Friday, March 27, 2009

‘We do not learn from our mistakes’

On the 28th February 2009, I paid a visit to my former school, SK Bandar Hilir. Sitting at the open space of the old canteen, I pondered at some wise thoughts scripted on the walls.

One in English reads: “The era where errors are tolerated is over. We do not learn from our mistakes anymore.” Another one reads: “We now learn from the success of others and perfection has become a norm.”

Next to the wise thoughts, was worn out writings of important lesson in bahasa Malaysia (Malay). Under the title ‘Rumusan Penting’ (Important Summaries), there were various tables under topics such as ‘Ukuran Panjang’ (Length Measurements) (for example, 1 cm = 10 mm), ‘Masa Dan Waktu’ (Time) (1 minit = 60 saat), ‘Timbangan Berat’ (Mass Weight) (1kg = 1000g), and ‘Kalender’ (Calendar) (Januari = 31 hari).

Then there were drawings of various shapes; their names in Malay; among others ‘spera’ (sphere), ‘kon’ (cone), ‘silinder’ (cylinder), ‘kubus’ (cube), and ‘piramid’ (pyramid).

Looking at the worn out writings of the ‘Rumusan Penting’, I guessed it was not worth to repaint or gave it a new facelift. It is only advisable to give the wall a new coat of paint, the Mathematics time table should be written in English because pupils in primary and secondary schools nowadays learn Science and Mathematics in that language.

Much had been said about the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI), so I leave it to the experts; the thing that hit me hard was the wise words on the walls; “…we do not learn from our mistakes…”

Before visiting the school, I had ventured inside Dataran Pahlawan Megamall, just across the road from its main gate. This largest shopping complex in Malacca stands on the former famous Padang Pahlawan of Bandar Hilir.

Where was the historical padang? It was no where to be seen. Dataran Pahlawan Megamall covered the entire ground of the former field. During my school days in the 60s and 70s it was famous as a venue for soccer games, recreational and meeting point of youngsters, elders and veterans.

The ‘raping’ of Padang Pahlawan was a very sad episode. On this field the independence of Persekutuan Tanah Melayu (Malaya) was proclaimed by Tunku Abdul Rahman. It was on this field that the country's first Prime Minister the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj and his entourage were welcomed by more than 50,000 locals on their return from England after successfully negotiating for independence from the British on Feb 20, 1956.

Joyous shouts of Merdeka (Independence) were heard and a banner ‘Di bawah runtuhan Kota Melaka kita dirikan negara baru’ (Within the ruins of the Fort of Melaka we form a new nation) was set up to reflect the nation's hope. – (

Regarding the destruction of Padang Pahlawan, a writer, A Ulquiorra Schiffer, wrote; “I came across a short TV program that is specialized in complaints and grouses. It caught my attention because it was about an issue in my hometown. The people are complaining about the logic of building Dataran Pahlawan Mall on the historical Padang Pahlawan.

“Now, any one who are historical conscious would know Padang Pahlawan is the first place where the Malaysian independence from the Brits are announced. It was a historical site for the nation and at the same time it also holds a special place in my childhood memories. Long before fire crackers are officially banned from this nation, this was one of the few places we often launched ‘moon travelers’ deep into the sky without worries.

“Children from the opposite schools often used this padang to play football and other sports like rugby. Kereta lembu(s) used to reign supreme in this place. But now, Padang Pahlawan has become a distant memory because it technically does not exist anymore. It was replaced by a mall.

“Apparently the people who are being interviewed in the short program shares the same sentiments with me. Even the ‘pakciks’ in trishaws also agrees. They seem angry with the construction of that mall over a historical place. It’s not like there are not enough spaces in Malacca. To me, it’s like building a mall within the complex of Forbidden City. Of course Padang Pahlawan’s value is no where as old as Forbidden City but it’s not the matter of longevity here. It’s the matter of national identity.

“Although Padang Pahlawan is only half a century old but it is part of the nation’s identity. Do I have to tell you how relief I was when they decided to move that stupid ‘keris’ tower project that was supposed to be built opposite of Stadhuys? The people protested against the project but the complaints are largely ignored until they found the remnants of the Porta De Santiago (aka A’ Famosa Fortress) wall underneath the construction site.”

After having a quick look inside the mall, I exited at the main doors near the Light and Sound grand stand; facing the A’ Famosa gate (Porta de Santiago). This famous gate reminded Malaysian especially the Malays about their grim past. It was one of the remains of the great A’ Famosa fort built by the Portuguese after defeating the mighty Malacaan Sultanate army in 1511.

“In 1808, Porta de Santiago was nearly lost forever to history as orders were given by the British Governor of Pahang to demolish it, along with the fortress at the mouth of the river. Unfortunately for the locals (and luckily for us), their spades, picks and crowbars were useless against a fortress which reportedly had walls 15 feet thick! But before they could use gunpowder, Stamford Raffles stepped in and saved what tourists can see today! Thanks to him, we can see the grand construction of the fort and the Dutch logo that the sods imprinted on the Portuguese fort after seizing control.” (

So the British (Stamford Raffles) had saved the remains of the Portuguese fort so that we (Malaysian), could have a good look at it, ponder, and learn lessons from it. Our forefather might made mistakes, we should learn from their hard ways.

The generations of yesteryears and those still alive today, and ‘insya-Allah’ (God willing) our children and grandchildren and their offspring could have a good look at Porta de Santiago left by the Portuguese, but what are we going to show our children when they asked about the famous Padang Pahlawan of Bandar Hilir? Remember on this padang, the independence of our country was declared!

Regarding the Padang Pahlawan, are we satisfied to have our children looking at old pictures and text penned in history books? Come on, our beloved leaders, not all things could be bought with money and all those materialistic things; a billion US dollars cannot bring back the nostalgic padang.

“The era where errors are tolerated is over. We do not learn from our mistakes anymore. We now learn from the success of others and perfection has become a norm.”

To those in power, please have a deep thought of the wise words scripted on the walls of SK Bandar Hilir. Even though I am just an ordinary ‘rakyat’, my heart cried every time I passed the former padang. I can’t accept my beloved padang was lost forever, how they had the heart to destroy it? Even the historical Padang Kelab Selangor in KL was spared and renamed as Dataran Merdeka.

Looking at the old files, a ‘real’ Malacaan (anak Melaka) I’m sure would cry for the lost treasure of Padang Pahlawan. One report quoted Malacca Tourism Association president, Seet Tiang Chye as saying Dataran Pahlawan in Bandar Hilir, Malacca, should be included in the list due to its historical importance.

"It has a significant relation to the country’s independence. It was there that Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed the independence," he said. For me, Chye could only say, “Don’t cry for me Malacca!”

Do our leaders really know what being listed as National Heritage means? Among others it meant, any item on the list will be protected by law and efforts will be made to preserve it. Buildings and other tangible items cannot be demolished. Neither can they be altered, changed or developed.

Today we praise Raffles for his sight in saving Porta de Santiago; tomorrow I couldn’t imaged what the new generation would say to those who had their hands in destroying Padang Pahlawan, our very own heritage of independence. Was it because we do not learn from our mistakes including history?

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