The Story of Melaka’s Old Bus Terminal

The flowing Malacca river silently bore witness to several revolutions which took place in this historical city. Situated on the left bank of the city riverbend, Jalan Kilang (renamed Jalan Tun Ali) used to be the pulse of Melaka town, its industrial area played a pivotal role in developing the nation’s economy. Built in 1969, Tun Ali Bus Terminal became a landmark. 

The newly-built terminal replaced the former Hentian Bus Terminal located on Jalan Kee Ann; it is also a multifunctional building. Housed above the terminal is a departmental store chain and an international hotel, whereas on the ground floor are up to 72 retail shops. Anything from clothes, bags, jewellery, newspapers, books, magazines, flowers, fruits, and a variety of food are available. 

As a domestic transport hub, there are eight major bus companies at Tun Ali Bus Terminal operating several routes across the surrounding towns. The terminal is within walking distance from historical sites, opposite a large wet market, the shopping complex upstairs a novel feat during the 70s-80s when entertainment was scarce. This new development introduced vitality to the town centre, being crowded from early morning to late night. Be it students or working adults, loitering during their free time, having a gathering, or going on a date, the terminal is always bustling. Buses of varying colours and sizes line up in rows, causing dust and fume particles to fill the air around the station, the sight of busy conductors and rushing pedestrians, all are collective memories of Melaka folk. 

In 2005, the city council issued an order to relocate the terminal 5km northwards to Melaka Sentral Bus Terminal. Tun Ali Bus Terminal ceased to operate, hence business declined due to lesser crowds. Merchants, including the departmental store and hotel, had to move out or close down due to heavy losses. Some years later, the old bus terminal became neglected, its surroundings overgrown with grass and weeds, stagnant water causes mosquito breeding, frequented by drug addicts and prostitutes, a fire outbreak earlier on brought upon more severe devastation. 

Despite the miserable conditions, a few shop owners decided to stay since the rent is low. It is no longer crowded, but retirees like to gather at the open space on the ground floor to chit-chat and pass time, getting along in harmony regardless of racial difference. Regular customers of the three remaining shops are sure to visit, which are a coffee shop, a tailor shop, and a pawnshop. 

A traditional Hainanese coffee shop, Keng Lim Poh opened its doors concurrently with the old bus terminal. Apart from beverages, they also sell simple meals such as bread, nasi lemak, and economic fried noodles. The second generation owner Lim Sen Jiu took over from his late father 36 years ago, he once had a brief stint at the new bus terminal, however due to lack of customers, he returned to the old site and continued to run the 50-year-old shop. It co-existed with the old bus terminal as the only shop which has not relocated until the end of the chapter. 

Located at the left entrance, City Tailor Shop was established for over 40 years, the septuagenarian tailor Lee Chong Kai moved in from the mens department upstairs into an independent shop. During the glory days, Uncle Lee engaged 5-6 workers, yet he now works alone in his comfortable old age. Last but not least is DJ Pro Enterprise, a pawnshop operated by Uncle Kang Hock Eng, who mainly takes in old gold and pawn tickets. Hailing from Penang, he settled down in this spot due to its being a landmark with ample parking space, 15 years thus passed in a flash. 

At the end of this July, the old bus terminal’s water and electricity supply will be terminated, an ultimatum issued by the landowner under pressure from the city council. The last three shops had to vacate their premises, as the final curtain fell on the old bus terminal. Even though reluctant to leave their familiar workplaces, both the coffee shop and the tailor shop will be permanently closed due to lack of successors, Uncle Lim and Uncle Lee will be retiring whereas Uncle Kang will shift his pawnshop onto a nearby street. The city council will redevelop the old bus terminal along with neighbouring deserted lands, in future they might take on a new look, and continue to flourish in the historical city. 

Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen

有你 UNI Production
Producer : Mok Yii Chek
Coordinator : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang
Drone : Daniel Lim
Video Editor : Michael Lerk
Production Assistant : Michael Lerk
Music : An Inspiration Piano / Ambient Inspirational Documentary Piano


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