Sin Hiap Hin Bar, Java Lane, Melaka

A rare example of living heritage can be found at Sin Hiap Hin, a drinking hole at No.5 Jalan Jawa (Java Lane) in the Kampung Jawa area of Melaka.

Doris the landlady.

I went there recently (Feb 2019) and had a couple of drinks served by the friendly and chatty landlady, Doris Lee, who told me a bit about its history.

Sin Hiap Hin – ‘100 years of the best tasting medicine in Malaysia’ according to a recent Australian customer.

This bar has been around for a century and is a hangover (excuse the pun!) from the days when this was a seedy part of town with opium dens, gambling joints and brothels. Indeed, Doris told me that this place used to be an opium den before it became a bar, pointing up the stairs where the opium smokers would puff their way to oblivion.

The area is much quieter now and the bar’s neighbours include an old fashioned barber shop, where you can have a cut-throat shave and your ear wax removed, and a pet shop selling songbirds in elaborate bamboo cages.

The antique license notice is hard to make out but probably says ‘ Licensed to sell intoxicating liquor for consumption on the premises’.

This a bar for hardened drinkers. For a start it opens at 9 o’clock in the morning and is often closed by 6pm. The interior is rather Spartan. This is not the place to catch a Premier League match while munching grilled buffalo wings and surfing the web. All there are here are half a dozen wooden stools, an ashtray (remember those?) and a vintage wooden bar which has been polished by countless elbows and beer slops. The shelves you see in the photo are the originals from when the bar opened and contain Chinese herbal liquor, rice wine, Indian whisky, cheap hard spirits and beers.

No Wave & PIN Here – Cash Only Please

The bar used to be popular with boatmen working on the Melaka river which is just a stone’s throw away. During colonial times it had many British officials among its clientele. It’s the sort of place that you could imagine Nabby Adams, the boozy policeman in Anthony Burgess’ novel Time for a Tiger, would like to frequent for an early morning beer to quench his insatiable thirst.

Japanese soldiers frequented this bar too during their brief but brutal occupation of Melaka in the 1940s. Swigging rice wine in Sin Hiap Hin’s somewhat dingy atmosphere no doubt brought home nostalgic memories of those tiny bars in cities like Tokyo or Osaka

Since there are no boatmen anymore and the Brits and Japs have long gone, patrons are more likely to be those down on their luck or low income workers tanking up on strong drinks for just a few Ringgit per shot.

Business from local workers is not what it used to be but thanks to blogs like mine, a steady stream of tourists, both local and foreigners, have discovered this place and drop in to soak up the atmosphere of days gone by. A wall calendar serving as a visitors’ book records comments left by tourists from Australia, UK, France, Germany, Poland, Canada and Malaysia, all praising the atmosphere, the local rice wine and the ‘cute aunty’ (Doris).

Pandan-Flavoured Malacca Rice Wine

At Doris’s suggestion I tried a glass of Pandan flavoured Malacca rice wine which she sells for RM 7 per half-peg. It has been made by a local firm in Melaka since 1908 which must make it one of the longest established booze manufacturers in Malaysia, much older than Tiger or Anchor beer for example. The taste is powerful, like Korean soju, with a smoky pandan aroma. The alcohol content is 27%. Doris said you’ll only find this drink at her bar. Other flavours include lychee. You can buy a bottle for only RM 15 which is a nice souvenir to take home.

I’m sure Doris and her husband, who is the great grandson of the founder, would welcome your business if you are in the area.

Dindings – Britains’ Least Known Former Colony?

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Like many of my generation, I was an avid stamp collector as a boy and I specialised in Commonwealth and British Empire stamps. Through stamps I learned something of Britain’s former possessions and protectorates with exotic names like the Kathiri State of Seiyun, Mafia Island, Stellaland, Poonch and the Cocos Islands (the Cocos were for a time part of the Straits Settlements).

But until I moved to Malaysia I had never heard of Dindings, a strip of Perak territory which was ceded to Britain in 1826 and remained a colony as part of the Straits Settlements until it was returned to Perak in 1935. This may be because Dindings never issued its own stamps, using instead either Straits Settlements or Perak stamps. Stanley Gibbons’ specialised stamp catalogue for Malaysia doesn’t even mention Dindings, possibly an oversight on their part.

