Travelling Is Life

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page

Travelling Is Beginning

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step

Travelling Is Involvement

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles

Travelling Is Exploring

Tourists don’t know where they have been, travellers don’t know where they are going

Travelling Is Observation

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things

Monday, January 16, 2012

Melaka Diary # 6 : Enthralling MAP Festival

Write something on a ping pong ball and tie it into this wish-tree
A scene from one of the performances on first day of the festival
‘So, you are here for the festival?’ This was the first question Raymond had asked me after filling in my personal details in guest logbook of Riverview Guesthouse in Melaka.

‘What! What festival are you talking about? Is there a festival going on in here?’ I asked Raymond. I was both confused and curious at the same time.

‘The Melakan Art and Performance Festival, of course! So, you are not aware of it,’ Raymond replied. He seemed to guess by now that it had just been a coincidence that I was there on a day when MAP (as this festival is popularly known) was going to start.

Raymond handed me a set of keys and said, ‘So, Ajay, you are staying in a three-bed dormitory and going to share it with two ladies. I think they are going to this festival. Just ask if you can accompany them.’ With this, Raymond also handed me a brochure about MAP festival and a printout of map of Melaka, and started telling me about places and streets pointing them on the map itself.

Raymond was owner of the guesthouse and was first of the nice, humble and welcoming persons I met just after reaching Melaka. Of course, I was going to meet many more on my very first day there. I met Yuko just afterwards…Yuko Kuramochi from Japan. She was getting ready to go out when I entered the room. We introduced ourselves to each other. She asked me if it was for the first time that I was in Melaka. I replied in affirmation. She had been there for many days and just loved the place. She told me that our other room-mate was Sarah Davis from Britain. It was a pleasant co-incidence that all three of us had said good-bye to our respective jobs and were out to explore life (Sarah told me the next day how travelling around the world had transformed her as an individual).

‘There is going to be a festival in Melaka from today. The opening is at 6 pm and the first show will be at 8 pm. Do you wish to watch it? If yes, you can come with me. Sarah must be there already,’ Yuko said candidly. It was already 5 pm. I was already enthusiastic, so I said yes; and within 20 minutes of our conversation we were walking down towards venue- the church at St. Paul’s Hill.

The sun had started setting beyond Melaka Strait when we reached A’Famosa fort which is situated at the foot of the hill. We were to climb up the stairs to be at the venue. On the way up, Yuko indicated towards Dutch graveyard. It is the place where many of the officials of Dutch ancestry lay rested. When we reached at the church, the formal inauguration of MAP was over, and organizers were having tea and snacks (It was there I tasted Baba-Nyonya dish Ondeh Ondeh for first time). The first day performances were to start at 8 PM. So, we had good two hours, and it was a good chance to meet and interact with people over there.
Yuko Kuramochi with two of the volunteers for MAP festival. They were supporting a local youth cause by painting their faces.
It was a colourful mood there. I was amazed to see a bunch of young fellows with painted faces. Were they a part of some performance that day? No… I was told. Those fellows were volunteering for the festival; and apart from that, they were supporting a movement in Melaka and thus had painted their faces to show solidarity with its participants. That sounded really great.

Yuko introduced me to Sarah, and Sarah in turn introduced me to two other persons. It was lovely to know all of them. From the conversation that ensued I came to know that annual MAP festival was two years old and it was being organized for third time in a row. It was an effort by Melaka Tourism that has bore fruit in form of success of this festival. The festival gives a common platform to various leading artistes from Malaysia, Australia and other countries to showcase their talent. And audience comes from as far as Singapore, apart from Kuala Lumpur and various states of Malaysia.
Another performance on first day of the MAP festival
A performer on second day of the festival
The festival started on time; we were seated on carpets inside the now-abandoned church. And within few minutes of the start, I had known why Raymond was particularly asking me about it and why Yuko was sounding so enthusiastic while mentioning it. Everything was superb and technologically equipped. Great themes, stellar performances and great play of lights and sounds! I was so spell-bound at times that I forgot to click photos. General theme for this year’s festival was ‘transformation’. A special thing about this festival is that it draws its themes from Melakan history and tradition.

