Monthly Archives: June 2008
This is for the people I know who’ve lost close ones in recent weeks, and for all those who know what it feels like to lose someone. WARNING: do not read without kleenex to hand.
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.
To find out more about the poem’s attribution and history, please click here.
To read Malaysia part 14, click here.
To read Malaysia part 12, click here.
Leaving Melaka was far from straightforward. There were no buses, as we’d hoped, to take us to the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) outside KL, at least, not if we wanted to make a zillion stops en route. There wasn’t a train service for where we wanted to go and if we flew it would arrive at the wrong KL airport. In the end, the hotel staff recommended booking a car, which wasn’t that expensive, considering the value of working air con in this country, but now the car was half an hour late in picking us up. Pacing the pavement in the heat didn’t help but eventually our driver arrived so we piled in. There wasn’t a minute to lose if we were to make our flight.
Five minutes later, the driver stopped for petrol. He’d collected us with an empty tank which seems to me like going to work with only part of your brain, thinking you might just grow a new one when you need it. In this case, it wasn’t a simple case of stopping car, filling tank, paying and leaving. Oh, no. There was quite a queue in front of us, so we were there for about 15 minutes. It doesn’t seem long, but we were already 45 minutes behind schedule and we hadn’t even left Melaka yet.
At last, tanked up and raring to go, we got stuck in a traffic jam on the main road out of Melaka. Monsieur and I checked our watches with such frequency that we could probably have drawn them in great detail for anyone who’d asked. “How much longer?” we asked the driver, “With this traffic, about two hours.” Came his reply. We could be in trouble here. The hotel had told us that the journey would take an hour and a half tops and we’d already lost close to an hour of travel time, thanks to our nonchalant driver. The annoying thing about this was that we were being driven by a perfectly pleasant, well-presented, middle-aged man but this lack of interest in our airport deadline didn’t match his other attributes. At. All.
We reached the motorway at long last, immediately making up some of the lost time as well-presented driver morphed into speed-fiend. Monsieur and I settled back into our seats, the tension evaporating. A few minutes later, Driver pulls off the motorway, into a gas station. What? We can’t have run out of petrol already. The gas station was closed so before we could ask the obvious question of “What are you doing?” we’d pulled back onto the motorway and were speeding along again.
Several minutes pass and we seem to be making good progress. Until, we stop again. This time, it’s a rest stop. Driver leaves the motor running as he dashes to the conveniences, calling out that he needs to ‘wash his hands’. By this time I figured it wasn’t worth wasting any more energy on my fast-developing Transfer Anxiety. We’d either make the flight or we wouldn’t. C’est la blooming vie.
As signs to KL started appearing, the traffic became denser. This was a red rag to the bull that dwelled inside our driver. Now he had obstacles. Now he had vehicles to overtake. Now he could prove his manliness through speed. He was the fastest, the most adept driver on that road and he could out-manoevre anything that moved in his path. (In his head, at least.)
Meanwhile, I was white-knuckled with fear. We slipped between lorries (how we didn’t end up beneath them, I really couldn’t tell you). We were swooping in and out of the different lanes, sometimes driving in between two lanes. When we squeezed between two lorries, travelling side by side, it was clear that an untimely end was fast approaching. I gripped the seat and yelped involuntarily. “Please God, let us get there alive!” I begged, suddenly dying for something very, very alcoholic to calm my nerves.
Have I mentioned that Driver made it a habit NOT to use his indicators, was often driving with both hands (yes BOTH hands) OFF the wheel, using them instead to unwrap sweets? He then sucked the sweets with such an infuriating loudness that my motion-sickness moved up a notch in intensity. Saliva occasionally splattered around the front of the car, so energetic was his chomping. “You want one?” he turned around, hands off steering wheel again to offer us one of his sweets. This must be it, I thought. The End. He looked at us as if we were really odd when we refused his offer, and not a second too soon returned his gaze to the road ahead, just in time to avoid crashing into the car in front of us.
The Driver’s next trick was to use his mobile phone without a handsfree kit. Monsieur and I couldn’t say much more in Malaysian than Selamat Datang (welcome) which you couldn’t help but learn, given that the phrase appeared everywhere we went. Interestingly enough, we understood pretty well what Driver was saying on the phone. “Lah lah lah wah low cost wah?” he said, looking at every road sign with urgency. He didn’t know where the LCCT was. That had to be it. We’d definitely miss our flight.
“I never been to LCCT before,” Driver eventually admitted, “jus’ getting direction from friend.” Okay… feeling really reassured now.
We took the wrong slip road from the motorway, then had to drive for ages to get back on the motorway to the right exit. Just before we reached the airport zone, we passed the Malaysian Formula 1 Race Track at Sepang, where the Malaysian Grand Prix takes place every year. At the speed we were travelling, the irony of this was not lost on us. Driver had missed his calling, BIG time. Meanwhile, we were careening around roundabouts in the middle of the cargo area, trying to find the right way into the LCCT terminal just over the way. We could see it now but still felt far away. Driver repeatedly took the wrong entrance road but was driving so fast that we couldn’t correct him in time.
