LIFESTYLE > Malaysia


By Lee Min Keong
November 9, 2000

While Malacca can rightly claim to have a prominent place in Malaysia's history, it is in the city's Jonker Street that one can actually buy a piece of history. This narrow street, which houses some of the Malacca's oldest dwellings, is an antique shopper's paradise.

Indonesian wood carving
Centuries-old Indonesian wood carvings are also found in Jonker Street antique shops.

Many artifacts and antique items, some dating as far back as 300 years, are displayed at the more than 15 antique shops which line the busy street, also affectionately known as the "street of antiques".

Given Malacca's colourful history and its unique blend of races, artifacts from the different periods of colonial rule - Portuguese, Dutch and English - are found in these shops. Many of the antiques available bear Chinese origins, reflecting the influence of the Straits Chinese (baba and nyonyas) and the later Chinese immigrants to then Malaya.

While at Jonker Street, one has to exercise caution and be fairly knowledgeable to avoid purchasing items passed off allegedly as antiques. Prices for similar items are sometimes known to vary widely among the shops, so be prepared to do shop around. Tough bargaining for items which interest you would definitely be a prudent practice.

Antique shops
Antique shops abound in historical Malacca.

While several of these antique shops were operating at the turn of the last century, it was only in the last decade or two that the number of antique shops increased significantly. Probably in response to the burgeoning tourist market, many of these antique shops also double up by selling souvenirs and handicraft. On busy days, hundreds of foreign tourists throng Jonker Street.

However, most of the people who purchase antiques there are actually Malaysians. Antique dealer Sulega Moidu says almost 85 per cent of her shop's sales were from locals. She laments that tourists, especially those who arrive in tour buses, have hardly enough time to sift through the artifacts and make a purchase.

Moidu's shop, Abdul Company, was started by one of her husband's close relatives about 70 years ago. "We sell everything from antique furniture, Chinese porcelain, brassware, cast iron beds to lamps," says Moidu, adding the antiques are sourced from all over Malaysia.

A worker repairing antique furniture.

One of shop's prized possession is a 120-year-old nyonya wedding bed which has made it to Hollywood's silver screen. "This bed was rented out for the movie 'Anna and the King.' In the film, it was used by the Siam king's first wife," she claims. Moidu values the bed at between 50,000 ringgit and 100,000 ringgit.

However, Jonker Street is more than just antique and souvenir shops. Apart from small traditional businesses, there are also several art galleries.

A walk down the narrow street, now renamed Jalan Hang Jebat, is like walking back in time. Here, one can find houses built in the 17th century. Many of the dwellings are very spacious and up to 50 metres in length.

So, whether you buy a piece of history at the antique shops or just marvel at the old world charm that is uniquely Malacca, a visit to Jonker Street must be on your itinerary when you visit Malaysia's historical city. -

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