Trip Start Jan 13, 2009
70Trip End May 17, 2009
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Where I stayed
This really hit home the last couple of days. Open to the possibilities is the theme of this particular trip and I am truly winging it now as I completed the first five countries I knew I wanted to see. The rest is gravy, as they say. I didn't know a thing about Malaysia until a few days ago and had never had any desire to see it. It just happened that you had to get here to go there, and there was the Perhentians for Janice so I was along for the ride. That brought us to the Camerons and on the way; I read her the history of Malaysia from her Rough Guides book. It is a pretty fascinating history - especially since the country itself is only 52 years old. What the hell was going on before that you might be asking yourself...or maybe not, but I was. OK, I have a lot more time for pondering than 99.9 percent of the world and I am truly grateful for that fact and rejoice in every minute of it. So, as it happens, the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Dutch and finally the Malay ruled here and fought many a nasty battle over a port that kept coming up in the history chapter. This port was a strategic deep water port for the Spice Trail and later for the Silk Road. I had never heard of any city in Malaysia other than KL so it was no surprise I hadn't heard of Melaka, or Malacca. I made a note to self that it might be a cool place to go as it was so desired by so many others, for so many centuries; maybe I might find it desirable a well.
When Janice went west with Jesse and I was going south, I decided to stop in at Melaka because, a) I could and b) it was only $3.00 for the 2 hour bus ride from KL. I had no idea what it might be like because I actually never got through the whole history chapter and Janice took the book with her. So, completely blind, I pulled into Melaka a couple of days ago. Pulling in it was obvious that it is no small town. I should add that, here in Malaysia, there is quite the unique phenom going on. I don't know if it is like Short Man's Syndrome or what, but they are obsessed with quantifying everything as 'biggest'' best'', oldest, 'tallest' loudest' you get the picture. Driving along on the freeway, the signage is remarkable - huge billboards purporting the best ofs for every product: winner of...in 2007, 2008, Industry leader....., Award winning...... and towns promoting themselves as most environmentally friendly, most organized, most, most, quite funny and it has really stood out for me. Obviously it has something to do with the reason they do have the world's tallest towers in KL. The Guinness Record book is touted in many of the billboards so competition must be a cultural entity. Explains the use of Beauty Queens...Miss Clam Shell 2008, Miss Squat Toilet 2006, etc in every print ad. Not same-same as the other neighboring countries. Kind of neat.
Back to Melaka. Got off the bus to a remarkable bus terminal that puts many international airports to shame. I actually started to try and figure out if it could possibly be an air terminal as well, just without runways and planes. Bus travel is tiring - give me a break...it could happen.
Decided to grab lunch at McDonald's - was eating among the big groups of scarfed Muslim girls and very cute boys - seemed like a college town atmosphere, my prescence creating somewhat of an interest point and conversation piece as I certainly don't look like most of the other travelers - and I had not seen any white faces there. It is predominately Muslim so the women are in very fashionable long tunics and use their fashion creativity with the headpieces - some very funky and beautiful in wild colored silks and jeweled edges. The real difference here was a palatable friendliness versus the opposite in Hat Yai.
Instant feelings about a place are the oddest thing. I have been trying to dissect and analyze what it is that gives a building/street/community/city/country a 'feel'. I am no clearer yet but am still figuring it out. What I do know is that it exists and usually the first feelings ring true with more experience. I know it is true with people, and I pride myself on having pretty savvy skills reading folks and situations, but it is this grander feel that is so interesting when you are in so many different places in such a short time. Social Psychology at its best and I loved it at University and still love that stuff.
So, instant vibe - really nice. Five minutes of the usual staring and trying to figure me out and a young guy approaches and asks me if he can take pictures of me for his University Photography assignment. Any, and all you, cops reading this stop laughing because we have all done those calls that started this way and usually ended with some guy, purporting to be a modeling talent scout, ended up wanting to ensure the size of the genitals and breasts were within the modeling agency criteria....this was a really nice kid with a camera and a table full of classmates, also with cameras. The rest of his table was in awe of his boldness and the girls were looking very horrified. Long story...aren't they all, I took off my clothes and will be on this month's Hot Melaka Mommies website. Nah, he took some pictures of me while we visited, doing a major in photography at the university, from a small town far away and so curious about everything. Another kindred curious type. He was so worried that I would have to see the city myself, without a guide, that I wouldn't stay long enough to see everything, that I have a great feel for Malaysia, he gave me safety advice etc - so sweet and genuine.