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Sitiawan and Pangkor Postmarks

Dindings (which was renamed Manjung on 1 January 1982) comprises the island of Pangkor and the towns of Lumut and Sitiawan on the mainland. The districts of Beruas and Pantai Remis also come under modern-day Manjung.

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Railway Map 1914 showing the Dindings, shaded in British pink.

Following the signing of the Anglo Dutch Treaty in 1824 the British stepped up their involvement on the Malay Peninsula and they took control of Pangkor Island in 1826 with the aim of suppressing piracy. They also probably wanted to prevent the Dutch from returning – the Dutch had had a minor presence on Pangkor since 1661 though they abandoned the island for good in 1748.

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In 1874 the Pangkor Treaty was signed with the Sultan of Perak under which Pangkor and the strip of mainland containing Lumut and Sitiawan was ceded to Britain and placed under the wing of the British Governor in Penang. Britain demanded this territory as reward for helping to bring peace to Perak between two rival Chinese clans who were feuding over tin mining.

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Pantai Remis has a number of well preserved wooden shophouses.

Having obtained the Dindings, Britain did very little with it. The original intention may have been to use it as a gateway to Perak’s booming tin ore trade but it was found more convenient to use Port Weld, which had a harbour and branch railway line, to export tin. No railways were ever built in Dindings and no port was developed. With Penang not far away the Dindings were probably seen as superfluous.

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This old British made pillar box outside the post office at Lumut is still in use. It is inscribed ‘McDowall Steven & Co.Ltd, London & Glasgow’, a firm of iron founders in operation from 1862-1909.

Today there is little to show that Britain was ever there – just a couple of post offices and police stations, one or two schools and churches and a number of colonial-era bungalows and government offices.

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From the top of Lumut’s Bukit Engku Busu you can get a good view of the naval base and Pangkor Island behind left.

In recent years Malaysia has developed Manjung significantly. The Royal Malaysian Navy has its main base at Lumut and the bustling towns of Seri Manjung and Sitiawan sprawl over a wide area. Pangkor has become a major tourist destination but it still retains a relaxed and sleepy feel.

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Teluk Gedung on Pangkor Island

By the way, while revisiting Pangkor last week I made a discovery. The drawing on the famous rock on the island which people have for years been calling Tiger Rock is not a tiger at all. You can read about my revelation on my Malaysia Traveller website.

David, Edward, Eduardo & Nelly

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It’s strange how random facts and occurrences can sometimes link together in a string of weird coincidences.

Over Christmas my daughter was showing me a mobile app. called Twinning by Popsugar which compares your photo with famous celebrities and tells you which ones you most resemble. Apparently I bear a 35% similarity to David Niven. It’s obviously a rubbish app. since I don’t look anything like that suave and debonair British actor who died in 1983.

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David Niven in Paper Tiger

David Niven starred in a 1975 film called Paper Tiger which was partially filmed in Malaysia.

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While in Penang last month I stayed at the Royale Chulan Hotel at Weld Quay which occupies the beautifully refurbished former godown and Penang office of Boustead & Co, a trading, shipping and insurance business established by an Englishman, Edward Boustead, in 1828.

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Edward Boustead (1800-1888)

Edward Boustead’s great-grandson was David Niven, though there’s not much family resemblance judging by this photo.

David Niven starred in at least two films about the Philippines, The Real Glory and The Extraordinary Seamen. While filming he would no doubt have learnt about the national hero of the Philippines, José Rizal. During his travels in Europe, Rizal had a relationship with a woman called Nelly Boustead.

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Nelly Boustead, sweetheart of José Rizal

Nelly was the daughter of a wealthy Anglo-Filipino called Eduardo Boustead who was the son of the above mentioned Edward Boustead and his Filipina partner with whom he lived as a family when visiting his Manila office. Edward also had an English wife and children and when Edward died, Eduardo travelled to London to claim his considerable inheritance, much to the dismay of his English step-family who were unaware of his existence. Since Eduardo was unable to prove his legitimacy, most of the estate passed to the English family but Eduardo was still comfortably off and he moved to France.

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So it would seem that Nelly Boustead was a distant relation of David Niven. Using Nelly’s face on the Popsugar app might it show a resemblance to David Niven? Apparently not. It says she is a 76% match to Prince Edward! Does the British royal family have Filipino ancestors we don’t know about?

