The mysterious Gate of Hades
MELAKA — The name “Gate of Hades” could be bone-chilling, but as a matter of fact the neighbourhood has been dead quiet as commercial activities dwindle. The old shops and people that stay behind have been used to their own quiet lifestyle, and begin to feel uncomfortable now with tourists scanning the place in curiosity.
Stories about the “Gate of Hades” used to be related to prostitutes, opium dens and suicides but the locals have their own more sensational versions that bring on a deeper sense of incredibility among the listeners.
74-year-old Chen Si Jing said the street used to be called Bridge Street (Jalan Jambatan) because of an old bridge connecting it to Kuen Qing Bridge.
Accounts on Bridge Street
77-year-old Rao Mei De and 55-year-old Lai Pei Fang relate their accounts on Bridge Street.
“Bridge Street used to have a market and a gate at the junction adjoining the bridge, which would be locked at night,” said Rao.
“There were prostitutes and opium trade but they were wiped out during the Japanese occupation,” added Rao.
“Bridge Street was established first, followed by Jonker Street across the river in 1885, and later the Iron Bridge in 1887 to connect both the streets,” said Rao.
“Bridge Street was called by the locals Chao Ti Hang (Hokkien dialect) while the Malays called it Jalan Besi Buruk,” said Lai.
“Bridge Street used to be a Hakka enclave,” said Lai.
Rao is a living treasure of the “Gate of Hades.”
No old streets could be complete without their aged inhabitants. In fact, old residents are the very soul of an old street.
There are actually not too many residents left behind in this quaint little street and few are willing to share their stories on Bridge Street.
The courtesy of Rao and his eagerness to relate the stories of the “Gate of Hades” has allowed the history to be kept alive and passed down to future generations. Like a goodwill ambassador of the “Gate of Hades,” Rao never turns down requests from tourists to take photographs.
Hardware store as livelihood
Rao is running a hardware store which was handed down to him by his father.
Formerly an international basketball referee, Rao completed his studies at Pay Fong High School. He furthered his studies at the Nanyang University in Singapore but was sent back for teacher’s training due to his father’s illness.
The hardware shop was initially run by his mother and wife after his father passed away. After he retired from his teaching profession, he came back to take over the shop.
Running the hardware store is quite a routine work where customers would drop by when the shop opens, mostly Malays on motorcycles or bicycles.
The store is still manned by Rao and his wife today, with various types of hardware tools displayed on the roadside for sale until the sun goes down.
“All my children are quite successful in their careers. Running the store is just to kill my time. I would quit when the shares are completely disposed,” explained Rao.
Bridge Street used to be known as “Cou Tie Jie” meaning a street with used copper and iron tools such as knives, hoes and tools for farming, planting and rubber tapping.
Prostitutes and opium dens
Rao recalled there could have been prostitutes and a few opium houses with three of them near Kampung Jawa Bridge and the other located at No. 12, on the first floor above “Yuen Li” hardware store run by Lai, passed down to her by her father Lai Shi You.
“Opium was indeed sold on the first floor during those days,” said Lai.
“There are several shops selling imported products (garments, shoes, stockings and cosmetics, not unlike the departmental stores that evolved later) in the street in the 1950s. However, they were gradually replaced by hardware shops. At least 90% of Bridge Street residents were Hakkas at that time, most of them running hardware and imported product businesses,” recalled Lai.
Hardware businesses subsequently declined as people turned away from cheap hardware shops to the more luxurious goldsmith shops.
“Five goldsmith shops were found back in those days,. but only two remain today, namely Ta An Goldsmith and Rong Fa Goldsmith,” said Lai.
Less competition for goldsmith shops
70-year-old owner of Rong Fa Goldsmith, Lai Si Tong told Sin Chew Daily, “Rong Fa was initially selling hardware and imported goods but was later converted to a goldsmith shop after I took over in 1967.”
“There was less competition for goldsmith shops compared to hardware business, and I was more interested in it. I only needed RM2,000 to start the goldsmith business.
“Unlike hardware business, I did not need to display my goods on the roadside and rush to keep them before it started to rain. The tools would get rusty if not properly taken care of,” explained Lai.
Rong Fa Goldsmith is still operating at the same location today, but has since been passed down to Lai’s son.
From 1950 to the mid-60s, there was an Indonesian barter jetty not far from Bridge Street, and this brought in quite some business. The bus terminus and market were relocated while the pier was closed. Most of the retail shops were converted to wholesalers at that time. Mahkota Parade on Jalan Merdeka also channelled the business away from the “Gate of Hades.”
“Most of the shops in Bridge Street have now ceased operation,” lamented Lai.
[Courtesy of Sin Chew Daily, http://www.mysinchew.com/node/71064]
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