MELAKA, 1956. Three children in school uniforms sit and kneel on the floor. In front of them is a small stream but I’m not sure whether the water is flowing or stagnant.
One of them splashes water in the direction of a paper boat to make it move. Her friend sings a song about a paper boat while the third looks attentively at her.
The best of friends, they are Malay girl Melia, Chetty girl Kashvi and Chinese boy Lak. Young they may be but they understand the excitement and joy that permeate the air.
The country will achieve its independence the following year on Aug 31, as announced by Tunku Abdul Rahman at Padang Bandar Hilir (now Pahlawan Square).
I can’t remember what the paper boat song is about but I can remember feeling uplifted and excited as the song unfolds.
TASTE OF MELAKA
That is the opening act for Rasa Melaka, a 60-minute musical staged nightly at Panggung Bangsawan Melaka, the old Cathay Cinema that sits at the horse-shoe bend of Sungai Melaka.
The three-act play tells the stories of the three friends as they go through the three chapters — 1971, 1990 and 2008 — that have significant events to them and to the country.
The children grow up, get married and have children of their own, while the country prospers and manufactures its own car. Finally, Melaka attains the coveted Unesco World Heritage Site title. It has a simple storyline but it is a history lesson told in an entertaining and refreshing way.
Not a big fan of a musical play, I earlier thought that I would doze off. But I was wrong. The cast, songs, choreography and the stage draw me in the moment the lights come on.
I love the cast. They’re relatable, believable and most importantly, they can sing and dance!
Though the songs are new to me, they get my attention as they’re catchy and informative at the same time.
But what I love most is the stage. There’s an actual stream cutting across the stage and a curtain that showers ‘rain’ into the stream. That is just brilliant.
The scene I love most is when the best friends, in their old age, reminisce their childhood by singing favourite folk songs like Can Mali Can, Lenggang Kangkung and Nona Nona Zaman Sekarang.
WALK THE SONGS
But the musical is just the beginning of our night in Melaka. Still feeling the upbeat tempo from the folk songs, we meet Shaukani Abbas, the president of Friends of the Melaka Museum, outside the theatre.
“You’ll see how the songs from the musical come alive before your eyes,” says Shaukani as he introduces his colleague Eddie Chuah, who will be taking us for the Night Walk.
Since it’s almost 10pm, Eddie won’t take us through the standard routes of the Melaka After Dark Night Walk tours.
There are two routes: one covers the residential and commercial area while the other goes along Sungai Melaka.
“We have the highlights from both routes and I hope to send you back to your hotel before midnight,” he adds.
Our walk starts from a jetty near Tun Fatimah Riverside Hotel, where we are staying. It’s located right opposite Panggung Bangsawan Melaka, and along the riverbank heading towards Jonker Street.
Not wasting time, Eddie starts the walk by introducing Sungai Melaka, before its rehabilitation and beautification project in 2011 and how it is now.
He builds up his story that evolves from ancient Melaka as we move along the river to Jambatan Pasar, built in 1885 to link Kampung Hulu and a market.
By the time we walk across the bridge, Eddie is in his element.
History was not my favourite subject but if I had Eddie as my history teacher, I might have taken this subject seriously.
From Jambatan Pasar, we head on to “Ghost Bridge”. Its official name is Jambatan Kampung Jawa but got that interesting nickname during the Japanese Occupation.
Up to this point, I get all excited to hear ghost stories from Eddie. “I’ll save that for last, OK?,” he replies, to which I can’t contain my excitement. At every sight of dilapidated buildings, I wait with bated breath.
Two bridges later, we reach the starting point of the renowned Jonker Street Night Market. The blaring sounds and bright lights from the night market are quite unbearable. Not to mention the Saturday-night crowd.
Thankfully, Eddie walks along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock that turns into Heeren Street.
“I have to show you this building. It’s very important,” he says.
Fifteen minutes later, after a few stops along the way, Eddie stops in front of a house. The street light is dimmed and there’s no light at the house’s five-foot way.
“This is it. This is the very house where Tunku Abdul Rahman had that important meeting which led to the country’s independence,” he says.
