Currently: Rainy day in Tokyo- This week is Golden Week, which is the Japanese excuse to take a 4 or 5 day weekend. I might have explained this before but, since Japanese companies don’t really give their people vacations, the government took it upon themselves to sprinkle holidays throughout the year, so there’s a 3 day weekend in most months. They’ve created national holidays on April 29, May 3, 4, and 5th, which has affectionately become known as Golden Week, and many people take the rest of the time that week off work, and a few employers mercifully just shut down offices for that day. Unfortunately, this year it’s been raining cats and dogs this week, so nothing super-interesting going on with me this long weekend.
Back to our story…
PART II: Malacca!!! (Day Three in Malaysia)
When we last left our hero (?) he was on a bus headed south to Malacca. To set the scene: Malacca has long been a factor in Asian and European history and economics, due almost exclusively to the valuable choke-point that is the Malacca Straits. To this day, rights of way on waterways remain valuable and often a cause for tension (which is why neither the Moroccans nor the Spanish are too thrilled that the British continue to control Gibraltar, for example).
The Portuguese established their beachhead in Malacca way back in 1511, and ever since it’s been a favorite whipping boy and point of debarkation for various nationalities trying to control or make a career off of trade going through the Straits. Because of this infusion of various cultures, it’s a fascinating place to walk around, and makes for a very interesting culinary experience. Malacca City itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pictures from Malacca:
A street picture. There’s a bunch of 2 or 3 story buildings around where the ground floor is retail space, and is often open-air. I think I took this picture because there’s a Proton dealership or office there on the right. Proton is the Malaysian national car, which I had frankly never heard of, but there’s Protons on the streets everywhere.
I thought I took more pics inside the Malacca bus terminal, but this blurry one is the only one I have. It was significantly less fancy than the one in KL, but on the other hand I’ve seen nastier bus terminals in the US. I was struck by the number of vendors in the bus terminal selling hijab (the required Muslim female headscarf). It was interesting to see all the hijab-bedecked mannequin heads lined up showing off the latest in Islamic fashion.
I kept a loose mental count of the number of different Angry Birds products I saw in Malacca. T-shirts. wallets. footwear. I think I stopped counting after 2 dozen. The conversation I had with X went approximately as follows:
Me: I can’t believe all of these people play Angry Birds- do they play on iPhones or computers or what?
X: Oh, they probably don’t play..they just love the characters.
(later, after seeing yet more t-shirts and other merchandise)
Me: Wow, if even 50% of this stuff is licensed and authorized, those Angry Birds guys have to be rolling in the dough.
X: Oh, none of this is licensed.
For lunch we went to a restaurant that specializes in Nyonya food, which is the name of the Chinese culture and food that developed in Malaysia and Indonesia after incorporating all the various cultural influences that were around.
This was the walkway celebrating the Chairman of Jonker Walk, who was in charge of turning it into a tourist attraction. Apparently this gentleman used to be quite the body-builder in his day. DURIAN. I tried durian fruit. Despite the smiley-durian on this sign, durian is pretty well known for its…rather strong smell.
I figured if I was going to try it, something small and easy to eat would be the way to go, and we found this durian puff place on Jonker Walk, so I bought one. It was…. actually pretty good. I liked the taste a lot. However. Durian also has an aftertaste that’s kind of acid-melony tasting, not really pleasant, and it doesn’t go away for a long time. So..I’m glad I tried it, but it’s probably not something I’ll repeat any time soon.
This sign points out the danger signs to look for when fake monks collect fake-alms. Kinda sad that they have to do this. Maybe Christian churches should have done the same thing during the televangelist heyday.
Outside the temple there was this street with a bunch of shops selling all these little paper cars, motorcycles, you name it. X explained that people buy these to burn during funeral ceremonies so that people have these objects in the afterlife. We looked around a bit and they actually sold paper iPhones as well. I bet AT&T’s signal still sucks in heaven.
We had been walking from the Buddhist Temple and heard a Mosque’s call to prayer, which I think might have been the first time I’d heard that. This mosque was about a block down from the Buddhist Temple. …and this Hindu Temple was the next block down from the mosque. It was apparently the oldest Hindu Temple in Malaysia, built in 1781, but it was closed when we were there.
