Since 2008, when Melaka was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in a joint bid with George Town, in Penang state, the fragile outpost has succumbed to more modern foes: a surge in tourism from 7.5 million visitors annually to more than 12 million, a steep rise in property values and rents, and the construction of towering hotels, malls and new towns teeming with high-rises around its periphery.
“Before the inception of Unesco World Heritage, our town was rustic and unpretentious, full of unique flavours, hybrid races, the smell of incense, wood houses, the muddy river, the sounds of craftsmen at work,” said Bert Tan, head of the local Malaysian History and Heritage Club, and a resident of Melaka. “But World Heritage status has changed Melaka from a quiet community to the monstrosity of tourist commercialism and business. Old traders have been replaced by fancy bars and hotels. We have cartoon heritage, monstrous mega-projects, Hello Kitty buildings.”