So enchanting were the first day performances that I decided to go there on all three days; and I did go. Second day was equally plausible. Though, on third day it had been raining since afternoon, so the start was considerably delayed. The performances did take place after the rain stopped, but I had to miss it as I was to board a bus for Kuala Lumpur airport at 12 in night. I also missed another important part of the festival i.e. the films, which are screened everyday of the festival at different venues in Melaka.

Text and Photos by Ajay Garg

Friday, January 06, 2012

Melaka Diary # 5 : Babas and Nyonyas

The exterior of Baba Nyonya Museum situated in Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lok
They have been the wealthiest of Melaka people. They make some of the most delicious dishes, especially cakes, in Malaysia. They have a unique cultural heritage and biological lineage. They can be of utmost interest to a geneticist. They can offer a prefect glimpse of the benefits cross-marriages can bring about in enhancement of characteristics. They are Straits-born Chinese. They are Baba Nyonyas. Baba is male and Nyonya is female.

There were times in Melaka, when various cultures and ethnicities not merely co-existed like these do today, but also intermingled more frequently. This intermingling has resulted in new cultures and communities in past. The most prominent of these is Baba Nyonya culture. Baba Nyonyas are descendants of early Chinese males and Malay females. Well, the story goes back to fifteenth century, when a Chinese princess came to marry Sultan of Melaka. With her came a group of 500 Chinese men. These men were settled by Sultan in the area known as Bukit China (literally, China Hill) today. Many of these Chinese men married local female, resulting in a combination of two cultures, known as the Straits Chinese culture or Peranakan culture (Peranakan is a Malay word meaning ‘born here’).
I had read about them before going to Melaka, and so, had formed an image of theirs in my mind. Naturally, my eyes were wandering around to pinpoint a Baba or a Nyonya in the crowds around me when I reached there (though it was difficult, at least for a person who had never seen a Baba Nyonya before). And then I found them the next day- in Jonker Street where they had put up their stalls and were selling their famous cakes there.
An aesthetically decorated courtyard of a Baba Nyonya house
The Baba Nyonyas are known for a unique blend of Chinese and Malay customs. Even their language is a mixture of Chinese and Malay, and is known as Baba Malay. As far as their dressing is concerned, they adopted Malay attire called Baju, and embroidered it with Chinese motifs. The females of this community love to wear intricately crafted jewellery, mostly made of silver and beads. The uniqueness of their fanciful jewellery lies in the fact that it is blended with Malay, Chinese, Arabic and Indian designs.

The Baba Nyonyas have a passion for food. Their hot and spicy cuisine includes Otak-Otak, Laksa and Mee Siam. If you happen to have a dish prepared by Nyonyas, don’t be surprised by the generous amounts of spices, chilly, Shrimp paste and coconut milk. One of the common dishes is Ikan Masam. It is chicken or fish cooked in aromatic spices.

If I go on talking about the spicy Nyonya food I will not be justified, as they make some of the most irresistible cakes. These cakes are sticky to eat and their primary ingredient is rice. I happened to eat one on the day of my arrival in Melaka. It was called Ondeh Ondeh. So delicious it was that I went on to have it on all three days of my stay there. Though, I also tried other varieties. One of them was Nyonya Popiah and other one was Kuih Tapioca.

