A better name for this blog might be "The Lazy Backpacker" because it would certainly describe my amazing ability to sightsee at a snail's pace and somehow idle away a day wandering around not "accomplishing" very much. I guess that is the joy of extended travel, you can go at a really different pace than when you're trying to cram everything in in less than two weeks. At the beginning of this trip, once the jetlag subsided, I was definitely trying to do and see lots (or feeling guilty if I didn't); now I seem to be very content with eating a late breakfast, wandering around for a while, retreating out of the sun for an hour or two to relax, then venturing back out for dinner, making my way back to my hotel once it's gotten dark out. (Unless I'm actually out with other people. Which has happened at least once or twice on this trip. I promise I am not a total antisocial loner all of the time. Just most of it.)
That preceding description is exactly how I spent today: I woke up, read emails on my phone for a while, then dragged myself out of bed. I had seen a cute café on my walk around yesterday after arriving, and I wanted to check it out, at least for a coffee. It turns out they have a real brunch menu, so I indulged in a dish called E.S.P., which included a soft-boiled egg, fried potatoes and very light turkey sausage cut up and grilled along with the potatoes. There was also some green stuff mixed in with the potatoes for good measure, and some cherry tomatoes. I don't know if the chef had ESP, but this dish was exactly the kind of food I've been craving and missing to some extent (don't fret, my Asian-food lovers, I scarfed down a giant bowl of laksa yesterday, impressing some Indian people sitting near me with my chopsticks skillz, and ventured around the Malacca night market, where I had fresh beet juice, a potato 'spiralized' and fried on a stick, and a Taiwanese sausage-on-a-stick). I savored every last bite of this filling dish, sipped my iced coffee for a while, looked at my phone ... how I ever managed to work before is beyond me. The time just seems to slip through my fingers now, or at least, I'm getting myself on SE Asian time. What's the rush?
After eventually finding a waiter to settle the bill, I ambled over to the other side of the river to check out the Stadthuys complex. Many of the buildings were built by the Dutch after they wrested control of Malacca from the Portuguese, who had set up their own colony back in the 1500s or so, and were used by the British after they took control from the Dutch, and eventually by the Malaysian government themselves, up until the late 80s when the local government moved into new buildings and the site was turned into a tourist destination (a smart move where tourism is concerned). I stepped into Christ Church, built in 1753 by the Dutch, and discovered a church service was going on in Chinese, so I sat down for a while and followed along (all of it was being shown on a screen in both Chinese characters and English). They even sang "Amazing Grace" in Chinese, which I must admit, was quite powerful to witness, and I sang along (very softly) in English. I found it remarkable to be standing in a church built by the Dutch, singing an English song (written by someone involved heavily in the slave trade, who would radically convert to evangelical Christanity and come to denounce the slave trade), surrounded by Chinese people singing it in Chinese.
Afterwards, I ventured up to the actual complex, and checked out the various museums that are included in your entrance ticket (RM10). There's a large collection of all manner of Chinese and Persian pottery and ancient knives and weaponry, but unfortunately the museum has no specific info on anything, just a number stuck on each plate or jar. You want to know -- where did it come from? When was it made? What is it made of? This made the museum visit more than a little frustrating (I need to nerd out on the details here, people).
I roamed around for a while, finding the Governor's Mansion and the Museum of Literature and more rooms dedicated to Malay culture, specifically about wedding customs. Interesting, despite being a whole slice-of-life look at historic Islamic Malay culture, not one depiction of women showed their heads covered, except in traditional wedding costume. So when did that get introduced if it wasn't part of Muslim Malay attire a hundred years ago? Or was it part of Malay attire, but the depictions were only showing women inside their own home, so they weren't wearing it? Questions, questions. (The only time I saw it pop up was on a photograph of a Malay President and his wife from at least the 80s or 90s. Is that when it became de rigeur for ladies to cover their heads? Was it in response to what the "First Lady" was doing? Is it coming from more conservative imans interpreting scripture differently? So many questions!)
I walked up the hill to look at the ruins of the old Catholic Church, then down the hill and checked out the Porto de Santiago gate (the only remaining structure from the Portuguese's original settlement) visited the Malacca Sultanate Palace, which was a mere RM 2 to enter. The wooden structure has been moved from its original location, which was said to have been built without nails! Inside, there's loads of costumes from everyday life under the Malaccan Sultanate and a glimpse into the various traders who interacted with the area, including traders from China and Java. Obviously I have a "thing" for these old trade routes, which is why I'm fascinated by things like the Silk Road as well. Clearly trade and the need for "things" has developed and pushed societies and cultures since the dawn of time, and visiting places where cultures overlap and intermingle is usually very interesting -- if it wasn't for the demand for, say, silk or pepper or glass beads or, um, slaves (and yes, slaves were actually traded in the days of the Malacca Sultanate, I learned today), how would history have been different? Questions, questions, questions!
At this point, I was getting tired of all my questions, so I headed back in the hot sun to my little guesthouse (which, by the way, is super duper cute -- it's called Home in the Garden and the 'carpet' is actually soft astro turf!). There, I chilled for an hour and drank some water and headed out again to wander around, which I am really good at doing. I discovered some cool alleyways that were very, very clean and reminded me for some reason of Greece (even though I have spent all of 48 hours in Greece). They were setting up the night market on Jonker Street again, so I also walked up and down that a few times, treated myself to a mango-flavoured yogurt ice cream (not really sure what it was, it tasted mostly of mango and ice) and basically tried to figure out where I'd go for dinner. There was a ton of delicious looking street food being set up for the night market, but I was wanting to sit down somewhere cold and not be too bothered to eat quickly, so I popped into this super cute café and had a honey mustard chicken sandwich. (I have time tomorrow morning before I head to Kuala Lumpur, so I figured I could get my Asian fix before I leave.)
I wasn't sure if I should come to Malacca or not, but this little town is just charming and lovely, and I'm so glad I decided to stop here on the way to Kuala Lumpur. There's a river running through the center of it, with a bunch of cafés and bars running alongside it, plus famous Jonker Street filled with all sorts of boutiques and restaurants and old antiques shops, surrounded by a few other blocks of old Chinese shophouses. It looks a bit similar to Kampot, Cambodia, although it attracts way more weekend visitors from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. It might just be the perfect way to ease in to Malaysia: mellow, calm, interesting and, as I strolled along the river at dusk tonight to get a photo and spotted all the Christmas lights glitteing in the water, definitely a little bit magical.