Melaka Downtown

The Old Trading Zone

A Virtual Exhibition Experience

On Display
September 2020

A - Jalan Kee Ann/Kg Jawa
B - Jalan Bunga Raya
C - Jalan Bendahara
D - Jalan Bukit Cina
E - Jalan Temenggong

This exhibition is about Melaka’s once liveliest areas, encompassing Bunga Raya, Bendahara and Kee Ann roads up until busy Bukit Cina Market. 

In the 70s and 80s, when I was growing up, I experienced the sights, the smells, the noise and filth of downtown Melaka. It used to be Melaka’s centre of commercial activity, bustling at night too. Traders, families and bad hats would go there, housewives and prostitutes, and their ethnicities and languages sometimes confused me.

Jalan Kee Ann led to a big wet market, and on to a main bus station, and food and entertainment places. Vice was rife in the area, especially in Kampung Jawa nearby, which also had the cheapest household products and textiles. Bunga Raya had the trendiest fashions, with newspaper vendors where ladies could buy magazines and be inspired by the latest designs. Jewellery shops and watch dealers were there too, as well as Chinese sinseh. When Malacca’s first department store opened, the “Emporium”, I was 5 years old, and I remember people thronging the place. Shoppers in Bunga Raya would be fuelled by kedai makan which are decades later run by the same families: famous ais kacang, kedai arak, nasi kari (char siu pung) among others.

Today there are few prostitution districts, no opium dens, and subdued kedai arak. Some goldsmiths are still there, and “original” kopitiam, but the cinemas are totally gone. No longer do the MPs (military police) patrol the town. On Jalan Bendahara there are a few reminders of boomtime in Melaka, such as the ornate mansion of rubber planter Chan Koon Cheng (1869-1912) and the crumbling ruins of Capitol Theatre, once boasting the finest cinema sound in Malaya. On Jalan Temenggung (formerly Egerton Road and Mill Road), Malacca Electric Flour Mill dates back to a time when the road had many mills and a thriving market. The market at Bukit Cina market/pasar Bukit Cina (Gan Eng Seng market) was where many Peranakan went to buy ingredients for their dishes, which included buah keluak from Indonesia. And luckily Lorong Bukit Cina, one of the oldest roads in Melaka, still has beautiful shophouses dating from the Dutch period, occasionally with intricate ornaments well preserved.

Through the waxing and waning of Melaka’s economic fortunes, foodsellers and gold merchants continued to ply their trade, as did sex workers and sinseh. In this project, our objective was to document this intangible heritage by interviewing such subjects, especially where the trade or business had spanned more than one generation. Sadly since then, several of the businesses have ceased, partly because of the extraordinary circumstances of 2020. 

We are very grateful to the interviewees who shared with us their valuable time and stories. Much appreciation to Dr Johannes Widodo who guided our team in this community-mapping and archiving project, Wenila, Hamid Hasan and S P Lee who conducted the interviews, and Mohd Radzi Jamaludin for his photography. 

If you have any materials or stories to contribute to this archiving project, please tell us!

Bert Tan

August 2020