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.

Masjid Tanah, Melaka

Masjid Tanah Shophouse

When driving to Melaka recently I decided to take an alternative route on Highway 5 through scenic rural countryside and pretty kampongs with traditional wooden houses.  The road passes through small towns with interesting names like Ramuan China Besar, Masjid Tanah and Tangga Batu.

Ramuan China means ‘Chinese ingredients’ and is where Chinese traders of long ago would come to source herbs and plants for use in Chinese medicine. Tangga Batu means ‘stone stairs’ and probably refers to the ornate tiled steps that can be found at the entrance of many old wooden houses in Melaka and Negeri Sembilan.

Masjid Tanah mosque

Masjid Tanah is named after a mosque built from mud by a Sheikh from Gujarat around 1800. The original mosque was seemingly demolished but rebuilt in 1951. I guess this is the building since it has one of those brown tourist information signs with the words Bangunan Masjid Tanah. The mosque has tapered pillars of a sort found in India and looks old apart from the recent roof.

Pink and blue shophouses in Masjid Tanah

The town centre boasts a few blocks of neat shophouses from the 1930’s which have been painted in ‘his and hers’ pink and blue.

Masjid Tanah Clock Tower

There is also a clock tower with an inscription in Bahasa, Tamil and Chinese informing that the clock marks Malaya’s independence and was built with donations from all races in Masjid Tanah and bears the date 31/8/1957.

MCA office, Masjid Tanah

You can’t find much information on the web about Masjid Tanah and what little there is is in Bahasa.  Google Translate comes out with some very strange results sometimes. It translates Masjid Tanah as ‘Herefordshire’. The two places do not seem to have much in common!

If you are not in a hurry, I recommend taking this alternative route to Melaka. Coming from the north, exit the North-South Expressway at Junction 223.

One Man and his Dog (and Horse)–British Graveyard at Alor Gajah

One of the ‘Places of Interest’ marked on my map of Melaka state is the British Graveyard in the small town of Alor Gajah. I went there yesterday to take a look.

British Graveyard, Alor Gajah

Tucked away in the grounds of a primary school, it’s a very small graveyard, a fenced enclosure containing just three graves belonging to an English soldier, his horse and his dog.

British Graveyard, Alor Gajah

The dog’s grave is the one in front, the soldier in the middle and the horse behind.

The soldier’s name was George Holford Walker. He was only 18 years old when he was killed serving as a junior officer with the 5th Madras Native Infantry, a regiment of the Madras Army of the (British)Honourable East India Company.

British Graveyard, Alor Gajah, grave of George Holford Walker

The inscription on the tombstone reads:

 

To The Memory Of Ensign George Holford Walker Doing Duty With The 5th Regiment M.N.I Who Fell While Gallantly Leading On His Division To Storm A Stockade At Allegaza On The 3rd May 1832.

 

This Tablet Was Erected By His Brother Officers As A Mark Of Their Esteem For One So Universally Beloved.

 

 

A plaque (in Bahasa) at the graveyard explains the context of his death. In 1829 the British administration running Malacca attempted to impose taxes on the district of Naning at the rate of 10% of the total harvest. Naning’s leader, Datuk Dol Said, refused to pay, arguing that Naning was outside Malacca’s jurisdiction and had not been taxed by the earlier Dutch and Portuguese colonizers. Britain sent in troops in 1831 but they were repulsed by Dol Said’s men. In 1832, a stronger British force was sent to Naning and they overcame Dol Said who was bought off with a pension of $100 per month until his death in 1849. Walker was one of the British casualties in this scrap. A fatal shot to the heart killed him instantly. Locals said his horse and dog stood loyally beside his dead body until they too died of thirst and grief. As a tribute to Walker’s youthful bravery and the devotion of his animal companions, the dog and horse were buried alongside their master.

The poet Margaret Hodson (maiden name Holford – a relative perhaps?) wrote a tribute to Walker which included this verse:

In yonder distant wilderness

He found a soldier’s grave,

Where the cassis sheds its spiciness,

And the broad palm-branches wave.

He sleeps on the wild and distant shore,

Where the elephant stalks and the eagles soar,

And the sandal breathes its balmy sighs

On the lonely bed where our hero lies:

They laid his lovely head

Where his brave heart’s blood was shed,

And the strangers wept, as they laid it there,

For the early doom of the brave and fair!

Location of British Graveyard, Alor Gajah

Primary School next to British Graveyard, Alor Gajah

Margaret Hodson’s romantic image of the grave’s location differs somewhat from reality. The grave is in the grounds of this primary school which faces Dataran Keris in the centre of Alor Gajah town. If you visit during a weekend when the school is closed the security guard is more likely to let you in.

