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Lingering issues at Portuguese Settlement

Posted on 24 December 2009 - 06:42pm

THE coastline at the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca has been transformed by the implementation of its urban rene al de!elopment programme "#$DP% since 200&' (ith the bul) of its $M&* million funding coming from federal funds "$M2* million from the +ourism Ministry% and the rest from a loan agreement ith the Malacca ,o!ernment- the Portuguese Settlement literally gre by another 6 acres "2'4ha%ith land reclaimed from the sea' .f this- & acres no house the /otel 0isbon and the rest a car par)- a food court and a playground' +he funds also co!ered upgrading of the Portuguese S1uare' +he main purpose of the #$DP as to enhance the settlement as a tourism attraction and further top its potential in this industry' +his in turn could bring further benefits to the community in terms of 2obs and business opportunities' +here are- ho e!er- t o glaring situations that need to be loo)ed into seriously' .ne stic)s out li)e a sore thumb and ser!es as a spoiler to the other ise good reception of the #$DP- hile the other longs for the realisation of hat is inarguably long o!erdue' +he first re!ol!es around /otel 0isbon' +he building initially planned as a cultural comple3- housing ba4aar lots and a budget hotel- is designed li)e a 56ortele44a5 "Portuguese port%' 7t has the re1uired features and elements that blend and fit ith the 5Portuguese5 concept of the surroundings' 7t is the main feature of the #$DP of the Portuguese Settlement and anticipated to be one of the ma2or areas of participation from the Portuguese communityconsidering the general purpose of this programme- that is to pro!ide 2ob opportunities "to the members of the Portuguese community% through pro!isions and acti!ities radiating from their o n turf and from the mar)etable traits of their o n li!ing heritage' +hey possess the natural priorities to be the main beneficiaries of this programme and its spin-offs and deser!e the right to en2oy the ma2or portion of this particular ca)e' +he chief minister during the groundbrea)ing ceremony announced the purpose of the #$DP- aimed to benefit the residents and the members of the Portuguese community in general' +he /otel 0isbon- ho e!er- tells another tale' +o start ith- hen the cultural comple3 metamorphosed into a hotel- opportunities to run the intended ba4aar lots8stalls disappeared altogether'

(hat follo ed as the acute alienation of the community- in the o nership- e1uitymanagement or operation of this hotel' 9!en as employees their participation as minimal and fell along the ran)s of )itchen helps- receptionists or security guards e!en though they possess a natural flair and a ide spectrum of talents in the hospitality business' (ith such a pool of talent- e3perience and s)ills- there should hardly be a shortage of the human resources re1uired to run a budget hotel' +he /otel 0isbon ith its name e3plicitly in to - and situated in the cradle of the Malaysian Portuguese 9urasian Society- is managed by a nasi )andar entrepreneur and of course ser!es as its main cuisine- nasi )andar' +hough e31uisitely appetising this Penang speciality sits agonisingly out of sync in such a clearly defined theme and setting' 7t is li)e offering Pun2abi cuisine as the main spread in a Minang)abau themed hotel in the middle of $embau' +o add insult to in2ury the hotel restricts the sale of beersbe!erages' ines and alcoholic

+his is offensi!e as it imposes upon an inherent social feature here ines- beers and alcoholic be!erages find fond indulgence- and are regarded customary ithin the conte3t of Portuguese culture' :apitalising on the Portuguese theme but altering the portrayal of some of its social characteristics and mannerisms is rather disrespectful and sub2ugatory e!en' 7n fact hate!er is relati!e about the hotel ends ith its name and its building' ;eyond that- it ser!es as an indignation that does not complement the o!erall surroundings e3cept to- perhaps e3ploit it' 7f the operator "of the hotel% is restricted by certain obligations that may collide or do not permit him free and total obser!ance of the comple3ities and intricacies of Portuguese culture especially so hen set ithin a conceptualised design and corresponding en!ironment- then he should not ha!e in!ol!ed himself in such an endea!our' ;esides- the po ers that be should ha!e had the common sense of re2ecting his offer and a arding the 2ob to the party that deser!es it most and ma)e the most of itthat is the pedigree themsel!es< the Portuguese community' 7f a certain degree of affirmati!e action is re1uired to assist them in this endea!our- then it is only fair and obligatory that they recei!e such assistance from the party concerned- and in this case- the state go!ernment itself' +hings ha!e to be put right before the /otel 0isbon descends into the depths of a moc)ery and becomes a sub2ect of ridicule to its supposedly intended mar)ets "ie tourists- both domestic and foreign% as ell as to simmer do n the gro ing feeling of resentment and disillusionment ithin the community to ards this portion of the urban rene al programme that has engulfed one third of their coastline but lea!es them reduced to a legion of mere bystanders on matters associated ith it'

+hough this string of de!elopment appears to transform the Portuguese Settlement into a tourism-friendly cultural !illage there is still one fundamental e!en compulsory feature that is conspicuously missing' +his incidentally is the other situation that needs to be highlighted' +he feature concerned is a church' = church in the settlement is long o!erdue' Sunday Mass and other religious acti!ities are held at the community hall- here its small capacity and nearness to restaurants- pubs and food outlets made it an inappropriate !enue for religious ser!ices' +his author through his administration of the Malacca Portuguese-9urasian =ssociation- has pursued this issue- for a long time' =fter years of an a areness dri!e and the e!entual support of the regedor and his administration- it then came to the attention of the chief minister' +hen at a political ceramah held last year- :hief Minister Datu) Seri =li $ustam ga!e an encouraging response to ards ha!ing a church in the settlement' = long lull follo ed after the elections- then une3pectedly- earlier this year- a report appeared in the southern edition of the Star 1uoting :hee) :hoon Sin the former head of >aperum that a $M?0 million pro2ect for a church in the settlement as on the cards and a aiting appro!al from the federal go!ernment' +hen- that as it' +here has since been no ne s on the matter' During that span- the settlement sa the building of the food court and a al)- ay' (hy is it that the realisation of a church in the settlement does not en2oy the same )ind of attention and action@ +he settlement ithout a church is an anomaly that re1uires serious and urgent attention' ;eing staunch $oman :atholics many of the communityAs cultural and traditional obser!ances re!ol!e around the church and carry age-old religio-cultural significance' ;esides nourishing and strengthening these "religio-cultural% pulses the church ith its serene tran1uillity pro!ides the spiritual sanctuary- moral guidance and inculcation of social !alues- to face- ithstand and place in chec) hate!er negati!e influences or social challenges that may come' +he best location for the church should be along the coastal fringes on the left- a ay from the noise and busy goings-on of the commercially featured right' +his location ill accentuate the serenity of the church- ith an atmosphere soothing to both mass congregation as ell as 1uiet reflection' 7t should also be e1uipped ithin its surrounding perimeters- facilities for religious classes- counselling and fello ship and sufficient space for par)ing' = church ith 7berian designs- located by the sea ill fit into the encla!eAs historically and traditionally imbued identity and ill be a fitting completion to a Portuguese cultural !illage' +his ample $M&* million urban rene al of the Portuguese Settlement is a !alued opportunity' 7t is only proper that this programme does not de!iate from its intended ob2ecti!es and hi2ac)ed of its main purpose to uplift the li!es of the community and sustain- conser!e and enhance its uni1ue and intangible heritage'

+he federal and state go!ernments- 7 belie!e had the best interests of the community in mind and should be commended for this de!elopment programme' +heir good intentions should not be allo ed to suffer any form of adulteration- that may result in their losing precious support and appreciation' Michael Singho is president of the Malacca Portuguese-Eurasian Association. Comments:letters@thesundaily.com