Waking up in the Puri Hotel, Melaka, Malaysia at 5 a.m., I can hear the sound of the mosque. The first thing I see looking up at the ceiling is the brass arrow that points east towards Mecca so you know which way to pray. We are in the middle of Chinatown, and yet the sound travels across the river to our hotel. I’m sooo jet-lagged, feeling like I woke up inside a plastic dry cleaning bag with a mouth that is so dry, and tastes like horse blanket puree. As I stumble to the bathroom to wash my face I look in the mirror and I have a red circle on my forehead telling me“ You are Here”, just like you see on the maps in shopping Malls, but my mind is saying no, I’m not… I’m not here…it’s just a misplaced security baggage marker from the airport.
As it turns out, I am here, and enjoying every minute of it. There’s a heat wave on, over 40 degrees, so we have coffee and get an early start.
This very quiet Malay sultanate was invaded, bought , sold and traded many times over by invading foreign powers. The first was Chinese Muslim Admiral Cheng Ho, known as the “three jewelled eunuch prince”, castrated when he was 13, he wasn’t about to start a dynasty... After him came the Portuguese, Dutch and the British.
We decide to climb to the top of the city hill to St. Paul’s Church-- a long sweaty climb to the top. Built by the Portuguese in 1521,the church is a ruin, only the walls remain, filled with very large grave stones with Latin, Portuguese and English script., Some have whole families on them, mother, father and all the children who died from the fever. There’s a very calm and peaceful feeling standing up here on this hill, a nice breeze with a 360 degree view of the city and harbor below, hornbills, myna and parrots in the trees provide the background.
We then go to Muzium Rakyat “The People’s Museum”. The first floor is a top museum, and lengthy descriptions of the local sport of gasing uri (top spinning). The second floor is devoted to kites, mostly Malaysian. The third is the reason to come, known as “The Museum of Enduring Beauty”, here are displays and photographs of every type of mutilation that humans do in order to look good. From tattooing, brass neck rings, scarification, lip plugs, corsets to make wasp- waisted women and of course bound feet .
By this time, it’s so hot already that the trishaw drivers try not to make eye contact,. Instead we have a cold drink, I recommend the chilled coconuts, very refreshing. There was a picture in The Strait Times, of the Orangutans in Melaka zoo getting 5 showers a day instead of their normal 3, it was so hot I wish I could join them. One banana, two bananas, three bananas… bunch!
We return across the river to Chinatown, the World Heritage part of town is compact and walkable. On our way back Rangerette stops in her tracks, sputtering “There a crocodile in the drainage sewer”, turns out to be a rather large Monitor Lizard ( 1.5 m), just keeps walking unperturbed by us. At the Puri Hotel, Rangerette has booked into the Spa for her Valentine's Day gift. She’s about to get a full body scrub with sea salts and wrapped in seaweed and God knows what else, maybe tickled by Capt. Nemo and a Humboldt Squid…. She returns flushed and refreshed, a new woman, well almost. In the meantime, I go wandering off in the heat of the day. Being neither mad nor English, I seek a cool place to wait out Rangerette’s Herbal Makeover( Buy the way quite a bargain by European prices) I find my oasis, it’s a Café that has ponds under the tables filled with fish about an inch long and they nibble the feet and toes, their mouths are like small fingernail files and exfoliate the skin. I drink cold Tiger draft beer and let the fish do their pedicure work. I now know why there were so many people without feet in front of all the pubs in Melaka, you don’t want to stay too long. It's like a fishy opium den.