UNESCO World Heritage site, Malacca or Melaka
Malacca or Melaka in Malay is an UNESCO World Heritage site just a few hours away from Kuala Lumpur. It’s the capital of the state of Malacca on the westcoast of Peninsular Malaysia. Back in the days the city was a major port hub for all the different nations that have occupied Malaysia, hence the influence of different countries you find in the city itself. First there was the Chinese, then came the Portugese, afterwards the Dutch and finally the British.The most interesting and scenic part of Melaka is Chinatown and partly Town Square, also known as Dutch Square. Dutch Square houses the “Stadthuys”, a massive red town hall and governors’ residence. The name itself is stil being used in Belgium and Netherlands for a town hall (Stadhuis). And across you can find the bright red Christ Church. To be honest, I don’t really get the fascination with the red color. According to records, the British used the color red to paint over the boring white color the Dutch used. Due to heavy tropical rain, the red soil would splash up the buildings and to save on maintenance cost, they just painted the whole thing red. Might as well… But the main tourist place to be is in fact Chinatown which is pretty much 1 street filled with little stores and restaurants. On friday and saturday night this street is turned into the Jonker’s Night Market, a lively market of food and trinket stalls. It is literally packed on those 2 days where you can find many tourist flocking from all over Malaysia and mainly Singapore. Food is rather a big thing among Chinese tourists and in Melaka you can apparently find some of the best places to eat. One of them being the famous rice ball. I’m pretty sure that Chinese people are the only people are willing to wait in line for food… there were several restaurants where they had a SUPER long queue in front. Never have I seen a caucasian tourist standing in line for it. Anyway, theres a small river running around most of the center and since a few years ago, they really cleaned up the place around the river for tourists. They now offer these boat rides up and down the river where you can enjoy the colorful murals on both sides of the river and the nicely lit up bridges along the way. I thought that these murals came from local street artists or something, but after talking to some locals, turns out the government paid some guy to do all the murals just for the tourists to see as a package deal with the boats. So it was all set up for tourists. Eventhough it was amazing to see, part of me was kinda disappointed it wasn’t an initiative from the artists themselves. Oh and we went to an arcade and saw a guy really enjoying himself on one of those old skool dance arcade games!
Actually, my most memorable experience in Melaka wasn’t the historical town itself, it was rather from a complete stranger I met on the bus. Here goes a rather long story. On the bus from KL I sat next to Izad, just another normal looking local apparently. We didn’t talk much, but exchanged a few looks and shivers as the AC was turned up pretty high. After we arrived I minded my own business, got my bag and waited for another bus to take me to the center. At this moment, Izad came up to me and offered me a ride to the center, since his brother was picking him up anyway. Normally people would be quite hesitant to get in a car with a stranger, but I didn’t think much to it and agreed and joined with Izad and his brother. Inside the car Izad told me he actually wanted to talk to me but didn’t really know what to say or how. We exchanged some first impression comments and had a few laughs. I think the date was 18th of august, because it was by the time of the end of the Ramadan. So the Muslims were about to celebrate the Feast of Breaking Fast. Dilip already told me to try to celebrate it cause they have celebrations everywhere and it was quite a special thing apparently. In the car, turns out that Izad came back to Melaka to visit his family and celebrate the end of the Ramadan, so he invited me to join his family. It was really a great experiences and even more so, it was really hard to believe that people could be so nice, open and welcoming. It was probably not a big deal for Izad, but it really felt like an honor.Izads family lived in a historical compound where the houses are protected and funded by the government. I forgot the name of it but the houses were still authentic from back in the days. Anyhow, I met the majority of Izads family, cousins, nieces, nephew, brothers, sisters, aunts, brother-in-laws. It was great to be in the presence of such a big and close family. Here I also met Izads brother-in-law (I think his name was Hairi). Who is in a polygamous relation. I’ve heard of polygamy before in Islam, but never met anyone who was actually practicing it. I tried not to be overly curious, but I still asked a few questions subtely. I was quite fascinated by it, not because I wanted one myself, but I never knew how it could work in reality. I don’t want to give a biased opinion on polygamy, I’m neutral against it. Apparently Izads sister was his second wife already, he already has a first wife but seeing how this was a family gathering of Izads family, he didn’t bring his first wife. I didn’t dare to ask too much since I don’t know what the customs were but many curious questions arised. Anywho, as it was a celebration and a rather familial gathering, I expected some home cooked meals where the women of the house have been slaving away in the kitchen for hours. But to me suprise, we just ordered pizza and KFC and feasted the 21st century way! I’m not saying I was disappointed, but it was rather interesting to see how old fashioned I am and how they caught me off guard. They actually had some leftover dinner from the day before and they heated that up for me as well to try out some traditional Melaka home cooked meal. It was a real feast I must say! It was nice ending to a great trip around Malaysia and left me with more motivation to come back here. Izad already invited me to attend his wedding next year as well and told me to definately stop by again when I’m around. Hope I can make it!