There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Kuala Lumpur: Part 2 of the Malaysian Peninsula

27th of February 2017
 
We enjoyed the unusual luxury of a late start, setting off almost promptly at ten - once the receptionist had pointed out that while we were waiting for our driver by the front door, he was waiting for us at the back; long, thin Malaccan houses are ideally designed for such confusion.
 
The return journey to Kuala Lumpur was the same as the trip down, only this time we were awake. Our bleary impression of speeding along well-maintained dual carriageways through endless palm oil plantations had, we now discovered, been strikingly accurate.
 
The Malaysian Peninsula
Today Malacca (Melaka) to Kuala Lumpur
The 150km journey took a couple of hours, but we were not the only people visiting Kuala Lumpur that day, King Salman of Saudi Arabia was also in town. We had one car and one driver, King Salman had an entourage of 600 requiring 100 cars; roads were closed when he drove by. Our driver showed some ingenuity in getting us to our hotel with minimal delay.
 
Kuala Lumpur, despite its complex traffic systems and high rise buildings, has a more human feel at street level and we checked into a ‘boutique hotel’ in the Bukit Bintang area, 2km east of the city centre. ‘Bukit’ is Malay for ‘hill’, though like many urban hills, Bukit Bintang is barely discernible.
 
Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
Spilling out from the semi-basement of the adjoining building was a basic curry house, and as soon as we were settled in, we headed there for lunch. Malays comprise only 65% of the Malaysian population with Chinese (25%) and Indians (7%) making up most of the rest. This diversity is reflected in their food. Noodles are, of course, Chinese, while curry is Indian. For lunch we had mee goreng, a Malay name for fried Chinese noodles topped with curried, chicken (Lynne) or lamb (me) - and very good it was too.
 
After a nap – we still had a sleep deficit – we took a walk to orientate ourselves. Finding it was raining, though still very warm, we borrowed a hotel umbrella and paddled off firstly in search of an ATM. It proved elusive but we eventually found one in a 7 Eleven store on a road packed with western restaurants, Italian, German, and Irish among others. Our main objective, though, was to investigate Jalan Alor, a street allegedly of ‘Chinese stalls.’
 
We passed a street side shrine on our perambulations
To describe the establishments lining both sides of the 200m long pedestrianised Jalon Alor as food stalls is like calling Buckingham Palace a detached house. Naturally we returned in the rain-free evening, picking a ‘stall’ largely at random.
 
Dusk at the Chinese food stalls, Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur
Sweet and sour grouper and a dish of beansprouts, garlic and fried aubergine made an excellent dinner. As often before we marvelled not only at the variety and quality of the food, but also at the slickness of an operation which served so many people with so little waiting time.
 
Sweet and sour grouper, Chinese foodstalls, Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur
 
28th of February 2017

Ordering our breakfast yesterday we had selected the Indian option and today enjoyed aloo paratha with chick peas and ‘puffed bread with a spicy sauce’ seated on a balcony overlooking the street. Our fellow guests had retired late (we knew, we heard them) so we were not totally surprised to eat in solitary splendour.
 
S, the guide for our walking tour was a small, wiry energetic Chinese Malaysian in a shirt that demanded attention. He picked us up in an Uber taxi which threaded its way through the traffic to Little India, beside the city centre.
 
Café, Little India, KL
In a small café S introduced us to teh tarik (lit: pulled tea), a sweet, milky tea served frothy from being poured repeatedly from a great height. Now the national drink, it was allegedly an invention of the small Indian Muslim community (most Malaysian Indians are Hindus) but it is not that different from some teas in India, though served in much larger glasses. It is a surprisingly pleasant drink and refreshing in a hot climate, though its similarity to weak, milky instant coffee was striking.
 
Teh Tarik, Little India, KL
The short walk to Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) took us beneath a flyover with a tantalising glimpse of non-Malay architecture on the far side. It hardly looked British, either.
 
