REFLECTIONS ON MELAKA
I'm publishing this post half-written - bad blog etiquette! - but am about to depart for the next phase of our journey.
1. Five words you do NOT want to have to say, in any foreign country:
'My passport has been stolen.' It happened to me. I won't go into detail, but it involved an involuntary trip to Kuala Lumpur, two nights in an expensive hotel, begging and pleading with the folk at the British High Commission, receiving the new passport in record time, much to the relief of our Singapore Hosts who were waiting helplessly on the other side of the Johor Straits and finally - and scarily - being held at the Malaysian border for two hours while they decided whether to let me through to Singapore, or to send me back to Kuala Lumpur, for some bizarre reason known only to themselves.
Cyclists in Heeren Street, Melaka
But before that horrible drama, there was Melaka.
2. What an enchanting city! Partly a holiday resort for families, partly a living history lesson and generally, the usual Asian noise, muddle, traffic, hustle, bustle and well, just life! Our guest house, Heeren House, on the river, was in the oldest part of town. This is a Dutch style long house belonging to a couple who worked in the UK for much of their lives but have moved here. It was delightful, quaint, characterful and perfectly clean and comfortable. I'd recommend it over any of your opulent swanky chain hotels. When my passport went missing, the proprietor, Liz, was incredibly supportive and helpful.
Holiday Traffic in Melaka
3. The calling of the Muslim faithful to prayer - a regular sound in Malaysia - was blended, here, with the clanging of church bells from Saint Xaviour's Catholic Church - twin tugs on the kindly fetters of religion. The Portuguese brought catholicism here in the 16th Century but there's also a big protestant church. Women cover their heads, but not their faces.
A traditional Melaka house
4. Baba and Nonya. This is a fusion culture - Chinese blended with Malay. It's a bit like the Creole culture of America, but Eastern. The houses are developed in the Chinese style but with large, open 'air wells' in their centres so that the chimney effect created by the central void draws in fresh air.
Baba and Nonya food is a wonderful fusion of Malay and Chinese noodles etc. Spices are used liberally, but blended subtly and although fish and chicken are writ large, freshwater prawns also figure and are delicious. The also love sweet things - bless them - and a favourite dish is shaved ice with a kind of jelly and syrup made from pandanus sap which has been reduced to a molasses-like consistency.
oops - the man's come for the baggage. All I've got time for. Tooodle-oo.