One of our other favourite places in Malaysia
01 April 2010 | Melaka, Malaysia
We arrived at Melaka on the 29th of March, our wedding anniversary. We arrived in the midst of some wild weather, the marina had only 4 other boats in there and we could see them all rolling about as the water washed through from the Malacca Straits. It was another case of almost getting a marina design right. There were small gaps in between the concrete pylons in the retaining wall that was supposed to keep the wash out. We had tried in vain to contact the marina, both phone numbers for the office on their website were incorrect, there was a number for a marina manager but when we called him he had already resigned from the position but gave us another contact for the marina, unfortunately that number rang out. We checked the waypoints for the marina as listed on their website and found that they too were incorrect, they placed them 12 miles inland! So we sent an email which was never answered and decided just to try our luck. On our way we tried to rouse the marina on the radio, we had to try Channel 16 as on their website it told us to call Channel __, there was no number inserted! So in between the fisherman playing music, whistling and generally having long conversations all on the emergency channel, Channel 16, we tried the marina also to no avail. We drove into the marina to very little fanfare. No one came out of the office to see us but it was after 5pm so I assume they had gone home. An American guy on a small catamaran was out fixing his lines as his boat moved around in its berth and looked ready to give a hand. 'Where's a good spot mate?' Jay said. 'Everywhere's the same, it's all bad!' came the reply, not very reassuring. We decided to go for the nearest and easiest berth to get into, the American guy had gone back to what he was doing so we were on our own tying up. With fenders and ropes in place I climbed over the hand rails, balanced on the gunwhale as we rocked and rolled and readied myself to jump down to the pontoon, crossing my fingers that I didn't miss and end up in the muddy water.
Finally safely tied up with a criss cross of several ropes to stop us from smashing into the pontoon, we were able to leave the boat and go in search of a nice restaurant to celebrate our anniversary. The gates to the pontoons were not locked and 24 hour security sat at the entrance to the marina from the road. A perfunctionary glance and a request to fill in an arrival form was all we received from them, they did however warm a little when a few words of Bahasa were spoken and they happily gave us directions to Chinatown. We were pleased to see that we were within walking distance of everything and it was interesting to note a lot of the changes that had occurred since our last visit. Melaka is a heritage site, a lot of the old buildings have been restored and an effort has been made to make it 'tourist friendly'. Both the Chinese and the Dutch influence are obvious, the local government have installed soft pink lighting at the front of private homes and businesses. The effect on the architecture and feel of the place is beautiful. Lanterns hang everywhere a leftover from Chinese New Year, trishaws covered in gaudy colourful plastic flowers and flashing neon lights with booming dance music coming from their speaker's cycle past one after the other, their occupants suddenly the centre of attention, a conga line of trishaws. We are starving, a lot of restaurants appear to be closed, the streets are quiet, it appears tourist season is almost over here too. We come to the Geographers Bar and decided to eat there, the meal is not fantastic but achieves its purpose, we are no longer hungry. Wandering down the street we find a better restaurant and vow to come back to eat there the next night. We walk aimlessly through the streets before deciding to head back to the boat, we have travelled quite a few miles in the last few days and the effects are now starting to hit us, we are tired. Back to the rocky marina to try to get some sleep, we will explore tomorrow.
Our sleep was fleeting and what little of it we did get was interrupted by a sound I would liken to long sharp nails being scraped down a blackboard. It turned out to be the brackets on the pontoons scraping on the pylons as we rocked up and down and the tide came in. It's a wonder anyone could sleep there, the noise was SO loud especially being on water which caused it to amplify. I would assume that people staying there before us would surely have mentioned it but nothing had been done. Jay was out the next morning undoing the bolts to adjust it and when one of the bolts was found to have corroded and could not be undone, he came back, got a big hammer and belted the crap out of it! That was loud too and I half expected to see security running down the jetty to drag us off for vandalising or something but Jay's manic determination to 'fix it' proved fruitful and we were able to get some sleep in the nights that followed. We decided to go and check out Melaka in the daylight and wandered up to the office to check in. When we let them know about the wrong phone numbers, wrong waypoints and unresponded to emails they merely nodded their heads. 'Yes, we know', they said, why should we be surprised, this is Malaysia after all! But it's hard to be indignant when they are cheerfully smiling and laughing at Jay speaking Bahasa, there are more important issues in the world and this is not one of them!