What is that building on the far side?
KL’s colonial centre hosts an unparalleled collection of mismatched buildings. In the corner is St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral, built in 1894 and typical of Anglican churches in far flung corners of the empire. During WW2 the Japanese occupiers used it as an ammunition store, believing the allies would never bomb a church. That might sound optimistic, but St Mary’s survived unscathed.

St Mary's Anglican Cathedral, KL
The interior would be comforting and familiar to any homesick colonial administrator. Reading the brass plaques gives an insight into their lives, listing the good works of some and the sad early deaths of others.
 
St Mary's Anglican Cathedral, KL
The centrepiece of Dataran Merdeka is a grassy sward and the mock Tudor clubhouse of the Selangor Club which was founded in 1884 for high ranking members of colonial society. Unusually, the qualifications for membership were education and social standing rather than race though, inevitably most, but not all, early members were British and now most, but not all, are Malaysian.
 
To the British eye this is obviously a cricket ground and pavilion, and so it was. Today the grassy area is home to various events, cricket never having taken off here as it did in other parts of the empire. The game, however, is still played. The national team currently compete in Division 3 of the World Cricket League and hosted the 2014 tournament when several games were played here.
 
The Selangor Club and cricket field, KL
Across the road is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the structure we had glimpsed under the flyover. Constructed between 1894 and 1897 and originally known as Government Building, it was the brainchild of Charles Spooner, the Selangor State Engineer. AC Norman is usually credited as the architect, but Spooner disliked Norman’s Classical Renaissance design and had the plans reworked by his assistant RAJ Bidwell and then again by AB Hubback (of whom more later). The result, variously described as Indo-Saracenic, Moorish or Neo-Mughal, looks like an attempt to capture the romantic - and entirely western - idea of the ‘mystic orient.’

Sultan Abdul Samad Building, KL
The building is empty. Since 1999 the federal courts and government offices have been progressively moving to the purpose built city of Putrajaya 30km to the south. The old colonial administrative buildings are lovingly preserved but largely unused.
 
Clocktower, Sultan Abdul Samad Building, KL
The square also includes the 100m high flagpole which was the world’s tallest when the Union Jack was lowered in 1957 and replaced by the flag of the Malayan Federation - which became the Malaysian Federation in 1963 when Sarawak, North Borneo and (briefly) Singapore joined. A tall flagpole does not make an interesting picture, so instead here is the 1897 memorial to Steve Harper, a popular police inspector (and that is all I have been able to find about him). It is pleasingly known as Cop’s Fountain. In the background is another of AB Hubback's Indo-Saracenic fantasies, once the railway headquarters, it now the National Textile Museum.

Cop's Fountain, Merdeka Square 
The Kuala Lumpur City Gallery is tucked into a corner of the square behind the flagpole. The star exhibit is a model of the city with a sound and light show. KL was a riverside hamlet until tin mining started in 1857. Chinese workers were imported to work the mines and KL became a boom town with all the associated social problems, not to mention poor sanitation and the tendency of wooden and atap buildings to catch fire.

The city model, KL City Gallery
The British recognised the new town's strategic importance, moved their capital here in 1880 and set about rebuilding the town in brick. The 20,000 inhabitants of 1890 have now become 1.75 million and the city stands at one end of the Klang Valley Urban Agglomeration, home to 7.25 million.

Kuala Lumpur means ‘muddy confluence’ and the now clean and canalised coming together of the Rivers Gombak and Klang is nearby. The Jamek Mosque at the confluence, though dwarfed by the surrounding modern buildings can accommodate 5,000 worshippers. Work is underway to expand its capacity even further so there could be no visit. Opened in 1909, it was another AB Hubback design – though how a Liverpudlian non-Muslim came to build the city’s foremost mosque is a mystery.

Jamek Mosque and the no longer muddy (lumpur) confluence (kuala) of the Rivers Gombak and Klang
Kuala Lumpur
We continued east to the old market square with its Art Deco clock tower built in 1937 to commemorate the accession of George VI. It looks as out of place as the Sultan Abdul Samad building, but for entirely different reasons.
 