Before you rush to try out Twinning by Popsugar there have been reports that they have been leaking users’ photos without permission, so be warned.

Kuala Lumpur Cenotaph

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Following the recent Remembrance Day ceremonies marking 100 years since the end of World War One I thought I would relook at our own cenotaph here in Kuala Lumpur.

This simple granite monument was unveiled in 1924 as a memorial in tribute to those who lost their lives in that war. It was designed by the architectural firm Stark & McNeill with offices in Penang, Ipoh and Johor. It used to stand on Cenotaph Road (Jalan Tugu), off Victory Avenue (Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin) outside KL’s famous railway station but it had to be shifted in 1961 to make way for a flyover and the cenotaph now stands proudly at the Tugu Negara (National Monument) garden near Kl’s Botanical Gardens.

Each of the four sides of the monument displays a bronze tablet engraved with the names of the fallen from WW1 (mostly British and Indians fighting for the British).

Compared to World War Two, which affected Malaya severely, Malaya was not greatly impacted by the First World War. Apart from a German naval attack on Penang there was no fighting in the country. Indeed the economy of Malaya experienced a boom as its main exports, rubber and tin, were in great demand. The British working in Malaya at the time were playing an important role in the war effort by supplying the home country with vital commodities and there was no obligation for young British men to go home and fight. Even so, many felt the need to volunteer and play their part and a good number paid the ultimate price.

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Every year on Remembrance Sunday the British High Commission hosts a service of remembrance at Tugu Negara for those who served in both World Wars, the Malayan Emergency and other conflicts.  Representatives of various Commonwealth countries and other organisations leave poppy wreaths here.

Trawling though the internet I can find no list of the names inscribed on the KL cenotaph so I am including photos of each of the four plaques in case they are of use for people tracking down lost ancestors. I have also tried to find details of one name from each plaque, so that these souls at least know that they are not entirely forgotten.

We always say ‘We Will Remember’ and indeed we do remember the terrible cost paid by that generation but as the years have passed we are inevitably losing our collective memory of the individuals. There is probably nobody left alive today who personally knew anyone who died in that war.

Kuala-Lumpur-Cenotaph-A-DMajor Tom Lowis Bourdillon M. C. 8th Batt. Kings Royal Rifle Corps 14th Division,. Killed in action at Ypres 24 August 1917. Aged 29. Son of Sir James and Lady Bourdillon of Liphook, Hampshire. He is buried at Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium.

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Lieutenant Frederick St John Ford North Echlin died of wounds on 27 September 1916, aged 27. He was from Echlinville in Northern Ireland which today is home to a whiskey distillery of the same name. He had not long been married, to Dorothy Blanche Echlin (nee Dobree) of Guernsey, and they had one child. Prior to the outbreak of the Great War Frederick Echlin had been working in the Federated Malay States. He volunteered for service and was commissioned on 6 March 1915 to the 5th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. He joined the Royal Flying Corps on 27 October 1915 and became a pilot. He was buried in Achiet-Le-Grand Communal Cemetery Extension, France.

Kuala-Lumpur-Cenotaph-N-REric Herbert Justus Maule-Ffinch was a Second Lieutenant killed in action near Bray, France on 27th August 2018 aged just 18. He served with the 7th (Res.) Batt of the London Regiment. He is buried at Bray Military Cemetery. Son of Knightley Heneage Mauleffinch and Evaleen Massie Maule-ffinch (nee O’Dowd), of Hendon, London. Joined the Malay State Volunteer Rifles at 17 years of age

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Uttam Singh. It is hard to be sure due to many soldiers with a similar name but the only Uttam Singh with a Malayan connection listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website is Sepoy Uttam Singh of the Malay States Guides who was killed on 9 December 1915. Son of Sher Singh of Tangri, Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Punjab. His name is commemorated on the Heliopolis (Aden) Memorial in Cairo. The Malay States Guides saw action in Aden in 1915 against Turkish soldiers threatening the British-controlled city.

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Malay States Guides

Melaka Tourism

 

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Melaka is one of my favourite places in Malaysia but whenever I visit I come away thinking that it could be better.

