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 skyscrapercity.com 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.