Art Deco clock tower, Former Market Place, KL
Turning south into Chinatown we stopped at the Guan Di Temple founded in 1888. Guan Yu (d. 220AD) was a general of the collapsing Han Dynasty whose real life exploits have been submerged beneath his fictional ones. In the 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, he is portrayed as the epitome of loyalty and righteousness and in one of the many cross-overs of Taoism and Chinese folk religion he became Guan Di (Divine Guan), a god taking particular care of police forces and, oddly, triad gangs.
 
Guan Di Temple, KL
The old lady in the picture below had made a donation and was about to beat both drum and bell to share her merit.
 
Sharing merit with a bang on the drum and the bell, Guan Di Temple, KL
A little further south, just outside Chinatown, is the Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Although founded in 1873, the 20m high gopura dates only from 1968. It is modest compared with the gopuram of Madurai and the other great temples of Tamil Nadu, but it stands out in Kula Lumpur.

Gopura, Sri Mahamariamman Temple, KL
Like all Hindu temples it is brightly painted, but cleaner and shinier than those in India. It was prayer time, bells were struck, a band played and a small queue soon formed to do puja.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple - the puja queue will form in a minute
Sri Mahamariamman, an avatar of Parvati, looks after travellers and so is a favourite among the Tamil diaspora.

Sri Mahamariamman at her eponymous temple, KL
I particularly like this picture of Shiva and Parvati with Ganesh and other members of, apparently, their band.

Shiva and Parvati, with Lord Murugan on base, Sr Mahamariamman Temple, KL
 We walked back up through Chinatown central market, passing, among much else, fish stalls...
 
Fish stall, Central Market, KL
 ….and a man roasting chestnuts with coffee beans.
 
Roasting chestnuts with coffee beans, Central Market, KL
S pointed out that today most stallholders are Indian and it was not just the stallholders. The picture below captures one elderly Chinese man but he was the exception not the rule. S was downbeat about the future of the Chinese in Malaysia, feeling they are under pressure not from Indians, but from the majority Malay/Muslim community (those words are almost synonymous). I had made a casual remark about beer being relatively expensive. I felt his reply: ‘The government rely on Muslim votes, and you don’t lose Muslim votes by putting up the tax on alcohol,’ had relevance to more than merely alcohol. Tellingly he sent his own children abroad (to Liverpool) for their university education; one now lives in Dubai, the other in Singapore.
 
Chinese faces are becoming rare in the Chinese Central Market, KL 
We had lunch in the market building….
 
Central Market Building, KL
 …but before that we had an ice-cream. Odd? Maybe, but we had been talking about durians and no Malaysian, of any persuasions, would pass up an opportunity to force durian on semi-willing foreigners. Actually, I may be getting to like it.

Durian ice-cream. Are we beginning to develop a taste?
Outside the Central Market building, KL

After the disappointment in Malacca we approached a second pre-paid four course menu with trepidation, but this one redeemed the genre. Crispy little hats to be filled with shredded vegetables, crumbled egg and spicy tomato paste made a good start.
 
Crisp little hats to fill with goodies, Central Market, KL
Beef rendang, a Malay dish in which beef is boiled to tenderness with garlic and ginger in coconut milk until only the coconut oils are left, was close to perfection; ayam pongteh, the Nonya chicken and mushroom stew that had been such a disaster in Malacca, was now a delight. Despite its alarming blue colouring, I enjoyed the rice with coconut.
 

Beef rendang, blue coconut rice and ayam pongteh,
Central Market, KL
We finished with tapioca and sweet potatoes in coconut milk. We were happy and certainly not hungry by the time we had finished, but we were not as stuffed as the write up might suggest.

Our KL tour was over, S called us an Uber taxi (I cannot approve, but this was no time to stand on principle) and we returned to our hotel. Fortunately we were inside before the heavens opened. The temperature hardly dropped below its customary 30° as the rain bounced off the streets; it may have been muggy but it ensured that all was dry again by 5 o’clock when a driver arrived to take us to the Petronas Towers. The journey took 15 mins and our ticket was for 6 so we had plenty of time to attempt the perfect photograph; a doomed enterprise shared with several dozen others.
 
The Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur
The best picture of a dozen, but not perfect
The driver had told us to go through an adjacent mall so we entered and followed the signs. It was easy to find the ticket office for tomorrow’s tickets, but the entrance was mystifyingly obscure. After taking advice from several official looking people we eventually found the right place, had the appropriate passes hung round our necks and with the rest of the 6 o’clock posse made our way to the lift.
 
The 450m Petronas Towers were the world’s tallest buildings when they opened in 1998. They lost that crown in 2004 to the Taipei 101 though they remain the tallest twin towers. (‘Tallest building’ allows for multiple counter claims depending on whether architectural height, roof, tip of antennae or something else is your chosen criterion.)
 
or perhaps this was the best
Petronas twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur
The Skybridge joining the 41st floors is not structurally part of either tower, but it feels secure enough. We walked across it, but the views are better higher up.
 
On the Skybridge, Petronas Twin Towers, KL
The top is the 88th floor. There is little else to say about the towers, but the view was good whether you were looking straight down….
 
Looking straight down, Petronas Twin Towers, KL
 …or across Kuala Lumpur….
 
Looking south east (I think) across KL from the Petronas twins Towers
.…or at the adjacent tower.
 
The adjacent tower, Petronas Twin Towers, KL
The return journey was a stop-start affair. We were stationary in a jam when I recognised the road opposite as being five minutes’ walk from the hotel though in present conditions 20 minutes driving time. We hopped out and let the driver turn for home.

We were soon back at the ‘Chinese food stalls’. After a large lunch we wanted something light, and our eye was caught by the Thai stalls at the end of the line. In 2015 we had greatly enjoyed squid with lemon and chilli beside the Mae Klong (or, erroneously, the River Kwai) so we ordered it again. Squid is rubbery if not cooked with precision; the dish arrived almost immediately and the squid was meltingly, deliciously perfect. How do they that?
 


Squid with lemon and chilli, Chinese food stalls, Jalan Alon, KL
 
The Malaysian Peninsula
Part 2: Kuala Lumpur 
 
Part 3 coming later in May

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Malacca (or Melaka), The First of the Straits Settlement: Part 1 of the Malayasian Peninsula

25 Feb 2017

We touched down in Kuala Lumpur at 8 am - midnight according to our body clocks - stumbled through the airport and spent an hour queuing to be pointlessly photographed and fingerprinted. Parts of the airport had yet to be declared free of contamination after the murder of Kim Jong-nam, but that never crossed our minds, our abilities to reason and remember had leaked into the ether somewhere over the Andaman Sea.

The two hour journey south to Melaka (traditionally spelt Malacca in English) was a blur, indeed I slept much of the way though I have retained an impression of endless palm oil plantations, and a succession of well maintained, multi-lane dual carriageways.

Melaka's old town, by contrast, has narrow streets lined with low rise Dutch colonial buildings.

Our hotel, a typical narrow-fronted building
We stayed in a hotel on a street whose Dutch name, though now unofficial, is still used. Typically it had a narrow frontage but extended a long way back, an architectural style developed when the Dutch imposed a window tax in the 18th century. Inner courtyards created more than adequate lighting, and our room at the back was traditional and characterful.
 
Hotel room, Melaka

After a much needed sleep we took a stroll. The air hung hot and humid, but the forecasted rain that had threatened all day somehow never came.
 
Jonker Walk, Melaka

Nearby Jonker Walk, Melaka’s Chinatown, is another street better known by its Dutch name. Later, after investigating Jonker Walk night market, we fancied a Nyonya meal – a Melakan-Chinese speciality. Many Nyonya kitchens, we discovered, including the one we had earmarked during our afternoon stroll, close early so instead we went to the bistro next-door which claimed to be Portuguese but had a very similar menu. As long standing Lusophiles I suspect Lynne and I know rather more about Portuguese cuisine than the operators of the bistro, but the spicy squid sambar and the unspecified fish baked with ginger were excellent (if as Portuguese as sauerkraut and toad-in-the-hole).

