to a degree that has to be seen to be believed."

"Landfill on the town side of the Straits has forever altered the historic connection with the Straits."

"You have to make an extra effort to find 'authentic' Malacca behind the very carefully manicured heritage facade."