This trip we are becoming little mallrats. The weather is so hot and although the threat of illness is always hanging over our heads (see Penang excerpt), the draw of air conditioning and ice blended drinks from Starbucks is strong! Besides, once you set foot into a Malaysian shopping centre you are lucky to find your way out again, literally!! They are a maze of shops, never-ending corridors and escalators leading to endless levels of shopping. Like Alice in Wonderland we walk along all of a sudden feeling as though we have eaten the cake that makes you BIG, the ceiling has lowered to a few inches above our heads and we walk through a shopping centre marketplace selling DVD's, jewellery and some, shall we say, very interesting fashion. This goes on for quite some time and then all of a sudden we are back in the 'normal' part of the shopping centre. There is some GREAT shopping, unfortunately when I shop with Jay I don't find anything (I need you Gem!) The other thing about shopping in Asia is that most of the ladies clothing is a little too quirky for me... I don't want bows, beads, flowers, ribbons, cartoon cats, lace or multi coloured buttons all over my t-shirts!!!! I have found some shoes but again Asian women have gorgeous little petite feet, I dread the look I get when I ask for something in my size, which is invariably followed by a quick (semi-disgusted look) at my giant feet! I do look forward to being home and being normal size again! We kill a whole day in the shopping centre!!! Where did the time go? When we head out from the boat that night we marvel again at how beautiful Melaka is by night. We stop at the river and take photos as boats pass by on tours. That night we eat at the restaurant we found the night before. We order a few meals to share including Butter Chicken and sit there salivating at the thought of an Indian meal but being Malaysia we should know better than to assume that Butter Chicken is an Indian meal and not just chicken with butter! I try it and cannot finish it, it makes me feel ill! Lucky for me Jay has an iron stomach, he finishes it easily and contemplates dessert. But I am slightly over exaggerating, the meal by Malaysian standards is actually really good. Plus the free entertainment in the form of Japanese tourists being ferried around in the trishaw disco conga line is priceless.
Having been sucked into the shopping centre void the previous day we decide to turn our heads as we walk past the tantalising mecca of air conditioning and instead decide to walk the streets for the day. We see a man at a roadside cart serving food, he has half a face, I remind myself how lucky I am and we continue on. First stop, the chicken rice ball shop. We order a quarter of a duck and half a dozen rice balls, there are rice ball restaurants everywhere, after the meal last night we're not sure what to expect but in an unexpected turn of events they turn out to be exactly what they say they are. Plain white rice shaped into small balls and are actually quite yummy dipped in some soy sauce. We wander in and out of antique shops, some of the furniture on offer is exquisite, ornately carved daybeds, huge Chinese urns and delicate screens. One item in particular that took my fancy was what looked like a lacquered cabinet which stood at around chest height, when opened it had a collection of drawers and shelves and was actually a huge jewellery box. The Chinese lady turned conspiratorially to me and said that if I bought it Jay would have to fill it with jewellery for me. I didn't think she would understand the term 'fat chance' and instead turned to Jay expectantly, he laughed nervously and we left the shop. A lot of places were closed after the busy month of February, so we just walked aimlessly up and down back streets in amongst peoples cramped living spaces and tiny businesses they run from their homes. We end up on the outskirts of Melaka which has none of the charm found in Chinatown and its surrounds. Instead it is a mass of dirty modern buildings, busy roads and businesses squeezed in next to each other, we eventually find our way back to the river and walk along it taking in the old buildings covered in historical murals and the squalid shacks that they have hidden behind a screen of hanging lights so that they are not visible at night. After being in Asia for the last couple of years the conditions people live in still amazes me. Old wooden houses well beyond their prime sagging in the middle and sinking into the mud they are built on, random placement of corrugated iron and scavenged pieces of wood form a dwelling where evidence of its occupants can be seen from the childrens clothing placed on the roof to dry and the smell that so often accompanies these communities, that of rubbish and sewage in the heat. As we cross a bridge over the river we are approached by a dark Asian man with dirty long hair wearing a turban and dirty cotton clothing, we expect him to ask us for money but he comes to us to say hello and to tell us with pride that Melaka has a lot of history and that there are a lot of things we should go and see. We take in the history and finish our day with 'Alice in Wonderland' in 3D at the air conditioned cinema. The perfect fusion of old and new. We leave tomorrow on the high tide for Pulau Besar only an hour and a half from Melaka, we will then get an early start and head towards Danga Bay, Johor Bahru where our journey through Malaysia will come to an end