Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Cor, it's hot. Apparently I've got to stop saying that, now that we finally made a decision on The China Conundrum i.e. when to go there. We have decided to continue on our Plan A which takes us through Indonesia and the Philippines before reaching China. We sweated over this one. Although one friend did point out to us how we sounded: "So, shall we go to China today or,hey, how about Bali?". Anyway, it's hot and it will be hot for the next six months, so please take it as read.
From the only hill in Melaka, upon which stands the ruin of a Portuguese church, Gayle spies an outdoor swimming pool, so after a morning of sight-seeing in the old Chinatown area we make a bee-line (here's one I don't get - a bee-line is a direct route and yet bees are supposed to fly in anything but a straight line, aren't they?) for the pool. There's a strict dress code - only swimsuits, trunks or penguin suits. Gayle has a bikini and I've got swimming shorts, and they seem okay with the bikini, but not with my shorts. Okay, just this once, they say. The pool is 50 metres and there's hardly anyone swimming, and even better, the water's not warm. Next day we do the same thing, only this time I bring my underpants. In hindsight maybe I should've tried Gayle's other bikini. I got past the ticket desk and into the pool before anyone saw me, but after half an hour I eventually climb out for a rest. The lifeguard is on me faster than a 'flu bug and promptly throws me out for wearing "an undergarment that might contain unhealthy diseases." Charming. "But they're clean on today!" I find myself blubbering. Oh the ignominy. In the first place, I have to wear my underpants to swim and then, I get kicked out for it. I probably offended them by only swimming widths at the 5ft marker........
After this incident it knocks the shine off Melaka for me. Compared with Penang it's a little too
touristy - the old Chinatown area, full of shophouses, has been turned into a tourist trap of cafes, restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops, but there are busloads of nationals and Singaporeans so maybe it works. The shophouses are built in terraced rows, about 7 metres wide at the front, but they go back about 70 metres. The street level front is used as a shop, or workshop, or coffee house. Within the building there are airwells and open-roofed voids to allow light and air circulation, with a yard at the back. Here in Melaka the shophouses have been repainted and the fronts smartened up and some are open to the public. We follow the river along a newly built and landscaped path that takes us inland and into one of the old kampung, village communities. The houses are built out of wood in the traditional Malay style, on stilts in case of flooding. This particular kampung has very smart examples, well-maintained and freshly painted. The windows and doors are left wide open to catch any breeze off the river. We nose around and take photos and people say hello to us. It's a sleepy quiet little place right in the middle of the city.
Before we leave for Singapore we come across a second-hand bookshop with a copy of an Indonesian guidebook. Ruth had brought us one out from home, but in a rash moment we traded it for a China book. So now we try to trade it back. The man is reluctant at first and it takes some bluffing from Gayle (the old 'toss it back down and head out the door' bluff) before we finally strike a deal. Unbelievable luck - the man had only had it about a week and he knows they're rare. Now there's no way we're changing our route plan...............for the moment.

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