Monday, 16 August 2010

Noodles to Hitler in one day abroad

Day two

Up with the lark. Well, up in time from breakfast at least (not sure they have larks in Malaysia anyway). Breakfast was a massive buffet with the full complement of cooked (no pork, but chicken sausages and ham, not as bad as they sound, and eggs prepared at the egg station to your liking), continental, pastries and of course the Asian selection. You ain’t never been to the Far East if you never had fried noodles for brekkie. I have so far drawn the line at the congee porridge though.

Full up and ready to go, we retraced our route from the last night to take in some of the sights

The first place we came to was St Paul’s Church which has been used by St Francis Xavier to do some miracles, and his body was kept here for a bit and you can see what was his tomb The church occupies an imposing position on a hill overlooking the river and out to sea, and is reached by going on a long slog up a flight of steps after entering through a gate at ground level for. This is called Porta de Santiago which was part of the original town fortress the Portuguese built which was almost destroyed by the Dutch until Stamford Raffles (the one that founded Singapore and gives his name to the most famous hotel there where the Singapore Sling was created) got them to stop. Parts of the old fort and town wall are excavated all around this area.

Jane at St Paul's Church, Melaka

Walking up into Chinatown and the atmosphere you could feel the previous night was no less for the daylight. The shophouses and narrow streets are incredibly evocative, especially those that are preserved in their authentic state. You can easily imagine what it was like in the early part of the 20th Century or earlier when Melaka was a vital port on the way to the Spice Islands. We came across one shophouse that had been restored to its traditional state as part of a heritage project. It’s simply called 8 Heeren St (see the Dutch history with that name), after its address, and wandering round this it was incredible to think that these places weren’t being snapped up to convert to houses as they would make great modern homes. Talking to the chap who was oversaw the project, and he said they have something like 100 of these places on the go to restore them to their original setup, but it isn’t cheap. They have grants from various sources including the US Embassy and Ford, but it amounts to something like £500,000 just for the restoration. Many more are gutted to convert into modern shops, or are demolished, but it’s good to know that there is someone fighting to maintain the heritage of this historic area.

A view up Heeren St, Melaka. Note the Chinese style shophouses

We went out from here and wandered a bit more, coming across Eng Choon Association, an incredibly well preserved guild house and Chinese temple, with gilt decoration and dragons carved in to the roof and supporting pillars. The amount of work involved in this is amazing, with the columns carved in stone with the most intricate detail. We stopped for another drink at the Geographer’s Cafe before wandering onto Temple Street, as this road is known due to the fact that it has the oldest Chinese Temple, oldest Mosque and the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia all harmoniously co-existing side-by-side. There were several other Chinese temples and shrines and a Buddhist temple also. The oldest Chinese temple is called Cheng Hoon Teng and built in honour of the Kuan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy . This was in much better taste than a lot of Chinese temples as it wasn’t really gaudy, but mostly in dark wood and gilt. It dates from 1646 and is still in use as a place of worship.

The Eng Choon Asociation door on Heeren St

Interior of the Cheng Hoon Association complete with dragons on roof

Carved pillar inside Cheng Hoon Assoc

Heng Choon Temple

Detail on roof of Heng Choon Temple

The mosque is called Masjid Kampung Hulu and different to most mosques you see as it was designed in the style of a Balinese temple, and the minaret built in the style of Sumatran mosques, with a tiered design (so the plaque said anyway, as I’m not really much of an authority on Islamic architecture). The Buddhist temple was a fairly modern build and pretty large. It was very peaceful wandering around the statues of legendary monks in various poses, though the significance of these was largely lost on me sadly, but I could see how people could be moved to meditate in this environment.

Masjid Kampung Hulu Mosque

Next on our route we went through Chinatown and to an Indian foodhall called Selvam for some curry which was staggeringly good. This was a banana leaf restaurant where you have no plates, just a large piece of palm foliage to eat off, and no cutlery. The food was rice and vegetable curries, plus dahl which is dolloped onto the leaf , then another man came round to give you rice, and another came to ask if we wanted chicken or mutton, so we opted for chicken which was again curried. It was, as I said, excellent and tasted all the better for eating with fingers. Not that Jane did, she asked for a fork. I on the other hand looked like I’d been snogging a peat bog by the time I’d finished. Of course, the locals are much more adept at this way of eating than I am, but they still provide wash basins which is a good thing or else people would be thinking I’d had an accident with cheap toilet paper if I tried to shake their hands.

We then stopped at a place for a drink called the Discovery Cafe which is very much a backpacker hangout, but the cafe itself has some character despite this, with the bar open to the road but festooned with all sorts of memorabilia like old typewriters, records etc. We enjoyed a beer here to wash down our curry before heading back to our hotel to take advantage of the swimming pool before the rain came.

After a dip, just in time before the rain reached us, and by rain I mean RAIN, complete with thunder and lightning, we went back to our room before we came down to the drink reception we had gone to on the first day for another couple of beers and some food. I then insisted I get to the gym to try out the dance class that was advertised. Big mistake as it was a essentially line dancing, so I did some work on the treadmill instead. I mean where was the street dance attitude? All the finely tuned moves I’d learnt over the last couple of years to hot joints from the street? They wouldn’t go down to the instructor and the two local ladies who were the attendees of his class. Their loss.

Friday night is one of the major nights out in Melaka, where Jonker’s Walk, the area on which the Georapher’s Cafe is situated, becomes a thronging night market. We wandered around this before settling to have a drink in a bar called Ringo’s opposite the Geographer’s to watch the world go by, and listen to Ringo himself (not the drummer, or if it was he has changed an awful lot since his peace and love speech telling pople not to send him stuf for signing) murder a few Beatles numbers. The set up at these bars is odd in that the staff seem to be employed by the beer companies rather than the bars. There was an army of scantily clad girls in outfits from Tiger or Carlsberg serving the beer of that brand. Not that I was complaining as they certainly beat the barmaid at the King’s Arms, on a purely professional level obviously. We headed further up the same street and alighted at another bar called Eleven where we had yet more beer and some food. The speciality of this place is Portuguese-cum-Asian and again was rather good. The prawns in sambal was sphincter quiveringly tasty . As the evening went on it turned into a bit of a pub crawl as we returned to the Discovery where they had a band on , wandered back towards the hotel and to a bar nearby, called Friends Cafe and finally had one at the place belonging to the hotel making it to bed for 1ish.

On last thing. When we were coming back to the hotel to use the bar I spotted a cat that was the spitting image of Adolf Hitler. This meant I spent 10 minutes chasing it around a car park to get a picture. It's not brilliant (it as 1am, I was drunk and I don't think Hitler cat wanted to be photographed), but here it is. I already sent it to the website so hopefully they'll post it there

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