- 2006/10/03 Passion for old things

There are a few places in the country that antique hunters seek out. One of them is Malacca's Jonker Walk or Jalan Hang Jebat.

Popular with tourists, Jonker Walk was once a gentrified residential area, especially for the baba community. The big bosses lived in posh quarters located just next to where their workers stayed.

The old buildings here, including temples, give the place its unique identity. Inside shops or stalls, antiques and fashionable goods are displayed side by side.

Jonker Walk is also a haven for food especially nyonya specialties like kuih, laksa, pineapple tarts and biscuits.

At one end of the narrow street is where you will find the OCBC Bank while at the other end stand an international school and a 1908 Tamil Methodist Church.

There is also an elaborate and colourful stage where residents hold karaoke singing sessions and contests that attract many people in the evenings.

What To Expect

There are at least 100 shops of all types cashing in on the popularity of the lane. The place is bustling, especially on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when the night markets are held.

You can even buy poodles and puppies here or get a tattoo done. Interesting items on sale include antique brasseries, Buddha images, antique blue and white plates as well as fake ones, religious Buddhism CDs, old vinyl records (including some of Sharifah Aini, DJ Dave and P. Ramlee) and paintings.

There's no lack of side attractions either. Among these are the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum, the Hang Kasturi Mausoleum, coffee shops, temples, nyonya restaurants, fashion stores, several ornate Chinese association buildings and even a funeral parlour and a coffin shop.

Do bargain with the sellers. The shopping culture here is almost like that at the Petaling Street night market in Kuala Lumpur.

Food is cheap and delicious with choices that range from dim sum, rojak and nyonya fare to satay, chicken rice and cendol.

Haven For Antiques

The first antique shop to open here was the Three Abdul. Owned by Indian Muslims in the early 80s, it has since changed hands among family members who have also opened new outlets including the Fatis', Abdul and Lagenda antique stores.

Fatis Antique Store showcases some very interesting old furniture, including that of baba nyonya origin. The most interesting would be a rare 90-year-old nyonya display cabinet priced at RM9,000.

Though not as elaborate as a normal nyonya cabinet with animals and flowers on its mirrors, it has distinct British influences in its design.

Manager Sulaiman T. Abu Bakar said the original cabinet, when found, was in a bad condition and they had to send it to Kuala Lumpur where experts dismantled it and diffused the colours before fixing and repainting the wood.

Most of the antiques in Fatis are sourced by runners while some are brought in by people who wish to dispose of their old things.

Also available are old nyonya ware such as famille rose teapots, spoons and plates as well as kerongsang and rings. There are also nyonya kebayas.

Sulaiman said there was a huge increase in the value of nyonya antiques in the last 10 years. A teapot valued at RM700 in the 90s is now worth between RM3,000 and RM4,000.

"That's because people now value their heritage and many are not willing to part with their heirlooms," said Sulaiman. "It's not just foreigners who are buying them up; locals are as interested in investing in the antiques."

Other great finds are an 80-year-old Samurai sword going for RM4,000, cannons between 90 and 100 years old, classic table clocks from Japan, the United States and Germany and some very impressive pieces of furniture.

Fatis also specialises in restoring antique furniture. Check out its sister shop Abdul where you can find old kerises, swords, kebaya, short knives and cannons.

Chinese Antiques

At Jonker Street, you can find also shops selling Chinese antiques like huge old dragon fish pots, Ching and Ming blue and whites, ink jars, tables, chairs and cabinets of various types of wood. There are a lot of fakes too, so you have to be really careful about what you buy.

The owner of Malacca Art Store, Chwee Phang Heng, advises buying at the bigger shops since they are better established. Malacca Art Store has three outlets here. Among the items it offers are a lacquered softwood bed from southern China priced at RM9,500 and a 100-year-old Elmwood cabinet from north China priced at only RM7,000. A nyonya cabinet with a large oval mirror and elaborate carvings on its top is priced at RM15,000.

The most expensive item is a 4ft by 2ft table of extinct Zitan wood or purple sandalwood, priced at RM150,000. Zitan and Huang Hua Li (yellow sandal wood) furniture are very highly prized because the former is extinct and the latter is a protected species.

Malacca Art Store also sells replicas of baba nyonya ware. Chwee said there are people who don't mind replicas as they cannot afford the real thing. For instance a replica of a famille rose spoon costs only RM10 while the real one would fetch much more.

You can also browse around for old cameras, tiffin carriers, silver kicknacks such as pillow ends, bangles and a range of porcelain items, some of which have been salvaged from sunken vessels.

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