I was in Malaysia for seven days for what started as another solo trip, but as it turns out, like other “solo” trips before it, I was hardly ever alone anyway. In Malaysia, I can say that I was only on my own when I was in transit to and while I was in Melaka.
Lē-ma Si, the conductor told me as he read the printed copy of my itinerary. I looked at his finger as he pointed to the seat number. Of course. 5-C. I can’t believe I missed it. It must be the lack of sleep. I arrived at the KLIA LCCT close to one in the morning, about seven hours earlier, and elected to wait for the 7:30AM bus to Melaka by Transnasional. One night checked in at KL seemed like a waste, plus I was used to being up during nighttime anyway. I quickly found my seat at the middle of the bus, by the window. It was one of the seats in a row with only three. Leg room was abundant. I suppose I could sleep now if I wanted to, but I didn’t, and I couldn’t either. So instead, I tried to enjoy the view. Hours later, I found myself inside the Melaka bus terminal, Melaka Sentral, asking for advice on which bus to take to the Dutch Square. It’s the Panorama Bus #17, by the way. That’s the one to take.
It’s a short ride from Melaka Sentral to the Dutch Square. The red buildings signal that you are near the bus stop. It’s hard to miss. After going down the bus, I immediately crossed the street and the bridge and walked through Jonker Street, checking my printed itinerary for the hostel owner’s directions. I found it after fifteen minutes of going the absolute opposite direction from where it was supposed to be. I was early, so the hostel owner suggested that I take a walk while the room is made ready. I followed her advice. Best go exploring. At the same time, I needed to find somewhere to eat. I haven’t really eaten anything since I arrived at the airport.
I spotted Jonker88 as I walked through Jonker Street. There was a group of people gathered outside the restaurant, which I took as a sign that the food must be good. I looked at the pictured menu and selected number 11—Baba Laksa—which the lady behind the counter out front prepared for me while I waited.
I ate quickly inside. I didn’t realize how hungry I was. Plus, I always find it awkward eating at a large table when I’m the only one seated. The restaurant was full. I felt out of place. I rushed through the noodles, the seafood, the vegetables, and the tasty, spicy, orange-colored soup, and left the place to find dark clouds hanging overhead.
While the clouds looked just about ready to burst, it did not stop me from exploring the small alleys that made up the historic center of Melaka, taking pictures every now and then. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was just too involved with my camera or if the car was too quiet for its own good, either way, I didn’t notice the car inches from me. The driver waited patiently for me to take my shot and when I finally noticed the car waiting, the driver smiled back at what I would think is a very embarrassed grin on my face. I guess they are so used to tourists walking around.
I walked back to the direction of the Dutch Square, where I got off the bus earlier, and saw vendors selling a variety of colorful kuih. These resemble the Philippines’ kakanin, bite-sized deserts or snacks I loved to eat back home. I talked to the girl behind the counter and had her explain what the most interesting looking ones were to me and I ended up buying enough to fill a small bag. After I handed the lovely girl payment for the kuih, as if on cue, the rain started to pour.
I walked quickly through the rain for a few meters before deciding to give up and take shelter under the extended roof of a closed storefront. It was raining hard, and it did not look like it was going to let out, so I stayed put and watched it fall, and watched all the other people who were like me, stuck under the too-small roofs, in front of little souvenir shops, waiting. I bit into the grated-coconut-covered balls of ondeh-ondeh, its sweet Gula Melaka filling exploding in my mouth. First one. Then another. And when it was all gone, I bit into another kuih, which name I forgot, and all too soon, I had finished the whole bag-full that I bought maybe thirty minutes earlier. At around the same time, the rain had slowed down to a drizzle, so I did a fast walk-run combo and made my way back to the guesthouse I was to stay in for the night.
It was half past three in the afternoon when I walked back in the guesthouse. The owner took one look at me and my wet hair and shirt, and said that the room was ready, and also that there were umbrellas near the staircase I could borrow for later. I thanked her, went inside my room, and tried to control a burgeoning coughing fit. Outside, it was still raining, so I took a nap, while I waited it out.
I woke up a few hours later to find a still-too-bright sky for almost seven PM. The rain had stopped. The guesthouse I stayed in had a backdoor that faced the river, which had a boarded path that ran along both sides of it. I checked the map twice, before setting off to see Melaka at night.
The slew of guesthouses that lined the river, including the one I had stayed at, had art painted on their back walls, and these walls make up this colorful sight that ran several meters down the river, before breaking out into other smaller structures–houses, stores, and into streets and alleyways. The whole riverside was quiet as I walked along it, disturbed only by boats cruising along, and only for a few minutes at a time. I didn’t notice the sun set, only that the darkness had taken the light.
Eventually, I found myself back near the Dutch Square, which was not as easily recognizable as it was in the daytime. The vivid red color of the buildings, not as distinct as it was earlier. The brightly-colored trishaws were now lit up like little discos on wheels parked near the church, waiting for any tourist to take the bait. I walked some more until I went past the bridge that connected the main road to Jonker Street, and unto the old fort that once guarded the city, and then to the boardwalk, before turning back. I didn’t notice what time it was, only that it was late and the stores were closed and I felt like it was time to go back to the guesthouse.
The next morning, after a quick shower, I went for one last walk in Melaka, discovering other little secrets tucked away in the various alleys that winded through the old city. Watched people exercising near St. John’s Fort. Observed the many silent workers cleaning up near Christ Church for the onslaught of tourists that will be arriving later.
Shops open late in Melaka. I had read somewhere that Chung Wah, a famous restaurant that served Hainese Chicken Rice Balls, were supposed to be open at eight, but eight o’clock came and went, and the store remained closed. I went back around ten and finally it was open. The servers saw me and asked, just one? I nodded and was lead to a large table near the back. They keep assigning me these large tables.
A minute or so later he came back with a plate of the chicken rice balls, a healthy serving of chopped Hainese chicken and a jar of chili sauce. “Anything to drink?” the server asked. Hot tea, please. And so I was served hot tea, while I wolfed down the flavorful balls of rice with helpings of chicken dipped in the chili sauce in between. Delicious.
I walked back to the guesthouse satisfied, but a little sad, knowing I’ll be leaving. In an hour or so I’ll be on a bus to KL and I didn’t know what to expect. Even if I had researched Malaysia before going on the trip, I have left a lot of details out of my itinerary, choosing for the first time to travel slow–or as slow as one could go, with the little free time I have. Melaka is nice and quiet, and I wasn’t quite sure what the rest of Malaysia had in store for me. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.