Melaka-Tourism-christ-churchAs a UNESCO World Heritage Site it attracts a lot of tourists; 16.7 million in 2017 according to press reports, with Chinese tourists taking the top spot.

Melaka-Tourism

They are not evenly distributed. On any day you can see coach loads of Chinese tourists milling around ‘Dutch Square’, taking selfies next to the Stadthuys, Christ Church, clock tower and the Hello Kitty trishaws. Then they are taken to selected souvenir and food shops in nearby Jonker Street, probably owned by associates of the tour operators, to buy chicken rice balls, durian products and pineapple tarts, before being bussed back to a hotel in KL. You have to wonder whether the ordinary small business owners in Melaka see much benefit from the daily invasion of tourists.

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Deserted alleyway. Murals have been painted in many places in Melaka to brighten up the dreary and cover up the ugly.

By the time the sun sets, most shops in downtown Melaka are firmly shuttered and soon the streets take on a deserted look apart from a few eateries in Jalan Hang Jebat and side streets but even here they struggle to find customers on weekday nights.

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Melaka’s tourism chiefs and real estate developers have plans to vastly expand Melaka’s attractions with ambitious developments under way on land recently reclaimed from the Straits of Malacca. These projects were agreed prior to the Malaysian General Election and it remains to be seen whether they will all be completed given the new Government’s emphasis on saving money.

Even fewer tourists venture beyond Melaka City to visit other places in Melaka State. At Kampung Duyong few example just outside the city is a large tourism complex, built at considerable expense, celebrating Malaysia’s famous hero Hang Tuah.

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The Hang Tuah Centre includes a large museum, shops and a Malaysian martial arts arena. I was the only visitor there.

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Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

I was in Northern Ireland recently where we saw Dark Hedges, a tree-lined street which apparently featured in Game of Thrones. It doesn’t look anything special in my photo (probably need a zoom lens).

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Dark Hedges, Melaka

This is Malaysia’s version of Dark Hedges, a street near Kampung Duyong, Melaka. It looks much more impressive.

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The mausoleum of Sultan Ali of Johor near Merlimau, Melaka. He was in dispute with the Temenggong of Johor for his throne.

Perhaps Melaka needs to become the setting for a popular series like Game of Thrones with filming locations spread around the state in order to share the benefits to tourism more widely.

Malaysia’s Old Post Offices

Pos Malaysia has done a good job in preserving a number of Malaysia’s old post offices, some of which date back a hundred years or more. While most of the large cities in Malaysia now have large modern mail distribution centres and post offices there are still a number old post offices which can be considered heritage buildings.

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In 2010 Pos Malaysia issued an attractive set of stamps featuring 28 post offices, mostly old ones.

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The oldest surviving post office building in Malaysia is probably in Taiping. It was finished in 1884 and has recently been converted into the Telegraph Museum. My picture was taken prior to its restoration.

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The old general post office in Kuala Lumpur (completed in 1907) still stands although it has not been used as a post office since 1984. Ipoh and Kota Kinabalu also have old post office buildings which are over a century old but they are now being used by other government departments.

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The grandest post office building which is still being used for its original purpose is, in my opinion,  Kuching’s General Post Office, completed in 1932. It proudly displays the Sarawak State motto, Dum Spiro Spero, meaning While I breathe, I hope.

Here are some arty images of more old post offices which I have snapped during my travels around the country.

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Flor De la Mar’s Colourful History

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In Melaka, on the quayside near the mouth of the Malacca River, stands a replica of a Portuguese galleon, or carrack, called the Flor de la Mar which sailed in these waters in the early 1500s.

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Afonso de Albuquerque

This vessel, which is often (mis?)spelt Frol de la Mar, was the flagship for the Portuguese fleet in the Indian Ocean under command of the famous conqueror Afonso de Albuquerque.

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Flor de la Mar was built in 1502 in Lisbon. Weighing in at 400 tons, with a length of 120 feet and a height of 110 feet she was the largest vessel of its kind at the time. She was armed with 40 cannons distributed over three decks with a high stern and forecastle from which the crew could rain down fire on her enemies but this top-heavy design also made for poor stability when fully laden.