No. 111 is the ancestral house of Tun Tan Cheng Lock, one of the key persons negotiating independence from the British.
“Okay, now. Let’s look for Melaka’s famous naked ghost,” Eddie says.
Suddenly, lightning flashes across the night sky. And it’s less than 10 minutes to midnight.
Eddie takes us through narrow and quiet lanes, away from the chaotic Jonker Street Night Market. I can smell humidity in the air.
“It’s going to rain,” I announce but Eddie is in no hurry.
Almost every corner or door along our path seems to have interesting stories. And he doesn’t stop telling us these stories. My curiosity intensifies.
At Jalan Kuli, he says: “Those days, parents trying to prevent their children from going out at night would scare them with stories of roaming naked ghosts.”
Ghost they were not. They were actually coolies who bathed in the public well since their houses had no bathroom.
So, there we are standing at the last remaining well that is now covered with a thick transparent glass with a mural of a coolie bathing with his friend waiting in line.
Eddie glances at his watch and says: “Ah, it’s midnight. We better make our move.”
As we head out to the main road, it starts to pour.
WHERE STARS DON’T MATTER
IT may not be famous like the other big star-rated hotels in the city but Tun Fatimah Riverside Hotel Malacca has its charms.
Sitting at the horse-shoe bend of Sungai Melaka at Jalan Munshi Abdullah, the three-star hotel has the advantage of offering a river-view in all its rooms.
Rooms on one side of the building get the downstream view of the river with a spread of terracotta roofed of old city Melaka.
Meanwhile, rooms on the other side have the upstream view, with a more modern Melaka spreading to as far as the eyes can see.
Views aside, the rooms are surprisingly well furnished. There’s plush carpet, crisp bedding and good in-room amenities.
My superior king room is comparable to any of the five-star hotel room sans the luxurious frills.
Though I don’t get to try much of its food, the breakfast spread at its one and only restaurant is enough for me to concur with Eddie Chuah from Friends of the Melaka Museum that the hotel serves the best Malay food in the city.
Tun Fatimah Riverside Hotel Malacca
No 2, Jalan Munshi Abdullah
TEL 06-289 7888
STAY The three-star hotel offers two room categories — superior twin room and superior king room. The rooms are tastefully furnished and equipped that you may just forget that you have checked into a three-star hotel.
EAT Only one outlet. Its river-front restaurant is said to serve the best Malay food in the city.
DO Nothing much to do in the hotel but hey, why stay indoor when you have a Unesco World Heritage Site right at your doorstep.
GO Take a walk along Sungai Melaka and wander around the alleys in the old Melaka, or play tourist and hop onto the Sungai Melaka river cruise before continuing your tour on a beca.
HIGHS Good location, good food and warm hospitality
LOWS Parking may be a hassle when the hotel is fully booked.
Panggung Bangsawan Melaka
20, Jalan Munshi Abdullah
TEL 06-2811666, 014-3562811
HOURS 8pm (Mondays to Sundays), 3.30pm (Fridays to Sundays)
PAY RM68 (Malaysian adult), RM48 (concession for Malaysian students, senior citizens and handcipped) and RM88 (non-Malaysian). MERDEKA PROMO: Buy 2 Free 1 available from now till Aug 31.
MELAKA AFTER DARK NIGHT WALKS
Friends of the Malacca Museum
Kompleks Warisan Melaka
TEL 012-612 0618 (Shaukani Abbas)
HOURS 7.45pm on Tuesdays (Night Walk 1) and Thursdays (Night Walk 2). Walks end around 10pm. Pre-booked walk for groups (with a maximum of 10 in a group) can be held on any day from Mondays to Sundays.
PAY RM30 per person
NIGHT WALK 1 — The walk focuses on historical residential places and commercial zone at the Unesco World Heritage Site. This route includes more than 600 shophouses, commercial and residential buildings, religious buildings and tombs.
NIGHT WALK 2 — The walk goes along Sungai Melaka from the meeting point at Tourist Information Centre at Jalan Kota towards Padang Niru, Jalan Gereja, Dutch Square, St Paul Hill, Porta de Santiago, Memorial of Independence and Flo de Lamar.