As I mentioned earlier, Peranakans have been one of the wealthiest people of Melaka. The houses they built speak for it. In the next street to Jonker Street- which street is named as Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lok- you will find majestic two-storey houses. These houses belong to Peranakan families. In these houses, you will find an influence of Victorian culture, along with Southern Chinese and Malay ones. The Victorian influence is much evident in their furniture, window panels and portraits of their ancestors on the walls- all of these indicating a wealthy status and lifestyle of the owners. Locals are not wrong when they call the street as Millionaire’s Row.
A Baba Nyonya house. Interiors speak of wealthy lifestyle of its owners
If you wish to peep into one of these houses, you can do so at a price of RM 10. One of these houses has been converted into a private museum. It is called Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum. Once of buy the ticket, you will be taken around inside the house by a well-informed guide. She will explain to you the lifestyle of Baba Nyonyas. You will be amazed to see costly black-wood furniture painted with Chinese ominous scenes and inlaid with marble and mother-of-pearl in exquisitely designed rooms. Beautifully designed courtyards, indoor gardens, fabulous attires, intricate latticework on ceilings, colourful murals on walls, carved fittings, enviable collection of antiques and variety in cutlery according to occasions will surely leave you awe-struck.

A visit to such a marvellous house-cum-museum was indeed a rewarding experience for me. It is open from 10 am to 4 pm with a break of one hour from 1 pm to 2 pm. Photography is not allowed once you are inside. So, what I could capture with my camera was only the exterior of this museum. Though, one part of this house is turned into a cafĂ©. If one wants to, one can click pictures there. 

Text and Photos by Ajay Garg

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Melaka Diary # 4 : A Holy Confluence

Kampung Kling mosque. Its architecture is based on Sumatran Hindu temples
It can be a heartening observation that the oldest places of worship in Malaysia for various faiths and religions are in Melaka only. Be it Chinese temple, Hindu temple, mosque or churches. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it!!! This underlines the fact that Melaka is the place where the present Malaysian state originated. And what’s more interesting is that one will not find anywhere in the world a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque and a Buddhist temple in same street. Well, Melaka can boast of this. The street is aptly named as Harmony Street, where Cheng Hoon Teng temple, Kampung Kling mosque and Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi temple have stood side-by-side for centuries. This street lies between Jalan Tokong and Jalan Tukang Emas. In Malay language, jalan is a synonym for street.

Christ Church at Town Square was built during the Dutch colonial rule
Let us talk about churches first. Historically, the first Christians in Malaysia arrived in Melaka in circa 1511 from Portugal. The first church in Melaka was built in 1521 on Saint Paul’s Hill. Originally named as Our Lady of the Hill by Portuguese, it was known as St. Paul’s Church during Dutch times. It is in ruins now, and is not used by Portuguese community of Melaka. Instead, they use St. Peter’s Church as their parish church. It is the oldest Roman Catholic church of Malaysia. It was built during Dutch rule in circa 1710 and combines various elements of Eastern and Western architecture.

Another one is Christ Church. Housed in a bright red coloured building at Town Square, this church was also built during Dutch rule in 1753 and is an exquisite example of Dutch architecture. The unique features of this church are its hand-made pews and ceiling beams constructed without a single joint. It is the oldest Protestant church in Malaysia and still used by Anglican community living in Melaka. After you are inside, you will have to store the interior in hard-disc of your brain only as photography is not allowed inside.

The offering altar, just inside the main gate of Cheng Hoon Teng temple
The oldest Chinese temple in the country is also in Melaka and called Cheng Hoon Teng Temple. This was built in 1646, and is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy. The design and the figurines placed inside the temple are enough to leave you awe-struck. Well, you can always click your cameras here, and also, there is no need to remove your shoes outside.

Inside the mosque.... On the upper right side is the Victorian chandelier
Nearby the Chinese temple, there is the oldest mosque in Malaysia, called as Kampung Kling mosque. An interesting aspect of this mosque is that it is based on Hindu Sumatran architecture. Design of this mosque is pagoda-like, its roof is pyramid shaped and its minarets are Moorish-styled. There hangs a Victorian-style chandelier in the main prayer hall.

The oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia is also finds its home in Melaka. It is called Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple which was built in 1781. The temple is dedicated to Lord Ganesha, and is run by local Chitty and Chettiar communities. This temple features elements of South-Indian architecture such as minarets and eaves.

Text and Photos by Ajay Garg

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