Life in the slow lane

Daily life takes its time on ‘hell’s doorstep’ in Malacca.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By JOANE le ROUX

Imag­ine telling your four-yearold grand­son that grandma used to live on “The gate­way To Hell”. Wouldn’t you be the spook­i­est, coolest grandma at the crèche play­ground? many places on earth have been dubbed gate­ways to hell. among them is Fengdu in China, the city of­ten also re­ferred to as “The City of ghosts”, and ice­land’s’ ac­tive vol­cano, mount Hekla.

Lit­tle may know, how­ever, of the small un­pre­ten­tious lane in the heart of his­tor­i­cal malacca, that ap­pears to have stayed al­most un­no­ticed by the flocks of tourists nowa­days de­scend­ing on this Unesco World Her­itage City.

Bridge Lane, or more com­monly known by its malay name, Lorong Jam­batan, used to be the en­trance to one of the most pop­u­lated and morally cor­rupt streets in malacca dur­ing the first half of the 20th century.

Java (or Jawa) Lane, named af­ter the overwhelming Ja­vanese pop­u­la­tion who used to re­side there, was the quin­tes­sen­tial gang­ster’s par­adise.

When lo­cals wanted to get “a bit of the good stuff”, they had to pass through Bridge Lane and then cross the malacca River via Kam­pung Jawa Bridge. Thus Bridge Lane be­came known as The gate­way To Hell or Guai Moon Gai in Can­tonese.

Some feel that the name of the street has been wrongly trans­lated.

“guai moon gai also means heav­enly gate. it’s all a mat­ter of in­ter­pre­ta­tion”, says a chuck­ling Teo Kim Fong, 62, a res­i­dent of no.18, Lorong Jam­batan.

Oth­ers hold that bad feng shui is to blame for Bridge Lane’ un­lucky nick­name. What­ever the rea­son for the small street’s moniker, the place is an enigma en­shrouded in mys­tery.

Kam­pung Jawa Bridge, orig­i­nally sit­u­ated a lit­tle bit more to the left of Bridge Lane, also added to the eeri­ness in that area. The twice de­stroyed bridge used to be an iron struc­ture with gas lamps light­ing up the path at night.

Dur­ing the Ja­panese Oc­cu­pa­tion of malaya (1942-1945), many Chi­nese busi­ness­men were be­headed on Kam­pung Jawa Bridge by the Ja­panese mil­i­tary Po­lice, the Kem­peitei. The bridge also be­came known for the sui­cides that it started to wit­ness over the years.

To­day, lo­cals re­fer to this river­cross­ing as ghost Bridge. many who are fa­mil­iar with the sto­ries of ghost Bridge are still weary of trav­el­ling on it, es­pe­cially at night.

in July 1887, a new Chi­nese Theatre was built in Java Lane. Theatre go­ers had to pass through Bridge Lane to get to Java Lane. The theatre very quickly be­came the en­ter­tain­ment high­light of the Chi­nese com­mu­nity in malacca. in Oc­to­ber 2001, the much beloved theatre was de­mol­ished.

a mar­ket, built in Java Lane in 1920, no doubt also added to the in­flux of people pass­ing through Bridge Lane. This mar­ket no longer ex­ists.

in 1963, the wip­ing out of old houses in Java Lane com­menced. al­though Bridge Lane es­caped this large scale de­mo­li­tion, the ab­sence of the mar­ket, theatre and other forms of en­ter­tain­ment in Java Lane, left its mark.

tan See Peng at work in his lock­smith shop, Bridge Lane in Malacca. the 57-year-old is a third gen­er­a­tion Chi­nese Malaysian.

When malacca was de­clared a Unesco World Her­itage City in 2008, the num­ber of tourists to Chi­na­town sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased. How­ever, rather than at­tract more tourists to Bridge Lane, it has been Jonker Walk (for­merly Jonker Street, or Jalan Hang Jebat) and other streets with Unesco-de­clared build­ings that have got­ten the most out of tourism.

To­day Bridge Lane is prob­a­bly one of the most quiet places in the Chi­na­town area. Some fam­ily businesses on the street have sur­vived up to four gen­er­a­tions and are still open ev­ery day ex­cept for Sun­days.

“in the 1970s and 1980s, the street was full of people. Bridge Lane used to be a mar­ket place where people could buy fish, meat and veg­eta­bles. Fam­i­lies with up to 10 chil­dren stayed in these houses ... down­stairs used to be all shops and up­stairs the fam­i­lies would live,” says Chen Kin Chok, 62, a frame maker at house no. 14, Lorong Jam­batan. “The street is quiet now. it’s bet­ter.”

many res­i­dents and shop own­ers on Bridge Lane seem to share Chen’s sen­ti­ment that “quiet is bet­ter”.

“it’s bet­ter now,” says Lai Peh Fang, 59, as she works un­re­lent­ingly on her mother’s 1950 Singer sewing ma­chine. Fang has been a shop­keeper in no. 12, Lorong Jam­batan for over 40 years, sell­ing ev­ery­thing from knives, cake pans, locks and scis­sors to mouse traps and soft toys.

Oth­ers feel that the de­crease in people pass­ing through Bridge Lane has been bad for busi­ness.

Some younger res­i­dents on the street have tried their hand at tour- ism. num­bers 5 and 16 Bridge Lane have been turned into home­s­tays by Lai Kuen Long. The 26-year-old­grew up on the street and he firmly be­lieves in the preser­va­tion of a rapidly mod­ernising world.

“many people think i’m crazy for open­ing a guest house here. i like hav­ing a cafe or guest house in a hid­den place rather than a busy one. The street has a very at­trac­tive feel to it. i hope they can keep businesses on the street for as long as pos­si­ble,” says Long.

On the sub­ject of pre-WWi street ar­chi­tec­ture, the whole of Bridge Lane is lined on both sides by old Chi­nese shop­houses.

The shop­houses on Bridge Lane are some of the ear­li­est forms of Chi­nese shop­houses in the coun­try. The in­te­ri­ors are char­ac­terised by wooden stair­cases, beams and shut­ters. ex­cept for the ground floor, the up­per floors are made of tim­ber. The walls are made of brick and lime, and air vents can be ob­served.

“The houses on the left side of Bridge Lane (as you ap­proach from Kam­pung Jawa Bridge) are built 14x20 feet. The houses on the right are slightly big­ger at 14x22 feet. all the houses are two-and-a -half to three storeys high,” says Yoong Dong Yuan, 57, a gold­smith who

Un­lock­ing mem­o­ries:

equip­ment at the rub­ber Stamp Man­u­fac­turer shop, owned by the yam sib­lings on no. 8 Bridge Lane, has been in the fam­ily for over 70 years. (In­set) Kam­pung Jawa Bridge, con­nect­ing Java Lane with Bridge Lane in Malacca.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.