Where It All Began


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, February 15, 2005 was originally posted on February 19, 2005.

DAY 486:  “Visit Historic Melaka means Visit Malaysia,” says one of the tourism slogans for the former capital of Malaysia.  As another tourism slogan goes, Melaka is “Where It All Began.”

BEFORE MY TIME IN MELAKA BEGAN, I had to get there from K.L., which was an easy task since there were two or three buses leaving every hour from the main bus station.  I rode the two and a half hours in style in an inexpensive but spacious air-conditioned coach with reclining chairs that I pretty much had all to myself.  (There were only two people on the bus.)  I checked into the Let’s Go-recommended Travellers Inn in the Taman Melaka Raya district, which was truthfully a great find; a nice Muslim family-run place with a friendly staff, a roof garden, a Japanese-style sitting lounge, nightly movies, and a clean room for only 18 ringgit (about $4.75 USD) per night.  It was within walking distance of the historical core of the city, a city which was no where near as big as K.L. — it was more like a big modern American suburb, with a commercial downtown area and a mall nearby.

BEFORE THE MODERN ERA, MELAKA WAS “WHERE IT ALL BEGAN,” and its roots started growing when a Sumatran prince named Paremaswara was exiled from his home and landed in what would later evolve into the Melaka empire.  In 1400, he founded the port in a region of orang-orang or “straits people,” Malay fishing villagers who lived along the coasts of the strait between Malay Peninsula and Sumatra (now known today as the Strait of Melaka).  News of Melaka spread and soon Paremaswara wooed the Chinese with goods, which the Chinese embraced and found worth reciprocating.  Relations with the Chinese were a good and profitable one for many generations, and a new “race” evolved, the Peranakan, or Chinese Malays.  Also, it was around this time that Islam was spreading, which Arab traders introduced to Melaka.  Ultimately the Melaka empire embraced Islam and expanded to most of the Malay Peninsula and over half of Sumatra as a Muslim civilization — although many foreign traders like the Chinese and Indians kept their own religions.

So everything was AOK in Melaka — until the inevitable arrival of the Europeans having their “Age of Exploration,” which began when some European guy woke up and said, “Let’s go have an Age of Exploration” before going to the bathroom like many guys do in the morning after waking up.  It was the Portuguese who managed to arrive first in Melaka with their European things in the Flora del Mar — the real old one, not the replica at the Maritime Museum —  and they soon settled in with their baggage and Western weapons, built the A’ Famosa fort and Christian churches like Nosa Senhora (Our Lady of the Hill) atop a hill, and cooked a lot of yummy seafood.  Melaka became an important port for trade for the Portuguese during a time when all the other European nations were scrambling for ports in Asia.  The next chapter in Melaka’s history should come as no surprise; after some bloodshed, the Portuguese lost Melaka to the Dutch, who probably beat them to death with wooden shoes whilst they were inebriated on sangria.  The Dutch took over and began their era, renaming the Portuguese Nosa Senhosa church to St. Paul’s Church in the process.  At least the Portuguese still had Macau for a trading port in Asia.

AND SO, THE DUTCH ERA BEGAN.  Walking around Melaka, I saw that the mark of the Dutch still remains, from the Amsterdam canal-looking Melaka River, to the Heineken signs on buildings.  The Dutch constructed many of Melaka’s current tourist sites, like the central and iconic 18th century Christ Church (picture above) and Clock Tower, both across the street from the Stadthuys, the “statehouse” where the Dutch governor lived, now a history museum where most of the historical research for this entry was done.  It was also an exhibition of the different types of people that had lived in Melaka, from the Malays to the Peranakan (Chinese Malays), to the Chitty people, Indian traders with Malay wives and their offspring.

The Dutch era only lasted so long.  It was around this time in the late 18th century that a famous, but now outdated saying began, “The sun never sets in the British Empire.”  The Brits were forcibly settling ports halfway around the world from home base, from Penang to Hong Kong, and in some trade agreement that didn’t involve bloodshed, the Dutch simply handed Melaka over to the English.  Union Jack was hoisted on flagpoles and the long era of British rule began.  The Brits were a bit boorish in their settlement; instead of renaming the former Portuguese church-turned-Dutch church on the hill for their own religious use, they used it as a armory for weapons and even obstructed its front facade with a lighthouse

DURING THE CENTURIES OF EUROPEAN COLONIAL RULE, the original Melakan settlers of Paremaswara continued to strive, living under the oppression of white guys from Europe.  The Chinese still had a major presence in Melaka — in fact, the largest Chinese cemetery outside of China was in town — and Chinatown still remained very Chinese with its Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia today.  The other groups were also represented in this non-European dominated area, including the Hindus with their Sri Poyyatha Venayager Moorthi temple, and the Muslims and their Masjid Kampung Hulu and Kampung Kling mosques, which were designed and built with the multi-cultural influence of the past.  I wandered to these Old Melaka temples on foot, reverting to a time of Melaka’s pre-colonial past, which was still pretty behind in one respect: when I went to get cash at an ATM to pay for my traditional Nyonya lunch of Chinese- and Malay-fused food at family-run Jonkers Melaka, the machine only took cards on the Visa network and I had to go to modern Melaka to withdraw from my MasterCard/Cirrus Citibank card.

