Sunday, 21 June 2015

Melaka: Durian - never again

Melaka, Malaysia
Standing in line to purchase our bus tickets to Melaka, a German/American traveller Josi struck up a conversation with us and not only was also going to Melaka but had been before. She helped us figure out where to go in the bus station, and I watched the scenery go past on the way to Melaka Sentral. (I also watched the traffic with mild horror as everyone was lane straddling, seemingly a very Malaysian thing to do.) 
Josi started talking to a local once on the bus from Melaka Sentral to Melaka town. Jason offered to show us a good place for chicken rice, which Melaka is famed for, and we accepted (Josi departed for a nap). We first stood in the queue for the place with the best chicken. That sold out, so we moved to the place with the best rice, and chicken that isn't the best but still very good. 
Jason gave us a tutorial on how to eat it: take a rice ball (or half) and put a piece of chicken on it, then dip in the dark soy sauce and the chilli sauce. I don't have any other chicken rice experiences to compare it to, but it was really tasty! He then took us across the street to a tiny stall selling 'putu piring'. 
Made from ground rice, coconut sugar and grated coconut, these little pancake-like treats hit the spot. As they were too hot after we first ordered them, we browsed a shop selling local specialties and bought coconut dodol: a sweet, soft coconut block. I found it too sickly, but Yannick chewed on it routinely. 
Jason got a durian cendol to share. I had one bite and couldn't take any more. May I just say that durian is disgusting. It smells like rotten pineapples (the smell is so pungent that they are forbidden in cars or enclosed spaces), and tastes worse than it smells. Luckily for my tastebuds, we followed that up with the putu piring. Amazing! We went back the next morning for more to accompany my teh tarik and Yannick's sweet iced coffee. 
Durians are popular in Malaysia, but even more so in Melaka. This young girl would call out to passersby and offered us some too, but we knew what they tasted like and could not be tempted. Even though Jason had already showed so much hospitality, he offered to help us find our hotel as he was not meeting up with his brother until later on and had nothing to do for the afternoon. He asked many people, all who gave him different directions, and we ended up backtracking quite a bit. Everyone was lovely and did their best to help - an old man with two teeth even cycled up behind us to say that there was a shortcut to the directions we had just been given! At one point Jason called a friend of his who knew that area better, and we managed to find it. I was worried that we would be scammed so I kept my guard up, but he was just a nice guy! As a bonus, by the time we did find the hotel I had grown accustomed to the smelly streets; not always noticeable but now and again you would catch a whiff of sewerage from a grating.
Hot and tired from walking around in the sun, we rested in our hotel room. There were many hotels to choose from in Melaka, but this one stood out for the novelty themed rooms. One was completely decked out in Hello Kitty decor! It was pink - too pink.  Ours had an aquatic theme, including a surfboard on the wall and blue crocs. An odd thing happened when you ran the shower though - thin red worms crawled out of the drain. I found this creepy but thought it might be normal. When I mentioned it to Jarold later, he was disgusted and said that's definitely not normal! 
As it was the weekend, we were planning to meet up with Josi for the night market, but the wifi at the hotel didn't work and we had no way to contact her. Instead we headed out on our own to take in the sights. 
In the sixteenth century, Melaka was captured by the Portugese in an attempt to control trade routes through the area. Their plan failed, but evidence of the occupation still exists in ruins, descendants and food (popular are Portugese egg tarts, a kind of custard tart). In front of these fortifications I channel Guybrush Threepwood and say "I wanna shoot the cannon, I wanna shoot the cannon!"
A century later, the Dutch captured Melaka for their own purposes, and in turn they left behind remnants such as the Red Square and a waterwheel. 
Side streets off the square showcase the red buildings of the Dutch as well as the Chinese characters of modern day inhabitants. (Though I learnt later that they more recently painted nearby buildings red in order for the town to look more Dutch than what was actually left behind.)
Over the bridge from the square is the start of Jonker Street, where the weekend night market takes place. The street was packed full and it was difficult at times to see what was for sale at certain stalls. When we decided to get Taiwanese pancakes, we had a hard time of crossing the flow of traffic to get to the stall, and then while we waited for them to be made the crowd pressed in trying to get past. The small round pockets of dough and chocolate filling were tasty, but not as chocolatey as I would hope for. That being said, I'm sure they're better than the durian option! There's a choice for durian flavour for everything here. Too much durian. 
We also explored the surrounding streets which weren't as hectic, and at one point heard loudspeakers projecting a call to prayer for the Muslim populace from a tower with eerie green lights. The tower was part of Kampung Kling Mosque on what is known as 'Harmony Street' due to buildings of the three main religions in Melaka living in peace on one street. 
The oldest Chinese temple in Melaka is nearby, as is the oldest Hindu temple. 
Once the sun was fully set, the colourful tuk tuks came alive with flashing lights and the customary pop songs blaring from speakers. Hilariously, many were Frozen themed and one even played Let It Go for the town to jive to. Instead of taking a kitschmobile back to our hotel, we wandered along the waterfront, where more market stalls perched. I enjoyed seeing a toy stall that had a wind-up monkey riding a bike to the tune of Crazy Frog. 
The bus ride back to Melaka Sentral was mental, as the bus was crammed with people so I held my backpack (I'm so glad it's small enough for me to do that), the man next to me smelled like nasty toenails and the bus driver took the longest route that I could have imagined (and even doubled back sometimes) considering it's only about a five kilometer journey. Then the bus driver from Melaka Sentral to KL lane straddled once more and I'm so confused as to why this is such a big thing in Malaysia. Just pick a lane and get in it! I think he spent half the trip between lanes. Why dude? At one point I had to laugh because he was getting out his phone to play music and trying to untangle his headphone cables (with both hands I might add), jerking the steering wheel occasionally to avoid cars. We saw a truck that had careened off the road and I wonder if it was because of this sort of driving. Luckily no such fate befell us.