Melaka 

10 Jan

Our final stop in Malaysia would be Melaka, a port city along the Straits of Malacca that has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. The city has a rich history and plenty of different cultural influences. As a sought after port city, it has been conquered by many, including the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, and it shows in the architecture and feel of the city. We arrived on a Wednesday after a brief bus ride, had some McDonalds at the bus terminal, and hopped on the local bus for a quick and easy ride into Dutch Square, where we had a 5 minute walk to our cheap cheap hostel, Jalan-Jalan Emas. The hostel cost 16 ringgit for a dorm bed and 40 for a double private room all while having a high rating, which is unheard of anywhere else. We had gotten in late and found the town eerily quiet, with many of the shops unopened and few people wandering the streets. We set out on a walk, stopping in a used book shop and walking back through Dutch Square, the center of the town saturated in a deep clay red, composed of old Dutch influenced buildings. We made our way past an old replica ship and fort, attempted to go down to the water, and stopped off for snacks and drinks before heading back to the hostel after sunset. 

We asked the man working at the hostel for good places to drink in Melaka. Given that the place had a similar ambiance to George Town with its old European influence, we were nostalgic for our beloved watering hole. The man at the hostel told us to go down by the river, which we instantly knew meant big money. So instead we hopped on Google and asked the always big question, “Where to get cheap booze in _____.” The recurring result was a small place called Shantaram (that just so happened to be on our street. After walking far past where it said it was on Google Maps (naturally) we came across two wooden tables surrounded by plastic chairs in front of a small, open room with a couch, some arm chairs, some more tables and plastic chairs, and an older man watching a TV and collecting money from those taking beers from the fridge stocked with a few different varieties. Truly not a bar, making it exactly what we were looking for. After finding the spot, we headed over to the riverfront to grab some food before heading back. When we returned, the outdoor tables were all full so we awkwardly stood around the inside of the place before a man sitting alone at a table summoned us over to join him. The man’s name we later found out, is Kumar. He was born in India, but most recently lived in Edison, NJ (NJ represent). We talked with Kumar for hours as he continued to buy us rounds and rounds of beer without allowing us to jump in and get one. We appreciated his questions, insights and stories while he appreciated our youthful mannerisms and perspectives on the world. He had things to teach us and we had things to teach him. After a few too many beers, we agreed to meet Kumar at 10:00 AM the next morning so that he could show us around Melaka. 

The following morning Josh would not get up. The beer had won and his hangover mixed with the hot air in the AC-less room kept him out of the game. Angela and I somehow managed to rise from the dead and I quickly gathered my things and moved them to a guesthouse next door because we had only booked one night at Jalan-Jalan and, by the time we went to extend, the room that Josh and I were staying in was booked for the night. We met Kumar outside our hostel right on time, where he awaited bright-eyed and ready to start the day. First, he brought us to his favorite breakfast spot, an Indian restaurant down by the water where he knew all the owners and employees. He ordered his usual meal, a roti with two fried eggs on the side. We followed suit and ordered the same thing. Even though we said we were okay with water, he made sure to order us two fresh orange juices, which I’m glad he did because it was the best OJ I have had in Asia (a nice reprieve from the usual tang-like liquid we’re given when we ask for OJ). The roti was hot, crispy and delicious and accompanied by an excellent sauce. I still dream about it. Kumar generously paid for the meal and we embarked on our walk around Melaka. We went down by the ocean, walked towards the newer side of Melaka where most of the construction is being done, returned to the central part of town where he talked to us about the buildings we saw, climbed up St. Paul’s Hill to see the church ruins and the beautiful view and walked through Chinatown and Little India. By the time we returned we were ready for a nap and, according to Angela’s iPhone, at the end of the day we had walked over 11 miles. 

After a long nap, Josh and I headed out in search of Indian food while Angela went in search of noodles. We found her out on the street along with a guy from the dorm room at Jalan-Jalan who had seemed a little slow. We stopped to talk with them and Angela was clearly fed up with the guy as she wouldn’t talk and tried to hurry on without him as he ran after her. She later told us the nightmares she faced that day as this guy tagged along uninvited on her adventure, thought they were on a date, tried to pay for her rice wine at an old bar she went to even though he wasn’t drinking and wouldn’t stop complimenting her and simply annoying the shit out of her. We continued on after seeing them, looking at multiple different restaurant menus before settling on a place for chicken tikka masala and roti (yes, my second fried, floury goodness of the day). We were less than impressed with the food so we treated ourselves to ice creams from the corner mart before heading back to the guesthouse. That evening, we went back to the watering hole, as promised to Kumar, and had a few casual beers. While Kumar kept the beers flowing, we knew we had to end the night early so we could function the next day. 