26th Feb 2017

After a leisurely breakfast we met local guide C for a walking tour. We started opposite our hotel at a shop selling traditional Nyonya Batik clothing where they still make the tiny shoes for bound feet. We did not feel we needed an expensive souvenir of a barbaric and long abandoned practice.
 
Further down the street was a house of a wealthy Chinese merchant built back from the row of narrow houses. Still owned by the builder’s family it is well maintained, but further along was a similar but sad-looking house which the owners cannot afford to maintain and have not succeeded in selling.
 
Chinese merchants house, Heeren Street, Melaka
 Back on Jonker Walk C stopped for a 'one bite durian puff'. We encountered durians on our first Chinese trip in 2004. The fruit is popular in southern China but as our travels have taken us further south through Indo-China we have seen it grow in popularity. Here in Malaysia we may have hit peak durian - they have whole shops dedicated it.
 
A shop dedicated to the durian, Melaka
Photographed the following morning before they opened - durian eaters are not early risers it seems
To those unfamiliar with the fruit, it resembles a conker in its spiny jacket, though with the diameter of a Size 4 football. Splitting the leathery outer casing reveals what looks and smells like a nest of albino turds; its aficionados say it smells like Hell but tastes like Heaven. The first time we ate durian was one of the inevitable errors you make when ordering dim sum by sight; we scoffed the little durian pastries out of bravado and were rewarded with cloacal reminders for the rest of the day. It seemed we were about to eat durian again and with C looking on and relishing our forthcoming discomfort there was nothing to do but man and woman up and take it on the chin - and hand and forearm as it turned out.
 
'One bite, one bite,' said C, but Lynne decided it was too big and bit it in half. Foolishly I followed suit. The result was the distribution of durian cream over a wide area. The third that went into my mouth was sweet and not unpleasant, similarly the third I licked off my forearm. I cannot speak of the third that splattered onto the pavement.
 
The one-bite durian puff, Melaka
 'But they were too big,' Lynne complained as we borrowed the shopkeeper’s sink to clean ourselves up. 'They are puffs,' I pointed out, 'they disappear to nothing.' Any idiot can be wise after the event.

We continued along Jonker Walk before taking a left and right onto Jalan Tukang Emas.

Although Melaka is the oldest city on this coast, much older than the other Straits Settlements, Singapore and Penang, it dates only from 1400. Parameswara, a Sumatran prince with ambitions found no room for himself in Sumatra, fled to Tamasek (now Singapore) and then found himself pushed up the coast. One day while sitting beneath a Melaka tree be saw a mouse-deer turn on one of his hunting dogs and drive it off. Deciding it was time to stop running he chose that spot for his new capital and named it after the tree. There are still plenty of Melaka trees. Their yellow/green berries resemble gooseberries and are said to be edible, rather in the way that sloes are edible but I did not try one; I tasted a sloe once and learned my lesson. Less romantically, the site of Parameswara’s city was probably selected for its a natural harbour at the narrowest point of what is now called the Melaka Straits.

Melaka tree beside the Melaka River, Melaka
The city’s Muslim founders built mosques but Masjid Kampung Kling was built by Indian traders in 1748 though the current structure is largely the result of an 1872 make-over. It is mainly in Sumatran style with no dome and a very different minaret from any we have seen before.

Masjid Kampung Kling, Jalan Tukang Emas. Melaka
The wudu features English and Portuguese tiles, and the roof is supported by Corinthian columns - an eclectic collection of styles.

Wudu, Masjid Kampung Kling, Jalan Tukang Emas, Melaka
 Unusually for a mosque the original cemetery was within the compound.

Cemetery, Masjid Kampung Kling, Jalan Tukang Emas, Melaka

Melaka thrived. Zheng He, the Chinese admiral, explorer and diplomat visited around 1460. Relations were established between Melaka and China and the Ming Emperor sent one of his daughters (with a retinue of 500) to marry Sultan Manshur Shah (reigned 1456-1477).

