Singapore Adventure

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dire Straits
by jima

We've now been to all three cities that comprised the initial Straits Settlements: Singapore, Melaka (Malacca), and Penang. Visiting historic sites always leaves me yearning to commune with the ghosts of the people who lived then and there. I envision myself as the stately ship captain surveying his domain with thoughtful satisfaction, as the poor indentured sailor tying down the ropes as the British East India Company bigshots made their lofty landings, and as the local Malay fisherman watching with unease? scorn? contempt? hope? fear? as pale, red-haired, big-nosed strangers arrived and forever disrupted their lives.

It's not only the historic buildings that bring the past alive, it's also the great place names: George Town, Batavia, Java, Sumatra. They set an exotic stage for the grand productions in my mind. Of course, the cuisine always does its best to steal the show: here a Portugese-inspired dabel curry, there a Chinese roasted duck, and last but not least, a roti come out for the final bow at our grand Straits of Malacca dinner/dance show.

The Straits of Malacca were and are a major shipping channel between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. So the history of the region is burgeoning with intense tales of terrifying battles at sea, swashbuckling pirates, and heavily-cannoned waterfront forts. The colorful cast of characters in my mind includes Achenese sultans launching raids across the straits, Long John Silver recuperating bawdily after waylaying a Dutch merchant ship, and Bugis sailors doing what sailors do while on shore leave.

Our tourist explorations have taken us through old forts, old churches, and old graveyards, all in some way a part of the history of the Portugese, the Dutch, the British, the Sumatrans, the Javanese, the Japanese, ...well, just about everybody from Cheng Ho to Stamford Raffles to Hirohito. This area is truly the crossroads of the world, and I'm glad for the opportunity to leave my own small tracks and for the exciting history that it brings to life in my mind.