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Malaysia's Historic City 
If the ultra-modern architecture and forward-looking citizens of Kuala Lumpur symbolize Malaysia's hopes for the future, then the quiet, seaside city of Malacca, about 150 kilometers to the south, is the guardian charged with the reflective task of preserving its past. Five hundred years ago, an extraordinary empire rose and fell here, its power and dreams suddenly caught off-gaurd by the dawn of the Colonial Era.  

The city was so coveted by the European powers that the Portuguese writer Barbarosa wrote "Whoever is Lord in Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice." It was a major port along the spice-route, and its harbor bristled with the sails and masts of Chinese junks and spice-laden vessels from all over the hemisphere.  Because the city was originally built of wood, there are no crumbling and stately reminders of the power once wielded by the Malaccan Sultanate, but along shores of the Malacca River the scene has probably changed little. 

Portuguese settlement
Sloping rooftops of traditional Malay houses still hang over the water, and seem to call out sleepily from the past. The river side is a part of the city that seems to have defied the Portuguese, who captured the city in 1511 and occupied it for well over a century. 

The Portuguese influence is visible in the city's architecture. As they did in other colonies, they taxed buildings relative to their width, a policy that accounts for the deceptively thin facades along the colonial streets. A building no more than twelve feet across can easily extend backwards two hundred feet, its hidden interior a linear succession of high-ceilinged rooms and courtyards.  

On the streets themselves, however, it is the Chinese influence that is felt most. As they have done for hundreds of years, Chinese merchants advertise the wares inside their shop houses with bright red characters. Open air fruit, vegetable, and fish markets sing with cadences of people bargaining in Mandarin. On the edge of the city is the largest Chinese graveyard outside of China itself, a sprawling zone of fields, trees, and uterus-shaped tombstones. Because of the huge cemetery and the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple (the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia) there is an entire industry in Malacca that produces goods exclusively for the dead - paper simulacra that families burn as offerings to their lost loved ones. Because the spirits need cash in the next world, piles of multi-colored currency with the word "Hell Note" hang on display in what seems like every other shop. If your ghosts like to travel, you can get them first class tickets on Hell Airlines or, if they are Wall Street types, cellular phones and computers. You can buy a dead person just about anything in Malacca. 

Over the centuries, the Chinese and local Malay cultures in Malacca intertwined, eventually producing a completey unique society, the Baba-Nyona. This fascinating microculture reached its height around the turn-of-the-century, and Malacca's Baba-Nyonya Heritiage Museum preserves typical Baba-Nyona household.  


Explore Malacca, Malaysia's oldest port on the "Historical Malacca" Tour, including a visit to St. Paul's Hill and tpo Cheng Hoon Teng, Malaysia's oldest temple. (starting from USD $24 per person).

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