Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Treasure that Lies Within Malaysia

By: Tan Poh Ling

Malacca River, Malacca

One of the headlines in last week's local newspapers was that a row of shop houses in the heart of Kuala Lumpur being razed. It was not a news out of the ordinary what more when there was no casualty, only that the row of six shop houses were priceless since they had been declared as heritage buildings by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage. But now they lie there as ashes - gone forever. Gone with them are part of Malaysia's rich history that our future generation will never see.

There are only about 1,000 buildings in Kuala Lumpur that have been declared as heritage structures, according to Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage. That news of the burnt down heritage buildings, brings a heavy message - that we have to preserve our heritage buildings at any cost. But sadly, not many people know how to appreciate them. Nevertheless, attempts must be made to educate and create awareness among the general public to appreciate these limited number of buildings.

Our country is enriched with diverse culture and historical sites. Our care for the past will help in making a difference for the future. As we conserve the heritage, we are able to show our next generation our rich history. Let them see with their own eyes the beautiful heritage we inherit from previous generations and not only reading it from the book.

Our priceless heritage from two states is now proudly being in scripted by the UNESCO as the Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca, which are Malacca and George Town. Malaysia’s rich historical background was emerged from cultural exchanges among East and West in the Straits of Malacca since the 15th century. I remembered once when I stepped to the heritage trail in Malacca, I saw the different style of tiles being placed uniquely in the building. The carving of the tiles is totally different from what I see around in the building today. It really amazes me and makes me spend more time around the building to enjoy the arts of the building.

When I was small, I had a friend with a unique name, ended with ‘De Souza’. I was so curious why is her name so special and different from many of us. From her stories, I learnt about a new culture - Baba and Nyonya. In Malacca, the most popular living culture from the ancient time is Baba and Nyonya, or often used to be substituted by the term ”Peranakan”. Baba and Nyonya are from Chinese descendant who adopts some Malay customs and cultures into theirs and this makes them a unique heritage unlike any other. In Malaysia, we share a diverse culture while living together in harmony.

Besides culture, Malacca also has many historical relics lined up namely St. Paul’s Church where tourist can admire many old tombstones, Christ Church inspired by the Dutch architectural ingenuity with interesting features include the church’s handmade pews, ceiling beams constructed without joints, A’ Famosa building, Jalan Tokong where many Chinese traditions trade can be found and the most popular street in Malacca which is the Jonker’s Street where the night market crafted item, antique, door-like shoes and many more come alive.

City Hall, Penang

The arrival of the British to Penang, the Pearl of Orient, has left this island with legacy buildings. In the19th and early 20th century, George Town, the capital of the Penang, has one of the largest collections of buildings in the Southeast Asia. Penang is a living historic city, with inner city communities, places of worship, guilds, wet markets and bazaars, traditional trades and retail shops, trishaw peddlers and hawkers. Alice, a friend of mine from Australia once asked me about the attractions in Penang. She is so impressed with these sites after visiting them. She learns a lot about Malaysia’s history from these precious sites. As a Malaysian, I am proud to share with her about our history.

Sadly, these sites are disappearing slowly. We are slowly losing our treasure without us realizing it. Together, we as a part of the future history, need to put our hands together to conserve the heritage that we have now. We can help to protect what we have now for the future. Besides, the historical sites serve as cultural centers and also educational resources. The state's historic properties are major tourist attractions, that will boost our country’s economy. With help from Our Ministry of Culture, Art and Heritage, our historical sites have high hope to continue living in the country, for the present to admire and the future to remember. My little or perhaps huge hope for now, is that I am able to continue sharing the history of our country to all my friends around the world.
Credits: Picture of Malacca River taken from

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