Anyway, the original people of Melaka soon got fed up with colonial rule and there were many violent uprisings against the British.  The British oppressed them of course with their guns, but were no match for the coming of the Japanese invasion of WWII.  The Brits were out and the Japanese were in from 1942-1945, but the original Malaysians hung in there and formed the United Malay National Organization.  When the Japanese left and Britain tried to come back, Malay nationalism was strong, and in 1957 the Federation of Malaya that unified the peninsula (including what later became Singapore) was born.  That didn’t hold though with the clash of different opinions.  Ethnic riots began on top of the violence from Communist insurgents who tried to take over.  It wasn’t until 1963 that “Malaysia” was finally formed as an independent country with support of the U.K. in a moving ceremony at what later became known as Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur

THE ENTIRE ROCKY HISTORY OF MALAYSIA was reiterated to me again that night in a “Light and Sound Spectacular” in the center of town, which I thought might be on par with the one at the pyramids in Giza, Egypt but turned out to be extremely lame.  Basically, I sat in a seat in an big amphitheater built for two hundred more people than the amount that actually showed up and watched different buildings simply light up as an 45-minute audio history presentation with sound effects played on a speaker.  I should have just spent the night looking at the nighttime sky from the Travellers Inn roof deck.

As I walked back to the guesthouse that night I noticed that plans for a huge resort complex (with roller coaster) in the center of town were well under way.  And so, I recalled the one thing that I did get out of the “Light and Sound Spectacular,” the quote, “Times change.  History goes on.”  History does go on in Malaysia, but it all began in a place called Melaka.  As long as “Visit Historic Melaka means Visit Malaysia,” Melaka will always preserve the story Malaysia’s history.  Now if only Old Melaka could be on the Cirrus/MasterCard network…


Next entry: The Freeloaders

Previous entry: In-Flight Entertainment

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Comments for “Where It All Began”

  • GREETINGS FROM SINGAPORE!  I’m still behind a couple of days.  I hope to catch up some more before I leave for Indonesia tonight…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/19  at  02:16 AM

  • Man, you and your detailed history… sounds like fun, though. Looks like an incredible mish-mash of culture and colonialism!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/19  at  02:51 AM

  • NOELLE:  Yeah, Melaka is the “Numb/Encore” of SE Asia…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/19  at  03:02 AM

  • HEATHER F:  Hey, thanks for the donation!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/19  at  06:16 AM

  • what do you mean by “Numb/Encore”?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/19  at  02:13 PM

  • Man, Visa should sponsor you.  There have been sooo many times where MC wouldn’t work!

    Posted by Liz  on  02/19  at  03:00 PM

  • SCOTT:  “Numb/Encore” = the Linkin Park/Jay-Z “music mash” song that I’ve heard EVERYWHERE throughout SE Asia…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/19  at  03:47 PM

  • LIZ / VISA EXECS:  Visa.  It’s everywhere you want to be.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/19  at  03:49 PM


    ACTVers… Henri’s doing real good; he just picked me up at the airport…  I’m using the PowerBook he bought when he was still in NYC…  but not for long… it’s TEKKEN TIME!

    “You’re so dead, man!”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/19  at  03:52 PM

  • This is the 2nd last WHMMR before 503.

    The reality of WWB (work without blog) is starting to set in.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/20  at  02:20 PM

  • SORRY I’M BEHIND… about four days and two countries…  Tomorrow is to be a catch up day…  Stay tuned!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/20  at  02:29 PM

  • 16 months! You’ve done it Erik! Congratz!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/20  at  03:32 PM

  • ALYSON:  Whoa.  How did you find that?  They’re syndicating my column without letting me know?  I suppose that’s the ultimate flattery.

    Really, how did you come across that?  I had nothing to do with that.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/20  at  09:55 PM

  • Speaking of repurposing The Blog, ERIK vK (“The Other Erik”) tells me that my blog was once the highest rated stock on Blogshares.com—all the shares have been sold and I’m currently valued at $642.87/share.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/20  at  10:07 PM

  • Erik,
    FYI - news for today is that Hunter S. Thompson gonzo journalist shot himself yesterday in his home in Colorado.  As a fellow journalist (and slightly gonzo yourself) I thought you might want to know!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/21  at  12:36 AM

  • you’re here too, don’t know if you knew:

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/21  at  01:14 AM

  • BILL:  Wow, another one…

    How many places is the TGT2 Blog being syndicated?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/21  at  01:42 AM

  • Another SBR here who got hooked sometime last year and then had to go back and read all the earlier entries.  No hardship there!  I am now finally caught up. 
    You truly have a talent for presenting places and stories in an interesting light.  Funny, adventurous, and you take a mean picture too.  How you manage to recall the conversations you have word for word is beyond me.  Come on admit it, you have a small, hidden recorder to help you.

    Can’t believe that it’s less than a month to the end.  Keep writing and be safe.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/21  at  02:06 AM

  • ROZA:  Says Budi (Krabi), after he discovered The Blog, “Oh, so THAT’s why you keep on jotting stuff down.”

    Whenever I don’t have a quote verbatim is when you see the [] that give the gist of the sentence anyway.  For the most part, I am constantly listening for soundbytes and write them as soon as I hear them.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/21  at  03:17 AM

  • Erik: i decided to search and see if anyone had “the global trip” in their interests, and checked to see if anyone had that user name. there’s only 1 reader (other than me) of that feed, so maybe the one reader put the feed up.

    Posted by Alyson  on  02/21  at  04:58 AM

  • damn those sponsor people at visa. i had sent them that sponsor request letter months ago and they never replied back. but keep on plugging their card, cause you never know when they could finally tuned in to tgt.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/21  at  03:30 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
The Freeloaders

Previous entry:
In-Flight Entertainment


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