I think the authorized Malaysian High School history textbooks (well, at least the ones that I used to hold in my hands slightly more than a decade ago) were boring, uninspiring and (pardon me) sleep-inducing. it seems just yesterday when I was still draped in the sea blue, slightly over knee length and equally boring pinafore school uniform. My daily chores at that time consist mainly of filling up my not very large skull with as much information and data (be it important or downright trivial) as possible, so that I could have a chance to excel in the fifth- year national examination (the life determinative exam, many say). Those were the days when I was compelled to memorize the list of lengthy names of the 9 Malacca Sultan since Parameswara, just to prepare myself for all kinds of uncreative history questions such as “Who was the 5th Sultan of Malacca” during exam. The supposedly overwhelming fact that a small trading port like Malacca was once colonized by Dutch, Portugal and Britain more than half a millennium ago during different significant historical periods means nothing to me, save that those were hot examination topics that I must get myself familiar with if a straight As examination certificate were what I intended to obtain by the end of my five years student life in High School.
I visited Malacca on numerous occasions with my Malaysian friends, but oddly (or perhaps not), none of them was interested to explore the heritage sites of this small and serene historical town. Instead, all insisted that the trips should be confined to all-day eating and shopping excursions, something which Malacca rarely disappoints. Blame it on the rigid and exam-oriented educational system, the “memorizing and regurgitating” system must have left some invisible scars on my fellow friends, the phobiac former students of Malaysia that just could not wait to avoid and hide faraway from the real-life objects of history studies right after the completion of their nightmarish academic years in school.
Years later, when I finally got the chance to have a proper trip to appreciate the beauty of the looming historical remnants and relics of Malacca, I confess (rather shamefully) that I had quite a difficult task to link the familiar names to the ancient architectures right before my eyes. The dilapidated, roofless yet formidable St Paul Church at the hilltop was a bewildering mystery to me- imagine a church-cum-fortress that looks like neither; The striking red Dutch Church and Stadhuys were like a painting of a laid-back community square in Europe, with a clock tower standing aloof right in the midst of numerous colourfully decorated trishaws, charming old houses and stalls selling myriad of tourism merchandize.
There is a certain inexplicable magnetic attractiveness about Malacca, and cliché as it may sound, sometimes I do wish I could have known a little more in depth about this UNESCO listed world heritage site, beyond the surface of those uninteresting facts and dates contained in the school history textbooks.