Malacca tales


A two-day trip to Malacca proves to be an eye-opener. And a cruise along the Malacca River after dark reveals more than just the gaudy lights of the illuminated river banks.

When I arrived in Malacca last weekend for a two-day stay, residents there told me quite a bit about the city and its questionable spending on various projects. Mostly they centred on and around various modes of transport:

Upon disembarking from the express bus, my first impression of Malacca is that of the gleaming Melaka Sentral express bus and taxi terminal and bazaar in Peringgit. This looks much bigger and more futuristic than the Penang express bus terminal. In fact, its circular terminal reminds me of an airport terminal, buses parked all around it like spokes sticking out of from the central hub of a wheel. That initial positive impression evaporates when a friend informs me of roof leakages at the wet and dry market in the RM28 million complex, as reported in The Star. Not only that, leaking and clogged pipes and irregular lift and escalator operations plague the market area. Last June, the Council spent RM4 million on structural repairs.

Soon enough, I overhear rumblings about the new Malacca “International” Airport in Batu Berendam, some 150km from KL, which was officially opened earlier this year. Back in 2007, the new terminal opened but a host of problems still needed fixing: the extended 1,800m (formerly 1,362m) runway – under a RM135 mil refurbishment project launched in 2007 – could not be fully used because several obstructing trees had to be removed, as mentioned in a report on the website. It was also found that a nearby hypermarket warehouse reportedly exceeded the height limit.

An additional RM60mil had to be borrowed from the federal government to extend the runaway to 2,135m to allow Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 to land at the airport, according to the firefly website. The RM190 million airport was officially opened in May 2010 – but the problems haven’t ended.

Then, there’s the problem of refuelling. At present, refuelling facilities at this “international” airport only caters for smaller aircraft such as Fokkers. Now they are building fuel depot facilities in the hope of attracting larger aircraft. How much are they going to spend for all this, how many airlines are actually using the airport; how many passengers per day pass through the terminal?

The real question is, does Malacca really need an expanded airport, when KLIA and Changi are not far away? Discussion forums have labelled the airport as an “ego trip”. If that’s not enough of an ego trip, in March there was talk of Malacca setting up its own airlines! Apparently, the airport faces difficulty in attracting budget airlines, as reported in Kosmo. Expand the airport and then look for airlines?

To get away from it all, my friends in Malacca decide to show me the latest attraction in Malacca, which they have laughingly labelled “Paris by night”. The night boat cruise along the Malacca River is actually a good idea and, at RM10 per head, affordable to most visitors. The first thing you notice as you step into the wide boat at the jetty is the newest ‘toy’ in Malacca, the 24-seat monorail train at the Taman Rempah Station nearby. The 1.6km monorail track runs parallel along the banks of the river for a while and then twirls out of sight, heading to Kampung Bunga Raya Pantai in the heart of the city. The RM16 million monorail project was supposed to have been launched on 29 August but already, it has been delayed twice. The project is being carried out by the council, state subsidiary Kumpulan Melaka Berhad and Agibs Engineering & Construction Sdn Bhd.

The commentary over the speakers in the boat is in both Malay and English interspersed with Kenny G music. The smooth recorded male voices point out the illuminated kampung houses along the river bank, the former Cathay building and the shophouses with their river-side back-doors that have been converted to ‘front doors’. Then we pass by another ‘toy’, an amusement park where a ferris wheel spins and a ‘pirate ship’ swings back-and-forth like a rocking horse. This, we are proudly told, costs RM3.3 million. I gaze at the ferris wheel and something doesn’t seem quite right. It is spinning all right, but there’s no one inside the glass-topped capsules! My friends tell me no one was inside either the last time they took the cruise a month earlier.

Then we approach the historical St Francis Xavier Church, clearly visible along the banks, and my friends tell me to listen carefully. The recorded commentary falls eerily silent. Instead, the lilting strains of Kenny G on his sax waft through the boat. There’s nothing to tell passengers on the boat that they are passing by a major landmark – one of the oldest churches in the country – and most of them appear oblivious to it.

Similarly, no mention of Christ Church further down or even the red-walled Dutch-constructed Stadthuys, built in 1650, the most famous structure in Malacca, next to the ruins of A Famosa. These merit just a passing mention as the “kawasan menara jam”. So much for enlightening visitors about Malacca’s history.

Along the way and back, my friends cite other instances of questionable, even reckless, spending in Malacca. I get the picture – and it’s not pretty.

One big disappointment is that the sprawling green esplanade near St John’s Hill along the sea has disappeared. Instead, we now see two large malls facing each other near the miniature Dataran Pahlawan. Open green space, it would seem, is hard to come by in this heritage city.

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Phua Kai Lit
Phua Kai Lit
7 Sep 2010 9.10am

Dear Anil

In Japan, they have “public works” programmes to drain the public coffers.

In Malaysia, we have “beautification” programmes.

