As a little boy in primary school I loved the geography lessons. The world opened itself to me. We also learned about our then recently lost colony, the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia and the peninsula next to it, called Malakka, now Malaysia. At secondary school my English teacher, mr Vonk, was born and bred in our East Indies and we, as young as we were, felt that he'd rather stayed there and that he didn't belong in the cold and wet low lands. He was a nice man and there was nothing in his name or outer appearance that betrayed his origin but for the words he now and then used, he sometimes spoke Malay. That was the language of his former homeland.
While walking around here in historic Melaka it is not hard to realize this. The Dutch have ruled this place for a good 130 years, till they had to leave it to the British when Napoleon conquered the Netherlands. The Dutch, that is the VOC (United East Indies Company), had taken it over from the Portuguese, who landed here as early as 1512, subjugated the sultanate and founded their trading post and fortified it and thus founded the city of Melaka.
There is a historic walk to be made here, the Dutch heritage walk and it goes through streets with names as Heeren street and Jonker street. This part of town is a Unesco world heritage site. The Chinese shophouses appear to be built by the Dutch colonizers, and they continued on the patterns made by the Portuguese. They deserve the adjective Chinese only because they have been used by Chinese traders for the last couple of centuries.
The whole heritage quarter with the Dutch street names is now a complete Chinese quarter. The Malay and Indian people live in other quarters. We happened to arrive here on the eve of the Chinese New Year. And for them this is the new year, not that of the rest of the world. There is a 4-day holiday and it looked as if all Malay and Singapore Chinese had come to Melaka. The streets were overcrowded, you could walk over the heads. People went to the temples, of which there are some, and worshipped in masses. Clouds of incense over the streets. At midnight big fireworks were set off, there was a dragon dance and the crowds kept on coming. They walked the streets, visited the stalls where food, trinkets and all kinds of new-year-stuff (red!) was sold. The festivities lasted for 4 days, exactly the days we were there. We were glad when it was over and there was some quiet again, but also glad that we were part of it.
Our arrival here was not so pleasant. We had an appointment in a guesthouse, that was also a Warmshowers member. To make a long story short, it appeared to be a place that was old, not very well maintained,chaotic, unclean, delapidated. The owner was nice and friendly, but we didn't feel well there and we spent a whole day trying to find alternative accommodation. Which was hard, since all the Chinese had come to Melakka for the New Year and there was nothing free. At last we managed to find a simple, but clean and tidy place right next to the Chinese quarter. But a stressful first 24 hours.
The Dutch Square with the Stadthuys in the background.
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