We awoke to simmering heat on our last full day in Melaka. We headed out to brunch where we booked a bus and hostel for Singapore for the following day. We then set out walking and spread the knowledge we had learned from Kumar to Josh when we could. We stopped at the replica ship and paid to enter the museum on the ship which, while fairly informative regarding the history of the nations who conquered Melaka and the city’s function as a popular trading port, didn’t offer much information beyond a Wikipedia page. We headed back to pick up laundry, visit a rice wine bar that Angela had gone to the day before, and eat some noods. The rice wine bar, Sin Hiap Hin, is over 100 years old and run by an older woman who was the fourth generation owner. The bar used to be popular back when the port was lively, but doesn’t see many people anymore and allegedly may be closing soon. The rice wine was cheap at 5 ringgit a shot and the woman carefully chipped ice from a block for each drink. She also put out a little plate with peanuts and some Indian snack mix for us to munch on. She was clearly very happy to have us there. I tried the lychee and the rose and was surprised at how easy they were to drink, given our dire experience with bootleg rice wine shots out of giant canisters throughout Vietnam. Angela went a little further and tried an orange colored one that I do not recall the ingredients of, followed by a silk worm infused rice wine. Josh and I both had a little sip of the silk worm one, put off by the black color of it, but were pleasantly surprised by the slightly sweet and cinnamon taste of it. Angela even bought a bottle of it. After we bid adieu to the woman, noodle expert Angela led us to the Wan Tan Mee shop she had eaten at the evening before where we enjoyed the cheapest yet largest portions of Wan Tan Mee we have ever had. 

We moved on to the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia that is down the street from the hostel and guesthouse before heading back to St. Paul’s Hill for the sunset. We were blessed with a beautiful sunset and plenty of photo opportunities. We walked back into town after the sunset to Jonker Street, where the infamous night market takes place. Melaka remains quiet during the week, which we experienced when we arrived on Wednesday, but on the weekend shops that you didn’t even know existed open for business and people flood in for a short getaway from places like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. At the start of the night market we decided it was time to try durian. For those who don’t know, durian is an avoided fruit in Southeast Asia for its rancid smell and taste. You can basically smell durian from a mile away and its presence is popular at markets in Thailand and Malaysia. Taxi cabs and subways will sometimes have signs that say no durian. Different stalls and shops do crazy things with it, including deep fried durian and durian puff pastries. Angela and I decided to split a single durian puff pastry. I took the first bite, with hopeful eagerness, squirting the filling out the other end and instantly feeling the burn in my mouth from the onion and garbage like taste of the durian. I gagged before passing it off to Angela who took a much smaller nibble. I couldn’t even swallow it and spat it into a gutter and continued to spit as we walked down the street. Water wouldn’t kill the taste and I even used a bit of hand sanitizer around my mouth in an attempt to eliminate any remains of the smell and taste. I had to settle on a mango smoothie to neutralize my palate. Never again durian, never again. It was all downhill from there as the night market disappointed us greatly. Not a good selection of food stalls and far too many useless little chachki. We made it to the end of the street and walked to a 7-Eleven to stock up on snacks to bring to Singapore, where we knew we wouldn’t be finding any cheap treats. 

While walking back to the guesthouse, we passed Kumar who was heading to dinner. He invited us to join him but since we had eaten earlier and had plenty of snacks, we politely declined and said we would meet him at the watering hole for a few later. That evening Kumar once again generously kept the rounds coming and we enjoyed a few hours of conversation. We asked Kumar about getting the local bus the following morning and he suggested that he come with us to the station to make sure we got there and to see us off. The next morning he gathered us at our hostels and walked us to the bus stop, where he waited with us and paid for our fare on the bus. He joined us for a McDonalds breakfast and brought us to our gate, where, I can’t lie, I felt emotional saying goodbye. We all agreed that Kumar was the most selfless and kind person we had met on our travels and truly made our Melaka experience something special. He waited for our bus to completely drive away, waving goodbye the whole time. We were truly lucky to have met him. 
Our experience with Kumar was the perfect ending to our Malaysian adventure and an excellent example of the type of people we found in Malaysia. What made the country so special and the experience so rich was the people. The three of us were simply blown away by the friendliness and sheer happiness of the people. From the first random people saying hello on the streets in Penang that we were convinced were trying to sell something, to the man who let us use his chairs on the beach expecting nothing in return, to the people who offered to drive us places in the Cameron Highlands, to the splendid guesthouse owners in Taman Negara and the friendly night walk guide, to all the local bus drivers who kindly answered our questions and yelled out our stop to make sure we got to the right place, and to Kumar and the watering hole owner, Das. I truly don’t think anything can compare to the beautiful mix of culture and friendliness in this country. While Malaysia wasn’t in the original plans for our trip, I’m so grateful that I added it to the route. 

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