Tears and joys in restoring pre-war shophouses
MALACCA: Many shophouses along the old street of Malacca Town are pre-war buildings and all of them are situated in the core area of the world’s culture heritage. Due to this reason, all renovation plans have to be approved by a special legacy unit of the government and no arbitrary reconstruction or maintenance is allowed. Therefore, owners who intend to “restore” the original appearances of their old houses are advised not to over-reconstruct them.
One of the owners of the old houses, Lai Hung Qian has inherited several old houses that belonged to his father in the past and all of them are situated in the core area of the Malacca World Heritage Site. He is renovating two of the broken old houses and suffering from the construction process. However, he is also gaining some happiness and satisfaction while looking at the old houses that are gradually showing their unique beauties.
He is headache with the problems of searching for materials, carpenters and historical data. Moreover, it is very costly and the most thorny problem is the original materials are hardly be found nowadays.
He is trying to renovate the old houses according to their original appearances even if it costs him a higher cost. He admitted that there is no economic benefit from doing so. However, he does not care about it.
the old look of Malacca has been destroyed
He calls on the public to take actual action in protecting the ancient city instead of just shouting slogans.
He found that at least 30% of the original appearances of Malacca have been washed away rapidly since the past few years. If the people of Malacca still do not know how to protect and cherish it, Malacca would soon disappear.
According to his experience as well as the reconstruction situations of some old houses, he found that the lack of governmental funding in renovating the old houses is the main reason of losing the original appearance of Malacca.
He said that renovating an old house is unbelievably costly and without the governmental funding, people have to adopt a modern and more economical way to complete the renovations. Therefore, it is hard to meet the requirements of restoring the original appearances.
Damages caused by foreign investors
In addition, many of these old houses have been reconstructed by foreign investors through the most economical and rapid way. They then sell or rent the houses at high prices and this type of price speculation has again damaged the original appearance of Malacca.
He believes that the situation might be different if monetary and technical assistance as well as encouragement are provided by the state government.
RM30 million to restore old buildings
The Malacca state government has received a restoration fee of RM30 million ringgit from the federal government. The fee is mainly used in restoring the Malay houses, mosques and the property owned by the Islamic Council.
Lai is currently renovating two old houses, he could hardly estimate the cost needed and the time of completion. He is not in a hurry to complete the projects as he does not want the monuments to be damaged out of carelessness.
One of the old houses is located at No.7 Jalan Kampung Kuli and he admitted that it was his second time stepping into the house after a few decades. He found that the owner of the old house in the 1920’s was a Chetti. It was later sold to the Xu family and it had also been a property of a bank before.
Comparing to the old house in the 1930’s which is located opposite to it, the house at No.7 Jalan Kampung Kuli is obviously older than it.
Lai is surprised to find a traditional Chinese clay sculpture on a wall in the yard. He intends to recruit a master to build a Chinese Pavilion there but the master still has not come yet after a year.
He spent RM270,000 to buy the house at No.112, Lorong Hang Jebat many years ago and he might need to spend RM400,000 to renovate it. The back of the house is just next to the Malacca River.
The St. Francis Xavier Church with a beautiful Gothic steeple on it can be seen through the back windows.
Lai found that this house is unique as it looks like traditional houses in Netherlands and it also contains the British colonial style. The previous owner of it was an Indian and the windows were made by Indian carpenters while elements of Chinese architecture can also be found outside the door.
He has also found an ancient well with special design beneath the courtyard. It is made of bricks and is nearly 10 feet deep. Its upper part is cylindrical while its bottom part is square. He is desperate to know the origins of the well and he is still leaving the well there as he is doing a research about it.
According to him, there is no economic benefit to renovate the old houses and the government should provide fund and encouragement to the public to restore old houses. Otherwise, it is difficult for them to conduct the renovation projects.
He has no idea of what to do with the old houses after they are completed. Finally, he said that he might rent them to the art galleries, artists, cafes and boutique hotels that concern about hygiene. (Translated by LIM LIY EE/Sin Chew Daily)