- 2009/03/29 Remnants of the past: No.8 Heeren Street

One of the best ways to get a quick lesson on the rich history and heritage of Malacca is to step into No. 8, Heeren Street Ė especially if Colin Goh, its manager, is there.

The 63-year-old is a true-blue Malaccan, and when he gives one of his tours on the old shophouse, located on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, built during the Dutch occupation of Malacca, it seems as though every brick, wall and tile has a story to tell.

"The front door of this shophouse is split in two," Colin said. "Back then, people didn't have fans or air conditioning, so they would need to keep the door open for ventilation. So this door would allow the tenants to keep the top half open, while the bottom half stayed shut."

According to Colin, they were called shophouses quite simply because they were half shops, and half houses. The front section of the houses were used for trade, while the back portion would be living quarters. Such houses were common back when No. 8 was built, which Colin says should be around two centuries ago based on documents found.

But even after all those years, the house is still in great condition thanks to restoration work. When Malacca was being considered for its UNESCO World Heritage Site status, it was earmarked for conservation because of its unique historical value. Badan Warisan Malaysia was brought in to help with that process, and since then, Colin has been involved in the continued preservation of the building, which regularly attracts plenty of tourists today.

Many would be surprised at how small the building is, considering how it had to fit in entire families and their businesses into a single rectangular structure with just one room. It was only much later on, some time in the 20th century, that an annexe was added on to increase the space of the living quarters.

"The roof tiles are laid in such a way that rain water wouldn't drip through, but yet sunlight would always shine through" he explained.

Another prominent feature of No. 8 is the courtyard separated from the shopfront by a small room and a walkway alongside it. The courtyard was mainly for ventilation, and built right into the wall there is a small well shared with the neighbouring building.

Back then, only well-off households could afford to have a well all to themselves. But for everyone else, it was common to have walls separating houses built right across the middle of a well, that way you could just dig one well for two houses.

Even the materials used to build the house tell their own story. The bricks for example, reminds us of the time when the Dutch occupied Malacca. "The bricks are known as Dutch bricks," Colin explains. "Their dimensions are different. They are flatter and wider than the standard British blocks you usually see used today."

With all this history housed up in one rather ordinary looking building, it's unfortunate that the colourful, neon light flashing restaurants and souvenir shops around Jonker Street behind it grab all the attention in Malacca.

It just shows that if you looked at your surroundings through the eyes of someone as passionate as Colin Goh, you can often find the most wonderful stories.

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•  2009/03/29 Passion for heritage

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