“Satu lagi projek Barisan Nasional”

2 Sep 2010 9.54pm

Are you sure there is a Malacca River cruise and not a Malacca Lake cruise? Ah, we too have a monumental Eyes Of Malaysia, monumental because it is there but NOT turning. As to why no explanation on St Francis Church, Stadhuys etc…… Ages ago we had a Sound & Light at Bandar Hilir,where the tourists especially the British, Dutch and the Portuguese had to pay to be scolded simply because they were the penjajah!

Karen Lee
Karen Lee
1 Sep 2010 12.52am

I am a Malaccan, Anil. The river cruise might seem impressive on the upfront. But try talking to fellow Malaccans living near the former Bailey bridge at Mata Kuching. They will tell you the stench of rotting fish in the river and how the river is now dead due to lack of oxygen and pollution. The authorities have dammed the river in order to have the water level high enough for the cruise boats to go thru. And whenever it rains heavily, their houses will face the threats of getting flooded. That’s why we are getting many incidences of flooding… Read more »

1 Sep 2010 12.06am

The Peon has done it all…the Peon way… It is like trying to win the best kampong concept..and Malacca would be tops in the kampong category no doubt…only problem is is supposed to be a city…alive on the weekends, courtesy of Singaporeans and KLites and dead on week days….Empty beachside (now highway side)condos and ghostly hotels on weekdays are testimony to this…it’s … eerie if ou ask me…no more charm..all that green save for the cemetery is all but gone.. And why the airport. The blinking city needs an efficient train service linking KL and Singapore…that’s it…but you dont… Read more »

1 Sep 2010 10.39am
Reply to  Jonathan

Looks like overdoing what’s supposed to be a Heritage jewel for Melaka. B’cos in the name of upgrading a city, any thing went even to the extent of damming a river. That must be Otak Keropok Udang! My quirky suggestions, since it is already quite dead on weekdays: 1) Get Cinderella and 7 Dwarfs to frolic around especially the ferris wheel, give it a wannabe Disneyland. 2) Put some piranhas in the river, they help clean up the dead fishes. Give it an Amazon feel. No guarantee for boat riders, thrills may up in skeletons. 3) Add in waves creating… Read more »

1 Sep 2010 3.42pm
Reply to  Anil Netto

Nevermind, they may just blast the existing pirate ship with nearby cannons. And gleefully budget for a new floating pirate ship for RM….millions more. See, more kang tau! Melaka contractors happy mah!

For those in the blur-blur or those who ‘shoot first’ before caring to know the actual meaning, kang tau in Hokkien literally means business opportunity (not the undertable type in actual meaning or metaphorically speaking) Slang is not applicable in my context.

31 Aug 2010 4.22pm


Please verify the report (I read it from Oriental Daily a few months ago) that the Melaka ‘International Airport’ only gets an average of 1 (yes, ONE) flight a week.

How can Airport Malaysia sustain the operation cost to maintain with such a ridiculously low flight frequency.

31 Aug 2010 9.52am

… its one big excuse for spending money. No wonder the Malacca CM is … such a big UMNO warlord.

31 Aug 2010 8.59am

“I was born a wanderer, I was born to roam, Malaysia is one big sad story that did’nt make me feel at home”

31 Aug 2010 2.25am

This is the intended video for your reading pleasures

Gerakan K
Gerakan K
31 Aug 2010 1.20am

Happy independent day for all !!!

I wish to say a big thankyou to leaders of UMNO, MCA and MIC for your hard work in making the Malaysia project successfully.

There is no Malaysia without UMNO, MCA, and MIC.

We, the people are grateful for your contribution and will support you now and forever.

31 Aug 2010 4.25pm
Reply to  Gerakan K

Gerakan K forgot to mention that UMNO, MCA, and MIC are bringing the nation downhill from now on.

Sang Kancil
Sang Kancil
5 Sep 2010 9.07am
Reply to  Gerakan K

Aiyah, this Gelakan K is a partisan parrot for UMNO.

30 Aug 2010 10.39pm

i’ve lamented over “progress” in malacca for years! so much land to build inwards but they choose reclamation of a once idyllic setting and making it into a cheap pasar malam debacle!

from my school, we once played on the grounds overlooking the straits, divided by a retaining wall with lapping waves and seeing sea snakes once in a while. Now it’s just a dusty road….sigh

30 Aug 2010 10.19pm

Did’nt I say before, these “master builders” if you give them a gold mine they will turn it into a ….mine!
Talking of Airports built inside the peninsular, the money spent will be better off, if they introduced bullet trains to replace the present outdated trains. Look at China today, bullet trains have given domestic airlines a run for their money…..

30 Aug 2010 9.28pm

Artificial cosmetics to the authentic historical landmarks of Melaka.
Churches with no names? Why don’t they play: ‘Silence Is Golden” sang by Rick West, that should be more fitting!
Wonder how UNESCO will evaluate its continuity as a Heritage site!

Penang Gomen, please do not follow the Melaka’s Heritage Trails Less Travelled!!!
(unless Penang is foolish to relinquish its Heritage status)