Digging into the Jonker’s Heritage in Malaysia

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This is the first post about Malaysia. And among the many places I have written about thus far, this is a place both geographically and sentimentally closest to Home.

Malacca/Melaka was the fountain-head of the Malay Sultanates in Malaysia but as chance would have it, the man at the helm of the state today is the Governor (“Yang di-Pertua Negeri“) rather than a Muslim sovereign.

Dotted across the city-state today are many colonial buildings left behind by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. There were the A Famosa fortress. the Stadhuys city hall, the convent schools and the churches.  But the highlight of the Melaka history to me is the influx of the Chinese immigrants from the 15th through the 17th century. Their escape from the economic hardship in China resulted in the unique Sino-Malay cultures that shape the identity of Melaka today. The Peranakan or the Baba-Nonya (Baba for the men and Nonya for the women)  are Chinese descendants who wedded the local and adopted a huge part of the Nusantara customs. 

Jonker Street used to be the chinatown of Melaka where wealthy Peranakan lived and carried out their business activities. Heritage houses flanked the road but dive deeper and you would realise that it is more than a street, but a network of cultural channels that cross and interconnect one another like how different cinematic plots are weaved to become a timeless story. 

Tilt your desktop screen forward and you’d get a clearer picture of the inside of the house above. On the left of its door hung pairs and pairs of colourful terompoh shoes heavy with a Dutch influence.

There are antique dealers, chinese temples and souvenir stalls. There are also boutiques where you could find witty T-shirts, as well as a fascinating range of jewellery and textiles. Food shops selling different types of local product are abundant, from blocks of palm sugar (“gula melaka”) to bottles of shrimp paste and toffee-like treats (“dodol“) to prepacked seasonings. I grinned a little seeing traditional toys like wooden pistol and hand catapult that my grandmother used to buy me. They weren’t as exciting as games on iPad but at least there were real, tangible and whirred imagination. 

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Traditional Peranakan costume fridge magnet.

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A curious tourist.

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A cobbler!

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Walls decorated with festive Chinese paper-cuttings and spring couplets.

My favourite place for lunch will always be Jonker 88, one of those gems where you could find me slurping noisily from a large laksa bowl and topping up my filled to the brim stomach with durian cendol… all amidst a hungry crowd inside of an old Chinese quadrangle. Walls covered in a mishmash of vintage photos, religious paintings, leftover banknotes and Mao’s propaganda. People jostling around waiting for a place to sit. The stonkingly good noodles and the full-cream shaved ice. The food or the environment? The line between the two selling points is almost unnoticeable. 

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On a friendly note, put on your flip-flop and sun cream. Jonker Street is likely to keep you toasted if not baked under the sun for the entire day. 

For more info, give this website a good read.

With love x

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