Death of Jonker Street: Will the historical landmark relive its full glory?

The Vibes visited the iconic street to observe Phase 2 activities under the National Recovery Plan and the impact of the new normal

ON a normal busy week, tourists flock through the iconic Jonker Walk to experience local action from day to night, thanks to its harmonious blend of cultures.

However, the historic city has since been pandemic-battered much like every other travel hub(s) where up to 95% of businesses within the area of Jonker alone had to temporarily cease operations.

Death of Jonker Street: Will the historical landmark relive its full glory?
Melaka’s Jonker Walk night market would usually attract hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors during peak period. Things took a drastic change of scenery when the pandemic hit. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic

Earlier this month, The Vibes discovered that only a handful of shops along the centre street of Melaka’s Chinatown were able to comfortably open and serve only to-go customers under strict protocols after the state moved into Phase 2 of the National Recovery Plan.

Apart from laid-back activities of the surviving traders trying their best to keep their heads high, human traffic was minimal. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic
Apart from laid-back activities of the surviving traders trying their best to keep their heads high, human traffic was minimal. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic

What is left of the once thriving tourist attraction?

Those that survive, had more than just luck to thank as their longevity is credited to being able to quickly rethink their business models from offline to online. This was also coupled with support from loyal patrons. 

Even then, the pandemic has truly tested the perseverance of the local traders that make up the colour of the once vibrant street. 

(Left) The scene at Jonker Walk stage where the weekly poco-poco a.k.a line dancing would usually take place pre-pandemic. (Right) Jonker Walk exit heading towards Melaka centre during day time. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic
(Left) The scene at Jonker Walk stage where the weekly poco-poco a.k.a line dancing would usually take place pre-pandemic. (Right) Jonker Walk exit heading towards Melaka centre during day time. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic

Having walked for two-hours along Jonker Walk and the neighbouring intersections, the human traffic was minimal. The only thing obvious were the sounds of vehicles passing through, apart from laid-back activities of the surviving traders trying their best to keep their heads high and operate as usual.

It’s a drastic change of scenery where one certainly wouldn’t bump into new faces at every turn.

“Locals don’t really come to Jonker Walk, so our pool of customers are predominantly travellers that are new to the city – especially the old town,” said trishaw rider Lai Heng Loong, noting, “This definitely tells you the actual demographic of people that frequent here.”

Silence along Jalan Tukang Besi, nearby Jonker Walk. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic
Silence along Jalan Tukang Besi, nearby Jonker Walk. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic

The writer came across the 31-year-old local at his shophouse near Kampung Kling Mosque, just off Jonker Walk. His brother and mother were present at the time, busy spring-cleaning their home, while Heng Loong entertained our questions.

“Pre-pandemic times, I was able to actively participate in educating tourists on the history of Melaka, especially the locations on the route that we bring them on. It made the job fun and not boring at all,” he said.

Trishaw rider Lai Heng Loong (right) together with his brother and mother photographed busily spring-cleaning their home. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic
Trishaw rider Lai Heng Loong (right) together with his brother and mother photographed busily spring-cleaning their home. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic

“I have two other siblings who are trishaw riders as well. Of course, I hope for things to get better soon because one could make up to RM3,000 a month in income, if it is done full-time,” he added. 

“A lot of things have changed. Most of the shops here are either out of business or have been relocated,” expressed Jonker Vape supervisor, Shukur Azlee.

The 25-year-old notes that even the shop he oversees was forced to move down to the end of the street due to rental issues.

Since the pandemic broke, 95% of businesses within the area of Jonker alone had to temporarily cease operations. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic
Since the pandemic broke, 95% of businesses within the area of Jonker alone had to temporarily cease operations. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic

“Previously our Vape shop was near the centre of the Jonker stretch,” he said.

“During the first lockdown, we were able to negotiate with the owner through an agent to allow us a discount of at least half the amount of the actual rent. However, that is not the case anymore.

“Even though we are considered new traders here, we were able to survive thanks to online shopping. We still keep ourselves active offline but it’s mostly for pick up.

“It’s sad to see some businesses closing down but we live in unprecedented times,” added Shukur.

Stillness at the Melaka River. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic
Stillness at the Melaka River. – Azim Rahman/The Vibes pic

After a few other chats with locals on their concern over economic stability, they are more concerned at pushing for vaccination rates to go up first, in line with the state’s chief minister, Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali.

As the historical landmark and its community deal with the uncertain delay of domestic travel into the state, the burning question here remains, what will become of Jonker?

By : Amalina Kamal – THE VIBES

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