Monday, November 17, 2014

Malacca Mystique

''Bah! Ridiculous idle rumors!” He roared. The streets were glaringly bright this wet monsoony November morning. 

The humidity was high and the low murmurs of traffic noises welcoming me to another blessed day in Melaka was evident, as the morning sun peeked playfully from behind the grey overhanging clouds to shower us with her golden rays.

I was rooted to my stool facing the long bar in Limau-Limau, a small café in Hang Lekiu street, in Melaka having their Toasted Ciabatta Bread With Fresh Mango And Roasted Chicken when I overheard that outburst from this hippie styled Chinese man two stools left of me.

 “Although quite often nicknamed a ‘sleepy hollow’, Melaka is anything but” he pointed out eloquently to a willowy young blond seated beside him. “ We were the gem of the spice route once long ago and today -700 years later, we still have that old mystique of the Orient” he guffawed to his doe eyed listener who was somehow relishing  every sentence of this man’s description of the city.

Here in these age worn streets that still remains a vital traffic link between the old gentrified Malacca and the new double glazed high rise windowed Malacca, the adventurous travelers find solace and entertainment, often within these hole- in- the wall food and beverage establishments that sprout like mushrooms after a morning rain. I looked out into the steeple of the nearby mosque in Harmony Street - where you find mosques and temples within the same small slinky row and took a bite out of the food art in front of me.

Relishing the ambiance, the crowd and the meal in front of me the mystique that is this town riddling me, it was quintessentially like taking a bite into the soul of this place.

As he said, this city is both a town and a city within the span of a few blocks, and it dawned on me it was a living breathing acreage of untold magic and mystery that is almost always changing and only fathomed by the visiting traveler one sip at a time.

Unlike other destinations, you never get to KNOW her until you’ve traversed all her nooks and crannies irrespective of time and effort. 

You may have explored the rich heritage and urban attractions, you may see the veneer of her often touristy knobs; you may even know intrinsically her arteries of fame and streets of glorious food but you never experience the age of her until you experience the bohemian quarters of Melaka. 

You get that only by participating with the locals in their daily life here in the Old Quarter.

That’s the feeling I’ve been trying to grasp about this once sleepy hollow…amidst all the 40 storied buildings, fancy hotels and definitive food localities surrounding her, the typical hole in the wall gallery cum artist haven/owner run bistro in the old parts of Heeren Street, Silversmith street and Goldsmith street spilling unto Tranquerah Road somehow becomes the soul and rhapsody of this part of town.

It’s unrelentingly spicy, fabulously gauche but vividly real & give’s one an actual feel of the free and wild bohemian soul seeking his/her fortunes amid 750-year-old ancient streets. 

The Melaka I know disguises herself as a lot of things. The diminutive dimensions by which she is bound are very deceiving. Allegorically, she may be small in size but is nonetheless, potent; potent like a cili padi in providing experiences and memories. 

Although miniscule in size with a population totalling lesser than 800,000 she remains a tantalizing beauteous haven; one which boasts a copious historical and cultural heritage dating back centuries. Today, she basks in the glory of her famed position, all the while parked on nature’s pedestal as a UNESCO World Heritage Site—a privileged title awarded her in 2008 for obvious reasons.

More than just a dot on the map of the Malaysian archipelago, Melaka is the bearer of a persona so deeply lulling that one is instantaneously cast under her hypnotic hex. While plenty, there’s more yet to savor past the first blush. Unlike any other state in the country, Melaka—‘where it all began’—is truly the hallmark of uniqueness and solidarity. Indeed, she is a maiden of many charms and faces.

Ask any traveler who’s been here and they’ll tell you it’s hard to pick a favorite spot in Malaysia because each place is so uniquely different. The people, the food, the geography changes vastly depending on where you are, but Melaka, or Malacca, remains one of the favorite spots because of its unique cultural and social diversity. The place is a melting pot of Portuguese, Dutch,Chitty,Baba, Japanese,Javanese,Riau, Indian, Malay, and Chinese culture harmoniously sharing a colonial history.

It is also perhaps my favorite place on this earth to eat! There are tons of deliciously fresh eateries camped throughout the city with plenty of cheap options. Melaka started as a sleepy fishing village and slowly turned into a popular trading port. You'll get to enjoy the charisma of her people. They are open-minded, blunt, pragmatic and renownedly tolerant.

Eternally charmed by her many hidden wonders and entrancing characteristics, visitors, first-time or otherwise, local or international, are sure to concoct descriptions exceeding more than just a few lines for the postcard back home.
Offering rest for the weary traveler and mystique for the intrepid explorer, this captivating in your face hideaway ought to be relished as a jewel worthy of awe and adoration.

Historically having come of age in the early 1400s, this Malaysian destination is possibly the southern Peninsula’s best kept secret. Stepping just beyond her threshold, travelers are instantly introduced to her warm, sunny breeze, hospitable residents, cultural diversity and auspicious culinary flavours.

Within her myriad color, culture and built, swanking a façade decorated with dilapidation and antique arrangements, she is that glorified gem one handles with uttermost care, admires with starry-eyed wonder and remembers on memorable occasions.

My sandwich nicely enjoyed and feeling happy, I lurched past the fast moving vehicles, dogs, cats and pedestrians ambling glazed eyed through the many shops and stalls here,  heading over to my friends shop- the venerable Syarikat Abdul in Heeren Street where I’m always assured of a few hours of good company and entertaining riposte by the aging patriarch. Assured of good company to while the afternoon heat and time away from the noisy crowd, it would’t be long before it was lunch.

A favorite lunch hangout of mine was at the Baboon House two houses up from Sykt. Abdul and as good an option as any for crowd watching within the artistic retreat of a bohemian enclave.

This place has a bohemian traveler vibe that’s unequalled. I simply Love the vibe of this place. It reminded me of places I’d visited in which the key word was LOVE, LIFE and Youthful LUST….oh so much longer ago than I want to admit.  Great burgers and the building itself is, for lack of a better word, so COOL.

Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. 
The term has become associated with various artistic or academic communities and is used as a generalized adjective describing such people, environs, or situations. 
In the context of this writing , we'll use the term Bohemians to mean those jolly wanderers or adventurers as well as the few carefree women and lighthearted men one encounter’s in the night !

The various drinking and eating establishments throughout the old quarter resembles that bon vivant lifestyle that I remember so much and to appreciate the unique quirkiness’ is such drinking places like Shantaram. 

When you visit Melaka, you have to find your way to Shantaram. I guess you can’t really call it a bar. It’s more like your cool neighbor’s house who serves beer out of his fridge and threw a few crates on the curb to serve as tables.

You are promised interesting people here, both locals and travelers alike. Unlike other commercial establishments they open only at 9pm, so take your time, chill out, and sit back to listen to some classic reggae or oldies -depending on who’s got the radio that
night !

“We were afraid of nothing and thumbed our noses at public opinion. . .The most outstanding characteristic of our Bohemian existence was our open revolt against all prejudices, I might say against all laws. We lived as if entrenched in a fortress from which we made belligerent sallies ridiculing everything." (Knepler, 31,32)

This is a slice of the real unadulterated Melaka. 
After savoring the rich cultural heritage of Malacca, one goes back home and dream of all the stories and legends as they come alive in one’s mind as regaled within the nooks and crannies that is the streets of Melaka.

This is where the dreams start to take flight and fantasies came true.

This is where it all begins. Welcome to Melaka.

Blog Archive



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