I left my heart in Melaka

I’m posting this from Semporna, Borneo, where I’ve just signed up to do my divemaster course. Yee haw! More on that later.

In the meantime, Melaka (aka Malacca), the place I just left. It’s a place where it’s easy to get stuck. I arrived on a Monday, thinking I’d spend a few days. A week later I finally left, reluctantly, to catch my flight to Borneo.

There’s no beach to speak of nearby – it suffers the filthy water of most port towns. But Melaka is a popular tourist destination for KLers as well as foreign tourists. I arrived on a Monday and the town was dead – at 7 pm I went out in search of dinner and found very little. But as the weekend closed in the town slowly filled up, peaking on Friday and Saturday nights when the pedestrianized Jonker Walk was wall-to-wall tchotchke-shoppers and there wasn’t a bed to be had in the whole downtown.

Dotted around town are giant, lush trees that serve as a reminder of the virgin rain forest that Parameswara, a Hindu prince and pirate, found when he decided to base his empire there, in the early 15th century. With help and protection from the Chinese, he transformed the small fishing village into *the* place to park your goods-laden ship in the notoriously pirate-infested Straights of Malacca during your trip from China to India to Europe and back again. Which is ironic, since, as I said, Parameswara was a pirate himself.

The town is a colorful mix of cultures that reflect its history. Over the centuries native Malays intermarried with colonial Portuguese (called Kristang), Indian merchants (called Chitty people) and Chinese (called Peranakan or, more colorfully, Baba-Nyonya, meaning father-mother). This multi-culti heritage results in fascinating architecture, Hindu and Buddhist shrines surrounding the large central mosque, and, most importantly, food that’s so good you want to cry.

Overall, it’s a relaxed, happy place that has hit upon just the right mix between tradition and modernity. Its heritage is preserved in museums such as the Baba-Nyonya Museum, but this heritage is also still alive, in a modern way, in the dress and customs of Melakans.

If I go back to Peninsular Malaysia, I’m going to try to go back to Melaka. I like it that much! In fact, I met a sweet Iranian painter and musician who was on his *third* stint there – once for a week, once for 40 days (!) and this time for 30 days. It’s that kind of place.

G’night. S’tight.



It seems that most of SE Asia is infested with bedbugs. Here in Melaka I suffered my third attack (Xian, Yangshuo, then here). I changed beds and washed all my stuff. Everything was OK for two nights.

And then, two nights ago, I woke up to the now-unmistakable itch of bedbugs. Gah! It was around 3 or 4 am, so I just grabbed my computer and headed downstairs to the hostel’s common area to write. That’s where I found Winston, from the bed diagonally across from me, watching TV and itching his arm. Bedbugs attack! I smiled, sat down and we compared war stories for hours.

Around 8 am I came back in to the TV room after a bathroom visit and…BASEBALL! Yes, ESPN Asia was showing game 1 of the NLCS. As it turns out, Winston’s a Dodgers fan. So we settled in to watch the game, which lasted until noon local time.

After the game Winston went up to try to nap and I went for a wander in Melaka. In the evening we took a bus to Medan Portugis, a nearby settlement where descendents of Portuguese settlers and their Malay wives still live. We ate a dinner of spicy fresh crab and “devil” chicken curry washed down with cold Jaz beer. The chicken was a bit dry, the beer a bit tasteless, but the crab was excellent – just spicy enough to make you sweat a bit, and just tangy enough to cut the spice.

Winston is a really great guy – a Korean-America TV editor and aspiring writer from LA. When I first saw him I dubbed him Hot Asian Guy II. (Grrlz who attended Lissette/Andy’s wedding will get the reference!) He’s about 3 months into a 5-month motorbiking trip through SE Asia. He started in Vietnam, bought a cheap bike, and has come down through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and now Malaysia. We clearly have a lot in common (travel, baseball, writing) so the conversation was easy and interesting. Dinner felt like a really great (and chaste) first date.

After dinner we taxi’d back to Melaka, which fills up with KL tourists on weekends. Looking for some wine, we instead ran into a few Americans & Canadians from our hostel at the local expat bar. We joined them and they drank beer & I drank Jack-rocks until the place shut down. Back at the hostel, all of a sudden it was 2 am. Game 2 of the NLCS started at 4 am, followed by Game 1 of the ALCS at 7:30. “No point in going to sleep!” I decided. Our friends shook their respective heads and went to bed. Winston and I headed to the local 7-11 for game-watching supplies: caffeine (Diet Coke, chocolate) and food (pretend Doritoes, prawn chips, etc).

So yeah, no sleep for 36 hours. Winston left today – he’s meeting friends in Singapore. I tried writing for about 5 minutes, then gave up and took a 3-hour nap. Sleep is good.

OK, I’m off to find some dinner. More on Melaka tomorrow (I promise!).