Go through the passageway next to the stairs in the centre of this photo and you arrive at the school canteen. The graveyard is right behind the canteen. An odd place for a cemetery but perhaps the sounds of school children playing is company for Walker who was barely older than a child himself.

District Museum, Alor GajahKeris Statue, Dataran Keris , Alor Gajah

1930's shophouses, Alor GajahMasjid Alor Gajah

Also worth seeing while in Alor Gajah is the District Museum and the Keris statue (both in Dataran Keris), a couple of neat blocks of 1930’s shophouses and an architecturally attractive mosque.

Malaysia Traveller

Here are recent new additions to my website Malaysia Traveller which you might have missed:

PulauBesarTile202 Pulau Besar – Mystical Island Near Melaka

Pulau Besar is part beach resort and part Islamic pilgrimage site. There are also legends of elves, goblins and strange rocks. Worth a visit.

ChittyVillageTile202

Chitty Village

The Chitty Village is home to a unique hybrid community of Hindu Peranakans, descendants from Tamil traders who settled in Melaka over 500 years ago.

MelakaZooTile202

Melaka Zoo & Night Safari

Melaka Zoo is one of the better zoos in Malaysia. Read my review here and see entrance fee, opening hours and directions.

AFamosaWaterWorldLazyRiver

A’Famosa Water Park

A’Famosa Water World probably has the most thrilling water theme park slides in Malaysia. Read my review here.

PuteriHarbourThemeParkHelloKitty

Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park

Younger kids will enjoy Sanrio Hello Kitty Town and The Little Big Club located at Puteri Harbour Theme Park in Johor. Read details here.

LegolandMalaysiaApprenticeLegoland Malaysia

Legoland Malaysia is a new, world-class family theme park in Johor. Read my review of the attractions here.

My recent blog about the smoking orangutans at Melaka Zoo attracted the attention of the Friends of the Orangutans, a Malaysian organization trying to end cruelty to orangutans. You can read about their work here:

St. Peter’s Church, Melaka

St.Peter's Church, Melaka

St. Peter’s Church in Melaka is the oldest functioning Roman Catholic church in Malaysia.

From 1511 until 1641, while under Portuguese rule, Malacca was described as a Christian town with a Roman Catholic church or chapel in every street. In 1618 there were 7,400 Christians in Malacca with 14 churches and 2 chapels.

In 1641 Malacca fell to the Dutch who, being predominantly Protestant and anti-Catholic, set about demolishing Portuguese churches and persecuting the Catholic population of the city. Priest were forbidden to preach. What must the local Malay population have thought about these two groups of Europeans who were so mean to each other despite being strangers in a foreign land so far from home and both professing to belong to a superior culture?

During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), Holland and Portugal found themselves fighting on the same side as part of the Grand Alliance. As a result the Dutch eased up on their persecution of Catholics in Malacca and a Dutch Catholic called Franz Amboer was given permission to donate land for the construction of St. Peter’s Church which, as the date on the bell tower suggests, was finished around 1710.

Plaque outside St. Peter's Church, Melaka

One of the bells predates the church having been cast in Goa in 1608. It was salvaged from the ruins of an earlier church burnt down by the Dutch, possibly the Church of São Lourenço (St. Lawrence) which was built in the 1600s and located around the corner in what is now Jalan Bunga Raya. A chapel called Ermida de Rosario was built on the site of  St. Lawrence Church. This chapel itself fell into disrepair in the 1800s but its crumbling ruins can still be seen on a plot located next to the old Federal Cinema, adjacent to the Food Court.

Interior of St. Peter's Church

A book called “Historical Tombstones of Malacca” (not, I suspect, a best seller!) written by RV Bland in 1904 contained a photo of a grave located outside St.Peter’s Church. The grave was of Domingo D’Oliveira who died on 3 May 1598 which must make it one of the oldest surviving graves in Melaka if it is still around.

One of the newer additions to the church grounds is a water feature with a plaque quoting Jesus’s invitation to Peter to walk on water. The pool is only a few centimetres deep so you can create your own walking-on-water illusion if you don’t mind getting your feet wet.

St.Peter's Church, Melaka

Hard Rock Cafe and Melaka Town Planning

On my recent visit to Melaka I noticed that a newly built Hard Rock Cafe is nearing completion on First Cross Street facing the river and Dutch Square.

HardRockCafeMelaka

The architects have made a good effort to blend in the design with the surrounding heritage buildings and I imagine a seat by the window will give diners a good view overlooking the river and the historic heart of this UNESCO World Heritage City.