That was the first encounter and I cannot tell you about all the others, other than to say, everyone I met in this City was this open and genuine. And not weird happy. This is not a cult town; in fact it is the most eclectic place I have ever been to. I ended up staying in a small guesthouse in the ancient Chinatown. Melaka was granted UNESCO World Heritage status last year. For those of you who know Hoi An Vietnam, it had the same feel but 100 times bigger and better. Hoi An without the Tailor shops and the store fronts - Hoi An from 20 years ago when people lived in all of those ancient houses. So cool.
The standout, that is now a permanent memory, is the street I stayed on. I was directly across from the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia, dating back to 1735. On the same block is one of the oldest, largest Muslim Mosques and halfway down the next block, an ancient massive wooden Chinese Temple and across from it a massive marble Chinese temple as well. All in a brightly painted, ceramic covered, Chinatown with interesting arty boutiques interspersed with the undertaker and the machete makers.
My permanent memory......I check in around three or four after an arduous blistering heat filled couple of hours spent in a Trishaw - brightly decorated bicycle with sidecar, a staple of Melaka, searching for the guesthouse I had heard of. My driver, a third generation Trishaw driver - supercool with a tapedeck on the bicycle and big speakers to enhance the riding pleasure. After about an hour we blew a tire and I had to search on foot. So Hot!!! Never did find that GH but found a charming one across from the Hindu temple. All OK so far. I got the front room overlooking the street - open shutters to a big balcony. Still good. As I drain onto the floor, dripping from my clothing, hair and skin - I hand over my cash for the room. Turn around to go upstairs to strip off and stand in a cold shared shower - shared with other guests - not shared like you may have thought....so.
I am suddenly startled, in a shake your bones type of startle, from the booming loudspeaker pointed at my room from the Muslim temple just down from my balcony. This temple is unique because it has a 3 story pagoda style tower, in which the sound system is installed for the 4? calls to prayer every day. For those of you who have been around these before you know what I mean, for others, it is LOUD. and LONG and it is overwhelming the way it fills the air. I start laughing because the same thing happened to me before - in Cairo, in the middle of my first night there and it woke me up and scared me as I had been sleeping so soundly - when I woke, I had no idea where I was or what the siren or yelling or chanting was about. I couldn't tell, in the dark, what it meant or where it was coming from. Kind of like -"bombs are being dropped on your Hotel" but in another language. I was scared shitless and only in the morning when I could see out, did I see I was on the sixth floor and the loudspeaker for the neighboring Mosque was on the roof beside my window - facing, also, directly at my window. What are the chances????
It gets better. Later in the evening, as I am sitting out on the little bench taking in the street action with the Guest house guys, watching the action directly in front of me with people coming and going into the Hindu temple - smashing things in a large tin box before going in and coming out, then seeing the variety of cloaked people heading for the Mosque and watching the Chinese come and go from their temple - incredible community viewing. As darkness sets in, the Muslim call for prayer starts blaring and at the same time, the wildest sounds ever come from the Hindu temple. Very hard to describe - wild saxophone riffs and bizarre drumming. Like Circus music but not. It too is amplified to fill the community, only I am sitting within 50 feet of both and in between the two competing sounds The Hindu one, I thought was just random, wild men playing Saxaphones and banging drums going to town in the ancient little square inside the temple. I asked about it and they told me it was also a type of call for prayer at the end and beginning of each day. So........you can imagine what it all sounded like at 5 am when I was in my bed, 2nd floor, shutters open to the two loudspeakers which are installed at my level and again the Hindu music - obviously not just random jamming as the same tunes again start and about 10 minutes later the Muslim call for prayer starts. What an experience and a treat to be able to see/hear/ and experience all of this.
I loved Melaka - there was so much more to see and do - 29 museums in about 4 block area, lovely huge malls, empty wide streets and such warm friendly people who wanted to talk and visit and know why you were there and why you could not stay longer.
Like Nimh Binh in Vietnam - getting off the beaten track allows for a completely different experience and I was so glad I picked Melaka and was open to its charms. It made me wonder what else I missed in Malaysia and maybe I should return to find out. On to Singapore.