Malacca in retrospect

Charlene journal 2 Comments

Singapore-Malaysia border Both my parents were born in Malacca, Malaysia, so as a kid, we went there at least once a year to visit family (mostly Mum’s though: my aunties, uncle and grandfather). A long while ago. It has been more than 20 years since I’d stepped into my uncle’s house. The place itself was largely unchanged, a cool, quiet respite from tropical afternoons, terrazzo floors soothing to hot, dusty feet; my grandfather’s old pedal-drive Singer sewing machine still in service. Downtown, UNESCO Heritage listed Malacca though, brought back only occasional moments of deja vu. The bazaars and shops on Jonker Street meant little to a child, although Heeren Street, with its stately Peranakan mansions, is still impressive. We went inside a few restored shophouses; …

Chee Ancestral Hall

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I was a bit obsessed with this place when I was little, thinking of it as The Palace On Heeren Street. It’s actually the ancestral home of the Chee family, an old Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) clan. It was built around the turn of the last century by Chee Swee Cheng, the first chairman of the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC), in memory of his grandfather, Chee Yam Chuan who was a prominent member of the Hokkien community. Designed by architect J Westerhout, it blends Dutch, Portuguese, British, and Chinese influences in architecture. It’s the grandest building on the street now – formerly called Heeren street, now Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock – as it must have been back in its day. The Chee mansion remains …

On the bus to KL

Charlene Small Stories 8 Comments

When I was growing up in Singapore, trips to Malaysia happened several times a year. Both my folks, being originally Malaysian, have family there, and my Dad also went game fishing in Malaysian waters all the time. It remains, for me, a place of myth and magic. Every supernatural tale I’ve heard originated there. These days i head for the sprawling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur to visit my sister and her family. It’s a big city which is familiar enough in function and form, but I always think of Malaysia as that land outside the bus window, flying down the highway. Brooding jungles and vast tracts of plantation – in earlier days, alternating rubber, with the crop that dominated the landscape in later ones, palm …

Outside inside

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All is as if the world did cease to exist. The city’s monuments go unseen, its past unheard, and its culture slowly fading in the dismal sea. – Nathan Reese Maher Singapore to Kuala Lumpur: Fellow passengers make their way back to the bus, after a short break at one of the rest stops on the North South Expressway, Malaysia. I make this bus trip from Singapore a number of times each year to visit my family in Kuala Lumpur. Familiar as I am with the stops and starts of the journey, I’m normally fast asleep at this particular point in the ride. I spent my final years of secondary education commuting to a school on the other side of the island: it was a two hour ride each way by bus …

Street hawker

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I’ve never seen street hawkers in Singapore, where I grew up. By the time I was old enough to actively think about my surroundings, they were gone, relocated to ubiquitous hawker centers found all over the island. Scenes like this never fail to make me think of home though. Not the sense of place, but situation. A communal meal with my family in Kuala Lumpur or Malacca, where we did eat on waysides, the fractures of our lives bound by ritual.


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A devotee offers prayers at the Goddess of Mercy Temple in Georgetown. Built around 1800 by the Hokkien and Cantonese, it is Penang’s oldest temple and ‘home’ to 87 gods of the Taoist, Buddhist and Confucianist faiths. Penang, Malaysia.