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It is disappointing though that the lower floor of the building, at street level, is going to be a rather ugly car park, which is out of keeping with all the other buildings in the core heritage zone, none of which have car parks. Melaka really does not need to encourage more cars into the city centre which is already choked with traffic. The combination of narrow traffic-clogged streets and cars parked everywhere means that ambling along lanes like Heeren Street is not as pleasurable as it should be.

In my opinion , the whole of the core heritage area should be permanently closed to traffic except emergency services vehicles, bicycles, trishaws, hand-carts or horse-drawn carriages. The streets should be resurfaced with fancy paving and provided with seating  and landscaped planting. This would greatly enhance the tourists’ experience.

To compensate the residents and business owners in the zone for the loss of their on-street parking places, a multi-storey car park could be built outside the perimeter of the heritage area with spaces reserved for the residents.

Other Suggestions:

  • Make more use of the river. The Melaka River Cruise boats seem to be doing good business but it is only a round trip tour and not suitable as a means of getting from A to B. They should introduce low cost river taxis, similar to Dubai’s abras, with multiple stops along the river where people can hop on and off.
  • The old buildings in the core zone and the buffer zone are protected from demolition but a lot of them appear to be empty or under-utilized. Imaginative ideas for attracting tenants into these buildings and breathing life into the city need to be conceived.  They cannot all be converted into hotels and restaurants.

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Knocknock Home, Kampung Jawa, Melaka

Bathroom area, Knocknock Home

On our recent trip to Melaka we stayed at Knocknock Home, a boutique guest house in Java Lane, close to historic heart of this UNESCO World Heritage city.

Java Lane (Jalan Jawa) is part of Kampung Jawa named after the Javanese community who settled this area from the 1600s onwards. The original kampung was redeveloped in the 1880s in what was probably the first planned housing project in Malacca. Today it comprises a few narrow lanes of plain whitewashed residential houses and shophouses, close to the iron pedestrian bridge crossing the Melaka River (Jambatan Kampung Jawa).

Like much of Melaka, the area was in decline for many decades but now the buildings are protected and are slowly being gentrified.

Knocknock Home is in one of these old two-storey buildings. The entrance foyer and owner’s apartment are on the ground floor while upstairs is one huge room for the guests.

The original exterior of the building has not been changed and the owners have done a good job of retaining many of the architectural period features while providing guests with a contemporary and stylish interior which is visually appealing and homely.

The living/sleeping space at Knocknock Home

One word comes to mind regarding this place and that is ‘generous’.  Firstly the space is generous. The room is 1000 sq.ft. (bigger than many homes in this part of the world!). The owner could easily have divided the space into two or more rooms but decided to retain the whole floor for single occupancy. The sleeping area is at the far end on a raised wooden platform behind sliding glass doors and air-conditioned. The sleeping configuration is one king-size mattress and one queen size mattress. Since we are 5 in our family we had an extra single mattress between the two doubles. Obviously with such cosy sleeping arrangements, this place is only suitable for families, couples or very close friends.

Bathroom at Knocknock Home

The cavernous shower area is at the other end of the room. Those bamboo blinds above unroll to provide privacy. There is a rain shower head or, if preferred, guests can bathe Japanese style sitting on a wooden stool in front of the ornate water jar with a hand-held shower tap. The toilet is in a separate cubicle.

Japanese style bathing

Also generous are the room amenities such as the home movie system which projects onto the wall. A stock of Chinese and Western DVDs are provided. There is also cable TV for those who cannot be without the news or Cartoon Network. There is a fridge with beers and soft drinks sold almost at cost price (RM7 and RM2 respectively). We were also given six large bottles of mineral water free of charge during our 2 night stay.  Complementary bicycles are available as well as more typical facilities such as tea and coffee making facilities in the room, a safe deposit box, hair dryer and WiFi. 

Lastly, the owner Gus was most generous with his time and attention. He took us for a guided night walk to Jonker Street, pointing out interesting shops along the way. He even bought us a delicious late-night oyster omelette from one of Malacca’s most famous street food vendors.

Oyster Omelette Man

Knocknock does not provide breakfast but Gus suggested various places we could try such as Dutch House Cafe, Limau-Limau Cafe, Baboon House and various dim-sum shops.

Breakfast at Baboon House

The second night we ended up having a nightcap with Gus at The Bridge Street Cafe which is run by a friend of his in Lorong Jambatan, the dark alleyway leading to the iron bridge.

The Bridge Street Cafe, Lorong Jambatan

We got the impression that for Gus, running Knocknock Home is not about making money but more a labour of love. He certainly makes his guests feel at home and we enjoyed listening to his old records on the vintage Australian radio/gramophone player.

He charges RM400 per night which for our family size is reasonable as we would have to pay for 2 rooms if we were staying in a hotel. The extra mattress costs RM50. Knocknock has a website if you want to find out more.