Monday 2 July 2001 – Melaka
As I was heading down the street from the hotel this morning, a truck drove down the street and took out several overhead power lines, showering the street in lethal sparks and leaving arcing cables dangling on the road. The truck drove on without stopping.
There was even less open here early than in Singapore. At 9.15am I found a ‘cek’ shop (Italian ‘ceks’ no less) with an espresso machine and thought I’d finally found some edible breakfast (I really can’t cope with noodles before noon). On ordering a café latte, I was asked to come back in 15 minutes, as it was apparently a bit early to start serving paying customers!
I ended up at some cheery little café in the historic quarter drinking ‘Melaka’ coffee, which is apparently ground with corn. It tasted OK, certainly better than the instant offered in some establishments.
After breakfast I explored the Islamic museum, placed in a beautiful wooden building on the side of the hill. Its displays were very disappointing, and ranged to the alarming. Lurid depictions of proscribed punishments under Islamic law – adulterers being stoned to death, thieves having their hands cut off, false witnesses having hands boiled in oil, and so forth. Very cheery and welcoming. All of this didn’t stop the lazy boys who were supposedly ‘attending’ the museum from playing blaring pop music that struck me as a bit hypocritical under the circumstances.
I found a wonderful art gallery in the Chinatown district with an exhibition of photographs of architectural details and people in Melaka. It was a tribute to the beauty and spirit of the town that is apparently fast disappearing. I was so impressed that I bought a full set of the photographs as postcards, even though they were quite expensive. I found my way through ‘little India’ back to the bus station by a slightly more direct (although still quite circuitous) route and purchased a ticket to Penang for tomorrow.
Everywhere I went, the music of the 1980s was playing – the 80s are clearly alive and well in South East Asia! I visited the wonderful Baba-Nonya Museum, still privately owned by the family that built the house in the nineteenth century and decorated it with a wonderful variety of Victorian and Chinese furniture and ceramics. A river cruise on the Melaka River took in some old ‘godowns’, grazing monitor lizards and a new ‘Malay’ village housing area and some ancient boats that carried loads of logs from Indonesia.
Late in the afternoon I walked out to the mouth of the river and up the wide bridge that spans it, past hideous blocks of empty condominiums that are as yet empty – I imagine still in the aftermath of the Asian economic collapse. There is also a new ‘resort island’ of similar buildings being built offshore on reclaimed land, which will presumably have a detrimental environmental effect on the original foreshore as tides and currently are changed irrevocably.
My biggest disappointment of the day was that the ‘Museum of Enduring Beauty’ was closed. The guide book said it contained gruesome exhibits of the sorts of mutilations various races carry out on themselves in the name of beauty. I thought it sounded fascinating. Dinner was a very ordinary New Zealand steak at an open air tourist restaurant in the old quarter, but at least one could get a beer there. Malacca’s main nightlife is the Sound and Light Show, at 8.30 each evening. It’s a jingoistic load of nationalistic nonsense about the history of the town, with heavily accented voices and ridiculous lighting effects up and down the old town – hideous.