This may be folklore rather than history, but the wholesale arrival of Chinese merchants was the start of Baba-Nyonya culture, a group who are ethnically Chinese but whose culture is a fusion of Malay and Chinese. The men are ‘Baba’ and the women ‘Nyonya’, though their distinctive cuisine is known only as Nyonya – so we know who does the cooking.

Many of the Baba-Nyonya, also known as Peranakans or Straits Chinese, became wealthy and were important intermediaries when the next wave of Chinese arrived. Between them they built Chinese temples, both Taoist...
 
Taoist Temple, Jalan Tukang Emas, Melaka
...and Buddhist.
 
Buddhist Temple, Jalan Tukang Emas, melaka
67% of Melakans are Malay and 26% Chinese. Most of the rest are Indian, mainly Tamils who came to trade and work in the rubber plantations and they, naturally, built Hindu Temples.
 
Hindu Temple,Jalan Tukang Emas, Melaka 
The mosque and three temples are neighbours on Jalan Tukang Emas, also known as Harmony Street, an example of tolerance and understanding of which Melakans are justly proud.
 
Jalan Tukan Emas, Melaka
Looking at the Taoist Temple and the Mosque from the balcony of the Buddhist Temple (The Hindu Temple is hidden behind the mosque)
 From here we crossed the Melaka River to Dutch Square where red brick buildings crowd in on stalls selling tourist tat….

Dutch Square, Melaka
…. and the air is filled with music, some of it unnecessarily loud, from the themed rickshaws.
 
Hello Kitty themed rickshaw, Dutch Square, Melaka
The Dutch were not the first Europeans in Melaka. Attracted by the city’s wealth the Portuguese King Manuel I sent his envoy Diogo Lopes de Sequeira to Malacca in 1509. At first he was well received but refugee Goan Muslims, who had first-hand experience of the Portuguese, turned the Sultan against him and he was lucky to escape with his life. Manuel then sent Afonso de Albuquerque who arrived in 1511 with 1200 men and 18 ships, and that was game over for the Melakan Sultanate.
 
The Portuguese ruled Melaka until 1641. Continually under pressure from neighbouring states and boycotted by Chinese merchants it was a difficult time, but they built the massive Forteleza de Malaca and controlled much of the trade spice trade through the straits.
 
A foundations of part of the Forteleza, which was demolished by the British in 1806/7, sits beside the Melaka River near Dutch Square….

Part of the ruined Forteleza de Malaca
…opposite the Church of St Francis Xavier built in 1856. St Francis Xavier, the indefatigable evangelist to the east, visited Melaka several times in the 1540s.

St Francis Xavier's Church, Melaka
The Dutch took Melaka by force in 1641 with the help of local sultans. The Dutch East India Company controlled the city until 1825 and although they contributed much to the present architecture they failed to develop the port, concentrating on their possessions across the strait.
 
The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 tidied up European interest in the area. Some swapping of territories gave the Dutch control of what became the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and the British control of what is now Malaysia. So Melaka became British and stayed that way until independence in 1957.
 
In the redbrick square the Dutch Reform Church, built in 1753 and the oldest Protestant Church in Malaysia  became Church of England and ….

Christ Church, Dutch Square, Melaka
…in 1904 a fountain was erected to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – a little late as she was dead by then.

Commemorating Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, Dutch Square, Melaka
Steps leading up the hill behind the square opened up some impressive views.

Looking out to see from St Paul's Hill, Melaka
St Paul’s Church on the summit claims to be the oldest church in Southeast Asia, though how much of the 1521 Portuguese chapel survives in the current building is a moot point. It was named St Paul’s when it became a Dutch Reform Church in 1641. When Christ Church in Dutch Square was completed in 1753, St Paul’s was deconsecrated and has been quietly rotting ever since.
 
