- 2007/10/01 The Dutch connection

The sound of prayers and hymns came from Christ Church in Malacca's Dutch Square during the launch of the Holland Days In Melaka.

The week-long event was organised by the Netherlands Embassy to commemorate 50 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries and the 50th Merdeka celebrations.

Christ Church, constructed in 1753, is perhaps the only place in the Dutch Square that still serves its original purpose. It gave the event a nostalgic feel of the old days when the Dutch ruled Malacca from 1641 to 1824.

The red laterite Stadthuys (1650), originally the residence of the Dutch Governor and his officials, now houses souvenir stores and a plethora of museums, among them the History and Ethnography Museum.

Statues of cows, Holland's most iconic animal, lent atmosphere to the Dutch Square. The five life-sized cows, made of plastic and fibreglass, were painted with colourful scenes by artists and children of European Union countries. Placed near the clock tower and fountain, the cows were part of an original 28 made to represent the 27 EU countries and the EU Commission.

Children were seen cuddling the cows while their parents took pictures. The Holland cow featured pink, red and yellow tulips sprouting towards the blue and white sky.

"Cows are an important symbol for Holland," said Dutch Ambassador Lody Embrechts. He said it symbolised the importance of agriculture as agricultural activities take up 60 per cent of land in Holland.

Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam Ali said it would be good to learn from Holland especially flower cultivation as it produces tulips for export.

Unfortunately, except for red roses, stalls at the event offered only fake flowers. There were some fresh tulips but they were not of good quality as it was not the tulip season.

Holland Days In Melaka evoked memories of Dutch rule and one could feel it at the Tradewind Treasures store near the Stadthuys door. Here, one can literally take home a piece of history on one's finger or around one's neck. Blue and white porcelain from the Wanli (1625) and Desaru shipwrecks (1830) in the South China Sea were set in silver pendants, earrings and rings and sold as jewellery.

The Wanli was a Portuguese vessel that sank off the Terengganu coast while Desaru was a Chinese vessel that sank off Johor.

Porcelain items from the two wrecks, such as plates and kendi (teapots), were sold at auctions or exhibitions. Broken ones were cut up so that the little paintings on them, such as deer, dragons, phoenixes and auspicious writings, could be immortalised on rings and pendants. These are priced from RM250.

Holland Days In Melaka was an opportunity for collectors of Delft blue porcelain to watch master artist Martin V.D. Berg at work. His crafts ranged from little blue and white coasters, teapots, flower pots and fancifully shaped jars, to larger, multi-hued paintings of Dutch people, towns, windmills, country scenes and his favourite artist, Rembrandt.

There are only about 20 Delft blue porcelain artists today, including Martin, who has been painting for 50 years. An old woman from Singapore bought some of Martin's coasters (RM25 each). She said: "In Holland, they would cost a lot more."

At the ING stall, a child excitedly manoeuvred the steering wheel of a sleek car originally used to train Renault F1 motor racers. His excitement was further fuelled by a large LCD screen in front of him where he could "see" himself on a race track. Multinational Dutch finance and insurance company ING was a sponsor of the Renault F1 race.

The festival highlight was an exhibition on VOC (Dutch East India Company) coins and original sketches from the book, Malacca Sketches, launched on the same day at Galeri Warisan in Jalan Laksamana.

Holland Days In Melaka is part of the Netherlands Embassy's year-long promotion themed Holland, More Than Tulips. It featured a Dutch food promotion, a cooking demonstration, a lecture on heritage conservation, a performance by Dutch musical group Kleintje Pils and a celebration of the life and works of Rembrandt Van Rijn.

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