In the morning the boy from the poor Muslim house brings us coffee. His grandmother, who sent him, waves us merrily from inside the house. There is so much goodness “lurking” behind every corner!
We go back at the station where there are luxury bathrooms with cabins – free of charge. After taking a bath we discover something that looks like an information center with books one can read and computers that are free to use. We sit a few hours and then start hitchhiking.
Two drunken Chinese take us and insist to drive us to Ayer Hitam Town, though the village they go to is much closer. We stop at a restaurant on the road and they buy the typical Chinese filled bred bao tze. It starts getting dark, the sky turns grey and it seems that any moment there will be a tropical storm. The Chinese left us and we go on the highway, but cars here drive very fast and it seems improbable that anyone will stop. We go under a bridge and soon it starts raining. Nobody will stop in the rain in the dark so we decide to sleep here.
We don’t see any lawn or glade in the vicinity so we decide to pitch the tent under the bridge and then move it when it stops raining. We are just ready when a car stops by us. We are dumbfounded when we see that inside the car is a woman with her baby. She is alone with her little child and stops for two strange looking guys who have their tent pitched under a bridge on the highway!!! She is going to Segamat which we don’t know where exactly is and whether it is in our direction.
The woman seems concerned about us and insists for us to come and sleep at her house at Segamat. We don’t believe what is happening. We see it as a sign from the Universe 🙂 We gather our stuff and enter the car. We drive for 150-200 km and arrive at a big village house. The whole family is waiting for us: her mother and father and her two sisters with their children. They are a traditional Malaysian family, very friendly and hospitable. This is our first visit at a Malaysian home.
The family of the woman who helped us (she is at the right with the red dress)
They serve us dinner and accommodate us at one of the many rooms. The relationships of the family are harmonious and the fun never stops with so many people. We appreciate the privacy and the personal space the typical European family provides, but after living with different numerous Asian families we see that there are many benefits in this way of life too. For example mothers with young children are surrounded by helpers and can always rely on someone to care for their children when they are busy. In this way caring for a child is easier and not so exhausting. Also family memebrs rotate doing the chores so one is not always thinking about what needs to be cooked or who will clean the house. For elderly people days pass by in joy and fun and they are always surrounded by young people and are not depressed by having to live their life in solitude.
In addition the feelings of isolation and lonliness of thousands of western people is unknown here. Of course for societies that put indivudality first, life in such a family will be a real nightmare and family wars will be the norm 🙂 So as we say “there are passengers for every train”
Traditionally Malay people go outside for a breakfast. For lunch and dinner they stay and cook at home. At 7 a.m. all are awake and ready. At the street next to the mosque there are several eateries full of people. Our hosts order vegetarian lontong (rice bites with sauces) for us and the rest buy rice noodles with meat. Malaysians love eating and as a result of their relatively new high standard way of life they, just as the Thai people, have most of their meals sweetened and eat a lot of meat. That is the reason why we see many overweight people here.
After breakfast it turns out that the bigger sister plans to travel to Kuala Lumpur and offers to take us to the fork to Malacca. She is going there in order to issue a book for deaf children. Malaysian Muslim women are very modern and though they always wear their hijab, they are emancipated and work in all areas of life. Most of them drive cars and have love-match marriages.
Cars in Malacca 🙂
So in the early morning we find ourselves 10-15 km away from Malacca. Then another two sisters take us to the center. We leave our baggage at a hotel and start walking around.
East Dutch Indias
Historical facts: Malacca is a historical city listed in UNESCO. It played a major role in the development of various European countries as well as the region. Several hundred years ago it had been the most busy port in the world due to its strategic location at the most narrow part of the Strait of Malacca. Different countries had conquered the port because of its key role in spice trade.
First Europeans, the Portuguese, arrive here in 1511 when the ruler of the country was still the sultan. Then the Dutch conquer the city followed by the British. During the times of the last conquerors the river and the quay clog with mud and trade fades away which in turn makes Penang and Singapore rise and prosper. Few people know how important the spice trade was for Europe just hundred years ago.
Stadthuys – the old Dutch part of the city
The city has narrow streets filled with history. Our walk is extremely interesting. This becomes now our favourite city in Malaysia. It resembles the old town in Penang and Singapore, but the atmosphere here is much more romantic and calm. The Dutch neighborhood Stadhuys has the most preserved Dutch architecture in whole Asia. The red buildings and the church on the main square are emblematic for Malacca. Here we also see ruins from the time of the Portuguese, old cathedrals, churches and fortress walls.
