A more restrained Chinese buffet breakfast, then Cyrus and I go to Puda Central to get tickets to Melaka. But, we discover that it’s the wrong station and I need to get the sky train to the edge of town from Plaza Rakyat. Cyrus comes part of the way then gets off to head back to Ampang. I get the bus to Melaka which takes around 2 hours and costs less than £2. Cyrus will catch a later bus.
First impressions: Melaka Sentral is a confusing sprawling bus station-cum-shopping mall and it’s not clear where anything is. I manage to book my onward ticket to Singapore after carefully checking the dates and confirming with Cyrus. This all turns out to be flawed as 2 days later when I’m mentally set for leaving and picking through my folder of documents looking for Cyrus’s id card, I discover that my dates are wrong and that I’m leaving a day later. This messes up my budget a little and necessitates some more cash withdrawals and another ticket (which fortunately only costs £4 anyway). Bus 17 into town doesn’t materialize but the tourist panorama bus is going that way anyway and I get a ride for 1 ringett. I get off at the Stadhuys, which is the red Dutch townhall building, positioned on a pretty little square containing a fountain and a lot of trishaws, the yellow-shirted drivers accosting new arrivals and offering a tour of the sights on their spectacularly decorated vehicles: each is individually and artistically wrapped with flowers and ribbons. Some even have (too) loud sound systems playing anything from techno to thrash. This is a serious bone of contention for local residents, as I find out from the ladies working in the charm shop I go to on my last day.
I cross to the little roundabout with its display of animal statues then over a small bridge which takes me over a small canal to the bottom of Jonker Street with its colonial and Chinese shop houses which tastefully house antique and souvenir shops, eateries and local food stores. I follow the canal then turn up a little street which contains numerous guesthouses and hostels. After a couple of ups and downs of this and 2 adjacent streets and having looked at 3 or 4 rooms I settle on a place called Harmony Lodge which a Glaswegian guest in reception raves about. He then goes on to compare the cities he has been to then switches to telling me about his success in finding prostitutes in all places bar Melaka. When he finds out I’m gay he even wants to recommend a place in Thailand to me…I just let him talk. This guesthouse does actually turn out to be a good find. Low key, well located with very friendly welcoming staff and cool clean rooms in an old heritage wooden floored building. Opposite the 2 surviving blacksmith shops, on this “Blacksmith Street”.
Cyrus calls: his interview has been postponed and he will be here soon. Actually he is slow to get here and messes up on the town bus, meaning he has to walk a little way into the town. When he has settled we explore the little streets in China town: lantern-strewn streets with mosques, temples, a whole range of local speciality food places. Cyrus takes me for a Cendol: a Malaysian dessert made from saved ice and fresh fruit syrups, often with beans or coloured glute strands added. The whole thing on melting ressembling a delicious chilled fruit soup.
Cyrus has a durian cendol. Durian being very big in Melaka, and being one of the smells on these streets. I have a taster, but in spite of my love for fruits, don’t really take to it. The pastries filled with durian we have the next day leave a sweet cheese and onion-like aftertaste on my breath. I have a mango cendol, which for some unnecessary reason contains sweetcorn too. The eating shop is in one of the traditional heritage Chinese houses which open onto an exposed courtyard, where we sit. The place is littered with curios and junk (a wall of Mao photos, old fans and typewriters, displays of banknotes on the walls).
Cyrus buys some mangosteens on the street. They are nicknamed the “queen of fruits” (durian is king) and have the most exquisite and succulent sweet flesh inside their dark red skin.
We pay a visit to the oldest temple in Malaysia (the temple of mercy) where people are lighting pink lotus-shaped candles.
After passing the Indian style mosque we encounter a convoy of trishaws on a tour of the city. After they have temporarily deposited their passengers at the temple I get chatting with Ramli and his friend who has a spider motif in the decor theme of his vehicle. He tells me he does the decorating himself and did it that morning, getting the ideas from the internet. I’m really impressed with the skill involved. Ramli’s is decoarted with a dragon in preparation for the Chinese New Year. They tell me there is an on-going competition between the drivers for the best decoration. When they learn I am from UK they are really keen to show me their cycles: they are made in England, by Raleigh, and they tell me about the reliability and strength of the build.
We come across a shoe-maker’s shop with a difference: here they make copies of the shoes made for the Malaysian princesses and queens: these are tiny and designed to restrict the growth of the feet, meaning these unfortunate ladies could actually barely walk with their deformities. The shop also exhibits some of the genuine items from the 1920’s. The shoemaker tells me the story of the shoes and his father tells me that they have had this business for 3 generations.
Cyrus tends to hang back when I have these conversations: I’m not sure if he is annoyed with my interaction and engagement or he is just shy.
Cyrus is hungry (me too, but he more) and we walk past a myriad of museums (one is housed in a replica of a Dutch sailing ship, another has a WW2 motorboat outside it) apparently in the wrong direction, and Cyrus is beginning to get annoyed with me. We end up back in China town at a westerner-centred cafe with an English menu, but with a waitress unable to speak either English, Chinese or Malay. This results in me ordering a dish I cant eat (tofu stuffed with….fish), and the spicy eggplant and rice doesn’t suffice. The lime and plum juice is delicious, but I’m a bit fed up with this failed effort to find a good meal in this town of culinary delights. I don’t feel like moaning. I feel like I’m a bit selfish imposing my dietary requirements on Cyrus and we sit in a silence which becomes quite uncomfortable. I ask him to suggest what to do next but nothing is forthcoming.
I want to buy some beer. A hustler from a hostel I looked at earlier in the day had pointed out the house of an elderly Chinese guy who sells (illicitly) the cheapest beer in town. I think I recognise the house and I see someone who fits the description through the unglazed window, but have that British reserve and do not feel confident knocking on the window to first find out that I’ve got the right place before then asking for beer. I dither. Cyrus disapproves and doesn’t want to hang around, and says he will see me back at the hotel. I’m exasperated with his lack of adventure. I circle the streets, and encounter masses of pink flesh being carved up in the streetsat the open front of a butcher under the eerie glow of neon. It seems quite incongrouous in this magical city. I pass the house a couple of times, then see a local woman engaged in a transaction with this man at the window of the house. She tells me she is buying meat from him. He then sells me some beer from his fridge!
Back at the hotel, Cyrus is distant and withdrawn. Neither of us want to speak. I write my diary and he falls asleep. I slip out with my beer and spend a reflective hour by the canal, wishing he was with me, but also not being able to understand what had happened (it later turns out he didn’t either. We had a complete breakdown in understanding the other). When I get back to the hotel I hang out in reception chatting with Robert, the well-spoken Chinese manager, who is keen to learn about UK, and inform me about colonialism, the Malaysians’ admiration of the British. He shares a big bowl of longan (a fruit with a rough green skin, a bit like a lychee but less syrupy). I also meet the couple from Shropshire who have had many adventures, including a hospitalisation in Cambodia with dengue fever….
Sleep is weird and lonely. I feel Cyrus wake me up, he seems worried about me and wants me to put on my green hooded top. He asks me if I’m OK. I’m not sure if I am.