St Paul's Church, Melaka
St Francis Xavier used the church as a base for his Chinese expeditions. When he died in China in 1552 his body was brought back to Melaka where it spent two years before travelling on to its final resting place in Goa. It is surprising how many people feel the urge to throw money into an empty grave.
 
The former grave of St Francis Xavier, St Pauls Church, Melaka
On the other side of the hill is the Porta de Santiago, the only existing part of the Portuguese Forteleza. It was saved from demolition by the personal intervention of Sir Stamford Raffles and is now known as A Famosa (The Famous).
 
A Famosa, Melaka
Behind it is the Memorial to Malaysian Independence. Independence was declared here in 1957 before it was declared in Kuala Lumpur and the museum explains the lead up to the event. It gives the impression that the process was very amicable and avoids the strident anti-British rhetoric of the Gandhi Museum in Madurai.

Malaysian Independence memorial, Melaka
According to our itinerary C was now supposed to provide us with a Nyonya lunch – I had been looking forward to it since breakfast!
 
We had misgivings as he led us into the four star hotel at the end of the square and up to a huge dining room where three tables were occupied – none of them by locals. A menu arrived for the Nonya set lunch and C disappeared to wherever guides go at moments like this.
 
We decided to drink water – I could have paid £10 for two small cans of beer but decided not to - overcharging is not to be encouraged. The meal started with a non-descript soup and some pieces of chicken smeared with a sauce which should have been chilli but tasted of tomato.
 
Then the main dishes arrived and what promised to be a poor meal became dire.

Nyonya Lunch - allegedly
The sauce in the bowl at the front had a pleasant tamarind tang but the fried fish had lain in it long enough to become slimy. The vegetables at the back were just dull. The chicken to the right in a flavourless brown sauce had been so overcooked it was dry and barely edible while the dish on the left looks like an ordinary omelette – because it is. Omelettes are eaten on every continent; to serve one as an exemplar of a particular cuisine is nonsensical and lazy. It shows disrespect for Nyonya traditions and contempt for the diners. Coconut, lemongrass, tamarind, galangal and chillies are among the prime features of Nyonya cooking but apart from one tamarind sauce all were absent.
 
Dessert was cendol, available from a hundreds of stalls across town and many thousands more across the country. Shaved ice with coconut milk, green coloured rice noodles, a few red beans and a lot of unrefined palm sugar – you cannot go wrong.
 
After the meal I tackled C about it. ‘Is that real Nyonya food?’ I asked, ‘or Nyonya food for tourists?’ He had the good grace to look uncomfortable. ‘They leave out the spices,’ he said, ‘because westerners and the Japanese don’t like them.’ I expressed my displeasure in measured tones, it was not entirely his fault, we should have spoken up earlier. ‘Did you like the cendol?’ he asked. ‘The only redeeming feature,’ we replied. He looked surprised. ‘Foreigners don’t usually like the palm sugar.'
 
I despair. Sometimes bad food is a conspiracy between ignorant consumers and idle providers.

C left us in the afternoon and we decided to take a river trip.

Boat rides on the Melaka River
Melaka does not show its best side to its river but we saw some colourful street art,

Street art beside the Melaka River
....a footbridge which looked like it should be somewhere else and…

Footbridge over the Melaka River
…the Melaka Monorail. The 1.6km track opened in October 2010 and closed in December 2010 after a series of problems. It has not moved since.

The non-functioning Melaka monorail
We also had a look at the replica of the Flor do Mar, a Portuguese carrack which foundered in the Strait in 1511 while carrying off the deposed Sultan of Melaka’s treasure. The wreck and treasure have never been found.
 
Flor do Mar, Maritime Museum, Melaka
Having eaten little (and enjoyed less) earlier, the evening found us in the Geographer’s Café where we could keep an eye on the night market, sink a beer or two and eat Thai-style mango chicken and ayam masak merah (Chicken in spicy tomato sauce) – a vast improvement over lunch.

The Malaysian Peninsula
Part 2: Kuala Lumpur 
 
Part 3 coming later in May