Starring Master Ho, a Kungfu genius who punched his index finger through a coconut, Mr Universe and two quantum physicists (theoretical).
We were introduced to Melaka with a glass of cold Lychee juice, a slice of cake and a map of all the best places to eat and exactly what to order. In many ways this set the tone for our time there.
About 15 minutes after checking in we were down at Jonkers88 to begin our culinary tour. You stand in a queue outside and order by number (we’d been told which one to get) and then once you have your bowls of spicy, soupy stuff you head inside to find a table. Its housed in an old Chinese warehouse with a cavernous interior dripping in antique treasures and curiosities. The food, though a mystery and possibly containing some tripe, was delicious. Over the next 24hours we ate at 4 of the recommended restaurants and tried several of the local dishes including some kind of complicated nut dish that takes a few days to make and a sort of satay fondue where the sticks were cooked in a treacly peanut sauce.
Melaka has three main streets – Temple Street (full of temples and churches), Antique Street (full of antique shops and trendy little clothing boutiques) and Dutch Street (full of old Dutch architecture). It takes about an hour to stroll through the lot, making a mental list of all the places you’d like to explore a bit more before settling onto the balcony of a quaint coffee shop to let the storm blow over.
In the evening Antique Street is transformed into a night market with foodstalls and entertainment at either end. We went first to one end to see Mr Ho and his amazing coconut show. At 8pm the crowds gathered and we were carefully arranged around a yellow chain while Mr Ho limbered up doing some whip cracking and kung fu kicks and a lot of talking. By 9pm he was still talking – telling us at first (rather interestingly) about this two world records and how he’d got them and then (increasingly less interestingly) why we should eat fruit and how to get proper exercise. As soon as we had seen him doing his magic – which was quite something to behold – and he’d walked around afterwards showing the crowd his bent and swollen finger, we snuck off to the other end of the market. Mr Universe was just coming to an end – the alarming looking specimens were on stage having their arms held up by the mayor and so forth(quite a feat for the dignitaries really when you consider the weight of one of those arms) as the trophies were dished out.
We snacked at various foodstalls and then settled into the Ringo Antiques Bar for a few Tiger Beers. There was a man on the mike with a guitar and a harmonica belting out the usual classics (Hey Jude, Hotel California) and another man of unknown nationality dancing around in luminous combat trouser with matching sunglasses, randomly banging a tambourine and encouraging everyone to sing along or get up and dance. We were shortly joined by two quantum physicists (theoretical with a mathematical inclination) who were up from Singapore for the weekend. All in all, a quite extraordinary evening.
The next day we explored the old Colonial sector with its roofless cathedral perched on top of a hill and numerous old Dutch style buildings. There was also a river cruise on offer that we immediately leapt onto. The trip basically went up the canal (past a huge water monitor lizard that swam rather frantically to get out of the way of our wash) through the Chinese sector of the city and into a Malay village where the wooden houses are all built in the traditional style and then turned around and came back again. As soon as we set off the tunes started to pump through the speakers: a mixed medley of ballads culminating in the Titanic theme tune. Appropriate? I don’t think so. This was followed by a brief commentary that covered off the founding dates of the city and then launched into a description of the facilities provided by the river boat company (40 boats, all operational) before moving on to describe other attractions alongside the river such as small monorail and a children’s park and how much these cost, what their opening hours were etc. All very informative and entertaining.