Her maiden voyage to the Indian Ocean departed Lisbon in 1502 under command of Esterão da Gama, a cousin of the explorer Vasco da Gama, returning to Portugal in 1503. The next voyage left Lisbon in 1505 under the captaincy of João da Nova. On her way back she sprang a leak and had to spend the winter in Mozambique before being commandeered by Afonso de Albuquerque for further missions in the Indian Ocean. She never saw Portugal again.

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Al Jalali Fort, Muscat

Flor de la Mar plundered her way around the Indian Ocean taking part in various bloody sieges and brutal raids against unsuspecting towns and ports in Arabia and India. She took part in the conquest of Socatra (now part of Yemen), Kuryat (Quriyat), Muscat, Corfacão (Khorfakkan), Quelba (Kalba), Sohar (all in modern day Oman and UAE), Ormuz (Hormuz, Iran) and Diu, Calicut and Goa (India).

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Hormuz Fort 

By 1505 King Manuel of Portugal’s attention had turned towards Malacca. When Vasco da Gama returned from his first voyage round the Cape of Good Hope as far as Calicut he brought back tales of a fantastically wealthy distant city called Malacca where all the goods of Asia were traded – pearls from Arabia, porcelain from China, cloth from India and nutmeg, cloves and pepper from the Spice Islands. It was the most cosmopolitan city in the world where over eighty languages were heard, according to the account of Portuguese apothecary and traveller Tomé Pires. With over 100,000 inhabitants, Malacca was larger than Lisbon at the time and almost as big as Venice, and it was ruled over by a Muslim Sultan.

Plan of the Portuguese Fortress in 1512

Pires wrote in his book Suma Oriental in 1515  ‘whoever is Lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice’ meaning that Malacca was the source of Venice’s spice monopoly wealth.

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Tomé Pires

Albuquerque was determined to throttle Venice by seizing or at least gaining access to Malacca’s lucrative spice trade. Although he only had a small force of 700 Portuguese and 300 Indian soldiers he set about defeating the Sultan’s army with his usual ruthless efficiency and Malacca was conquered in 1511.

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Battle of Diu

The city was plundered and Albuquerque, leaving a small force behind, set off with his loot for India aboard the Flor de la Mar accompanied by two other vessels the Trinidade and the Emxobregas. Some accounts, possibly exaggerated, say he had 60 tons of gold and 200 chests of precious gems with him intended as gifts for the Portuguese king and queen as well as a jewel encrusted table, a pair of bronze lions and a rare map drawn by a Javanese showing the routes to China and other lands.

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Replica of the old Sultan’s Palace in Malacca.

 

His crew were reluctant to sail on the Flor de la Mar which by now was nine years old and barely seaworthy. Normally the ships on the India run could only survive four years or so before shipworms, nicknamed termites of the sea, caused irreparable damage to their unprotected wooden hulls. Also the vibrations caused by continual cannon fire had caused the Flor’s timbers to shake apart and the ship leaked badly and required constant pumping. 

When  stormy weather struck off the coast of north Sumatra, Flor de la Mar anchored in four fathoms of water to ride out the storm. Heavy seas pushed her onto a reef where she ran aground and broke into two with only the superstructure visible above the waves. Albuquerque and a few other survivors managed to escape the wreck and they were taken aboard the Trinidade. Many of his crew and a number of slaves were not so lucky and were lost along with the treasure.

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The Malacca Museums Corporation seems in no doubt that Flor de la Mar’s sinking was an act of divine retribution for the misdeeds of the Portuguese conquerors.

The Trinidade was overcrowded and they were desperately short of food and water.  Some captives were thrown overboard in their sleep to reduce the number of mouths to feed but the ship eventually made it back to Goa.

Numerous wreck divers and salvage companies have tried to find the location of the Flor de la Mar wreck in the hope of recovering some of the lost treasures but seemingly so far without success. With the ship sinking in shallow waters close to the shore you would have thought something would have been found by now.

Had this happened in our modern age of conspiracy theories and fake news people might have speculated that Albuquerque deliberately sank the ship and kept the loot concealed for himself rather than handing it over to the king. He wouldn’t be the last Portuguese colonial governor to enrich himself corruptly before proceeding on retirement. But that would be a terrible slur to make against a Portuguese national hero! Even if he did succeed in keeping some of the plunder for himself he would not have lived long to enjoy it as he died in Goa in 1515.