Ruins form the Portuguese fortress wall – Porta de Santiago
Tombstone of an European grave
At the Chinese neigborhood the atmosphere of ancient times is preserved and there are still many craftsmen and local shops. (In Penang and Singapore the Chinese own mainly electronic shops and other similar businesses).
Street in the old city
Here we encounter the typical temple street too. There is a mosque with beautiful Indonesian style decorations, Chinese and Hindu temples follow one after the other every 100 meters. At night we walk on Jonker Street where we see many local vendors selling food at triple the prices to crowds of tourists, mostly from China.
The Chinese Temple “Jade Clouds”
The mosque “Captain Kling”
Inside the mosque
The cathedral “Saint Francis Javier”
In the evening we find the perfect lawn surrounded by trees next to the sea. The place is just 5 min walking distance from the old city, but is at the same time outside the tourist zone and we see only some fishermen. Next to us we have bathrooms and the port used by the ferries sailing to Indonesia – no more than 2-3 a day though.
Replica of a Portuguese galeon
The next few days we stay in Malacca in order to film our latest documentary – you can now see it for free here (when you enter the page scroll down for download links or view it in your browser). We go around all the corners of the old city. We feel quite nice here and are totally not in a hurry to leave.
Visiting the house-museum Villa Sentoza
During the day we leave our luggage at a small hotel owned by a nice Indian guy. The guy even said that if all the rooms weren’t occupied, he would have given us one for free – anyway we wouldn’t have accepted it 🙂 He is helping us a lot because a dozen of other hotel owners have refused us to leave our baggage there. We warmly recommend his hotel in the old city. It is called “Bala’s place” and is at Hang Kosturi Street. You will meet the sweetest hotel manager there.
There are beautiful graffitti all over the city
Some evenings a very funny Chinese guy comes to talk to us. He had spent some time in prison and is now a retired painter. Two of the mornings he came bringing us breakfast and fruits and admired the fact that we sleep in a tent.
The river in Malacca
One afternoon we find ourselves in a beautiful street with many old Chinese family temples built to honor the ancestors. One of the main cultural-religious aspects of the Chinese view of life is namely the honoring of the ancestors and the respect to parents and old people. This is so common that you will probably never meet a Chinese person who doesn’t take care of his parents all the time.
The family temple of the Fo Family
Abandoned house of a rich family in the Chinese neighborhood
Inside these family temples there is usually an altar with wooden plates with the names of the ancestors dating back hundreds of years. The family members honor them by making bows and lighting incense sticks during certain holidays as Qing Ming Festival (The Festival of Bright Light a.k.a the Festival for Sweeping the Graves). Special rituals are being performed in order to show honor to the dead. One of them is to burn fake money and replicas of precious belongings in special urns in the temple’s yard. This way the living symbolically send money and valuable things to the world of the dead.
Family home of one of the richest clans in Malacca – The Chi Clan
The decorations of this street are very interesting. Around every door and window there are stone hieroglyphs related to moral values and prosperity. Some of them say “white moon”, “tender bamboo” and in general most mention some earth elements that bear symbolic meaning.
Facade of a house
The temple “Eternal Spring”
Altar in a Chinese temple
We film and montage the whole day at an Internet cafe and as we don’t have any time to cook we discover some really nice offers in an Indian restaurant. White rice with several vegetable dishes served on a banana leaf costs mere 4 ringgit (0.80 euro cents), other delicious meals from South India cost 30-40 euro cents.
Traditional Chinese ice-cream made of beans and green noodles called chendol
Delicious panckaes with pea-nut butter
When we come back in the evening the fearsome ants with which we share the ground are asleep, but in the morning things get tricky. The pain from their sting (yes, you read it right, they sting) is long and arduous. Anyway we studied their customs and realized they are stinging only when we are too close to the tree where they live.
Biological note: Stinging ants (Genus Solenopsis) first bite with their jaws located at their belly in order to get hold of you. Then they put thier sting in you, same like wasps. Some people are allergic to their toxin solenopsin and a sting could provoke allergic reaction and even death. Stinging ants live at the Tropics in all continents and are very aggresive.
We decide to go out of Malacca by bus and again we see how inconvenient this type of transportation could be. People from the information center show us the closest stop in order to save us 6-7 minutes of walking, but as it later turns out, they showed us the wrong bus-stop. So without knowing we hop on the bus and head the wrong direction. Then we reach the bus-station at the outskirts ironically named “Malacca Central” Then we catch another bus to the botanical garden located close to the highway to Kuala Lumpur. All this costs us our budget for the day and 3 hours of traveling and waiting. Better to have walked for an hour to go out of the city, but all this might be for something better to happen…