Random cute character atop restaurant. This is a Chinese clan house. There were a bunch of them in the Jonker Walk area. From what I’ve read, these were essentially set up by expat Chinese long ago to help those of the same clan find a place to live, get a job, have a safe place to go if needed, etc. This is a clan house for Hokkien-speaking people, which is one of the main dialects spoken in Taiwan and the area adjacent to it in mainland China. Many of the clans are for people with a certain last name. X’s family name has a clan house there too.
This was my hotel: Baba House right in the Jonker Walk area. It was pretty inexpensive and charming, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it. They had some issues with mold that could have been minimized. Nothing seriously disturbing, but still, ugh. When I checked in that 10 year old girl in the corner was furiously abusing the PC in the corner, using Facebook as if her life depended on it. She kept switching between some Facebook game and Facebook chat with one of her friends. They had free Wi-Fi in the hotel, and when I checked in they admitted that the Wi-Fi sometimes wasn’t that great and that people would have to come into the lobby to connect, or use the PC. I dreaded the prospect of trying to pry this girl away from her Facebook. Luckily, the Wi-Fi actually worked pretty well for me.
I had no idea of what that little green thing on the ceiling was. When I looked closely, it says “Kiblat”, which from a wi-fi enabled, non-10 year-old-girl-interrupting internet search, means in Malay the direction one faces to point toward Mecca for prayers.
Speaking of ruins, across the Melaka river from the Jonker Walk area is more historical stuff. This area has Portuguese, Dutch and Malaysian history all in one area. This picture shows all that remains of the Portuguese fort built there in 1511.
After the Dutch took over in the 1600s, they built a settlement nearby called the Stadthuys or ‘city house’. All of the tell-tale red houses in the area were built by the Dutch. They also built Christ Church, above, in 1753.
This is a history museum down the street from Christ Church and the Portuguese remains. It shows the history of Malaysian independence. While Kuala Lumpur is the seat of government and the first Malaysia flag was first raised there, the first reading of the Malaysian independence announcement occurred in this area in 1956.
Rewinding back to Portugeuse times, as there was a big hill to climb to get up to this landmark, we find St Paul’s Church, originally built in 1521, but completed with the second floor in 1590.
St Francis Xavier spent some time in Malacca, running a school and using it as his base for his missions to China and Japan. After he died in China, his body was temporary buried here before being sent to his final resting place in Goa, India. Here is a statue of him in front of St Paul’s Church with a look on his face that eternally says “Okay guys, which one of you took my hand?”
St Paul’s is in ruin now, hollowed out.There’s a large number of tomb stones that are lined up along the wall. Under the Dutch and later the British the church was deconsecrated and used for military purposes.
I found this little tidbit interesting as well. Apparently there’s a few different companies in Malaysia, McDonalds and KFC among them, that give out these free stickers to attach to your windshield. And every time you go through the drive thru at McDonalds, you get a free small fries. But..you have to drive around all day with a McDonalds sticker on your window. Interesting means of advertising. It was probably something like 1 out of every 25 cars or so that I saw at least one of these stickers on windshields.
X drove me out to the beach. I was a little disappointed honestly. I was expecting the namesake of the Straits to have some fairly major beach action going on. There were some families out there, but really not a whole lot there. I guess there’s a pier closer to where the Straits meet the river where there’s some nightlife though.
So my plan for the morning was to catch the bus from Malacca for the ~3 hour journey to Singapore. We had some extra time, so we did some more looking around. This is a Buddhist temple on the way to the bus station.
On the bus ride down to Singapore, we stopped at some random city for a 15 minute break. I honestly don’t know what town we were in, and my GPS wasn’t enabled on my phone, so this picture is of a random hawker center-slash-truck stop somewhere between Malacca and Singapore (it’s not Johor Bahru, that’s next).
These are a few pictures of Johor Bahru, which is the Malaysian border town across the straits of Singapore from Singapore. Again I was a little surprised at all the high-rises and development, considering my experiences with border towns were mostly Mexican ones, where there’s not so much vis-a-vis high rises.
Part III will cover my time in Singapore, and then after that I can get back to regularly scheduled blogging/pictures of Japan. More news on that coming Real Soon Now.