Mooching around Malacca

November 08, 2014

On Monday we drove down to Malacca (Melaka in Malay) for a day and a night in this most scenic and historical of Malaysian cities.
Malacca is named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site (together with George Town of Penang) and this is apparent with the 'Don't Mess With Melaka' banners draped all over the buildings in the city. At first I thought those flags were a warning to presumptuous out-of-towners (We don't care for your fancy K.L ways!) but by the end of the trip Henry and I realised that they meant 'don't overdevelop our historical city'. And overdeveloped it is, Malacca is the driest city in Malaysia and everybody who visits complains of the searing, unbearable heat despite (or perhaps because of) the city being by the sea. I spoke to Uncle Colin of 8 Hereen House of the heat and he showed me two photos: one, and aerial photo of Bukit Cina covered in trees in the '70s, and the other of Bukit Cina now as bare as a vulture's head. Such a pity! I never thought I'd hear myself say "I can't wait to get back to Kuala Lumpur, it's too hot here!" Throughout the trip Henry and I were reminded of Lisbon, not just because of the Portuguese influence throughout the city but because of the same crippling heat that made us feel like not doing anything. That I didn't do my research and we visited when nothing was open didn't help. Most of the city centre's restaurants are closed on either Monday or Tuesday (even the locals can't keep up) and Malacca's main attraction Jonker street market was only on weekends. Add to the fact that photography is banned in almost all of Malacca's stunning heritage museums and buildings of architectural and historical interest, and one might think 'Well that was a waste of a trip'.

Happily Henry and I didn't think so, we enjoyed Malacca, perhaps not as much as we would if we had went on a (cool and breezy) weekend but even so it was lovely to walk through this historical city, once the centre of the Malay world in the 15th and the 16th century and the most prosperous Entrep├┤t and city of the Malay Archipelago. The unique architecture with Portuguese, Dutch, and British influences spoke to us of how this port town attracted the attention of the European nations looking to expand their influence in the East, and their battles to wrestle Malacca from each other's power. Of all the Western influence I'd say that the most prevalent living one was the British. The Peranakans (who are described as half Chinese, half Malay, 100% British) spoke to us in Queen's English and the older generation confided that they preferred when Malaysia was still Malaya under British rule, and no wonder, the British helped made the Peranakan rich and created what is now Malaysia's 'old money Chinese'. Personally I am absolutely fascinated by colonial Malaya and my secret dream is to build a time machine and travel back to pre-indepence, British Malaya. In the meanwhile I settled for a history lesson by talking to the older Malaccans who remember British rule and walked with the ghosts of centuries past in the heritage sites, Malacca's many museums, and meandering in and out of Malacca's numerous antique shops.

Enough paragraphs, here are photos from Malacca.

A view of the river from Wayfarer Guest House where we stayed a night right in the heart of Malacca's tourist destinations. Family run, everyone at Wayfarer Guest House was very helpful and friendly especially the matriarch (I forgot to ask her name) who we had endless chats with about the city and its less well-known attractions. 

Wayfarer Guest House's resident kitten, an adorable stray Henry named Rembrandt after the Dutch influences in Malacca. We'd have named him Van Gogh but we didn't want him to lose an ear. 

Henry's smitten with the kitten. Can you tell? When we first checked in Henry went downstairs for a cigarette. Ten minutes later he ran upstairs with the most earnest, adorable, wide eyed expression of joy, gleefully exclaiming: "Oh my God! Jasiminne!!! Guess what this hotel has?" Me, seeing this coming a mile away: "A cat...?" Henry, screaming: "A  KITTEN!!!"

Cooling down with a dragonfruit frozen yogurt at the 'One Bite Durian Puff' shop near Jonker Street. I stuffed a durian puff into Henry's mouth and he swallowed it, gagged, and had to sit down. "It tastes like methane!" No it doesn't, it tastes like durian aka the most delicious fruit in the world. 

One of the many antiques shop in Malacca, and possibly the only one that let us take photos. 

Cooling down in the Malaccan heat.

An impulse buy from Orangutan House: one of their famous screen printed tees, this one stretched onto a canvas. T'would look so right in the kitchen, yah?

Getting educated at the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum, an extensive museum charting the tremendous voyages and accomplishments of the intrepid eunuch Muslim Chinese seafarer, Laksamana (admiral) Cheng Ho. A favourite of the Chinese emperor’s fourth son, Prince Zhu Di, during the early ming dynasty, Laksamana Cheng Ho was the admiral of China’s ‘Treasure Fleet’, a convoy that  commanded expeditionary voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa from 1405 to 1433, solidifying China’s control over most of Asia during the 15th century. Mariner, explorer, diplomat, fleet admiral, and court just don't see CVs like that anymore.

We took one of the many embellished tuk-tuks on a tour of Malacca. 

Looking across the Straits of Malacca toward Indonesia, where Prince Parameswara of Palembang fled from the struggle of the throne of Majapahit. In Malacca he witnessed his hunting dog being kicked by a kancil (white mouse deer), so impressed was he by the audacity of the deer that he decided to set up a state there and named it after the Malacca tree he was resting under.

A visit to the remains of A'Famosa fort, a fortress built in the 16th century to house the Portuguese settlement before being wrested by the Dutch in 1641. Malacca was one of the Portuguese's outposts and ports for their ships from Portugal to the Spice Route of China. Now only the lone gate, Porta de Santiago, remains, as a testament to the brief Portuguese presence in Malacca. 

Henry trying to scare me by pretending to light a not-deactivated canon (it was deactivated). He attracted a lot of attention from the Malaccans for the way he was dressed. The older generation had to rub their eyes to be sure they weren't visited by a ghost of colonial Britain. 

As recommended by the locals, the famous nasi lemak Ujong Pasir. This humble nasi lemak stall near the entrance of the Portuguese settlement is known for its many choices of lauk (toppings) including quail's eggs, squid, prawns, and kangkung (water spinach).

Although we didn't get to see as much of Malacca as we'd like, Henry and I enjoyed the laid-back vibe, history, and architecture of the city. I'd recommend a weekend trip to Malacca if you're in Malaysia, and be sure to stay like we did in the middle of it all. Bring a fan, lots of bottled water, dress light (maybe leave the riding boots at home), and bring your camera: although many museums and shops don't allow photography there's still a lot to be captured. x

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