After what seemed like an interminable time racing around the terminal grounds with Sepang snorting at our F1 emulating efforts in the background, we pulled up in front of the passenger terminal. My legs were jelly as we got out of the car. Driver was visibly proud of himself for getting us here, smiling widely at us as we took our cases from the boot. He obviously didn’t understand why we looked so pale and unimpressed. Pushing the agreed number of Ringgits into his hand, we raced into the terminal, screeching to a halt in front of the Air Asia check-in counters with a mere three minutes to spare before the cut-off for our flight. Only when we’d passed through security did I stop shaking. It would seem our angels are with us on this trip, but Driver’s days are most definitely numbered.
Monsieur trots off to Paris for work. I stay in London. Yesterday morning on the way to the tube, Monsieur and I preview our days ahead.
“Darling,” I say, “you’re so lucky. You’re going to Paris for meetings, have a cocktail event in the Louvre tonight, you’re staying in a lovely hotel with very soft beds and really good room service. You’ll even have time to hang out in the Galeries Lafayette food hall!” And yes, I really do jabber like that, which irritates Monsieur first thing in the morning but hey! I’m excited for Monsieur, because if roles had been reversed, I’d certainly be looking forward to some time out of London. Just the mere thought of Paris makes me feel particularly poetic so I’m not prepared for his response.
“The reality is, I’ll be there for work, I won’t know anyone at the cocktail and room service isn’t as good as your cooking.” He looks a little glum and I start to miss him already.
That evening, I decide to have a night off being the master chef of our household and order in. Then the phone rings. It’s Monsieur so I ask him how things are going in Paris. He tells me he’s just left the Louvre, didn’t have time to view the Valentino exhibition because it turns out he did actually know some people at this schmoozing shin-dig, is now walking along the street to his hotel in Concorde and can see all around him Parisians soaking up the evening sun with a verre or two on terraces. “I can see the Eiffel Tower,” he tells me, “and the weather’s great!” I enthuse right along with him, picturing the scene in my head. It’s almost as good as being there myself, but without the confit de canard.
Back in London I console myself with an indulgent night in: a white pizza, a glass of chilled rosé, a couple of chick flicks and a whole lot of blog-reading. It may not be Paris, but these quiet nights are so rare that they’re precious indeed. Later on my brow does crease for a moment, just before bedtime when I wonder whether, without Monsieur, I’ll be able to set the UFO alarm clock? What is it with me and Monsieur’s machines? They must all be French. The minute he leaves, they know it and go on strike.
Last night I joined fellow bloggers for another rendezvous of the London Bloggers Meetup Group. After some humming and hah-ing about which venue to assemble at, we found ourselves back at the Coach & Horses in Soho, for a night of blog-ducation.
M3Mobile sponsored the evening, buying beers for the first twenty-ish people. I must (typically) have been number 21 to arrive because there were no beers for me and the upstairs wine was £5.75 a glass! (Didn’t realise at the time that we weren’t supposed to bring drinks up from the downstairs bar, so I avoided the queue and did just that. The downstairs wine was cheaper by far! Later on in the ‘Naughty Corner’, as we dubbed the tiny upstairs terrace, we wine drinkers had a therapeutic moan about that. We need to corner a wine sponsor!) Almost immediately I managed to meet Barbara, one of the bloggers on my must-meet list. She runs a company called Glocal Travel specialising in sustainable travel to Mexico and blogs about it. She’s up for an award so congratulations on the nomination, Barbara!
I also chatted with Chris, who blogs about music and must meet The Plummet Onions writer, Tim, who was at a gig last night so unable to join us. Then there was Mehrdad, a photographer who is also web-design-techy enough to give me good advice about how to get help jazzing up this site so it doesn’t look so WordPress-y anymore so thank you to him. Kate, who blogs for cheapeats told us about a wonderful Thai in Waterloo. Apparently its looks belie the tasty food to be had inside for a song. Kate – when you read this, please would you send me the name again?
Then Andy introduced the first of our Blog School lecturers, Xavier Damman, who told us all about his brainchild, Commentag, a tag filtering plugin that helps organise your discussions and displays tag clouds for your comments. “If you have no tags, you have no visibility,” he told us. “And if you make a comment that receives no response, it’s a waste of time.” Well, yes and no. I think it depends on what you want to get out of your blog.
Next, Improbulus took the floor to talk about her blog which receives upward of 2000 hits a day. Here’s some of her advice for us blog-folk:
- The title is important. Use good words in the title to capture your audience’s attention.
- The first 55-60 words should contain the key words relating to that post.
- When tagging, use synonyms, UK AND US spelling, singular and plural forms, and when words could appear as one, two or hyphenated, use all forms. As one blogger pointed out, this is often sorted out for you automatically by the search engine.
- Link OUT, especially to Wikipedia. This encourages discussion.
- Multi-link the same reference to Wikipedia and one or two other sites.
- Refer to previous posts. You don’t have to do the “click here” method each time; you can highlight key words and link them instead.
- When you get your own domain name it will take a while to build up your readership under the new name so if you’re intending to change, do it sooner rather than later.
- A single comment feed for the entire blog helps raise traffic.
- Specialisation tends to help. (although some disagreed with this point. As one chap said, it depends on what you’re looking for.)
- Use Friendfeed to aggregate all your activities, such as Twitter.
- Frequency of publishing is important.
- Write posts ahead and build up your stock.
- Re: Google Adsense, put the Google search box on the blog. Most of Improbulus’s revenue comes from the box, not ads.
After a quick break for a chat with our new best friends (cue Jed and a crowd from Qype), we had further presentations from Tony Scott about the upcoming Wordcamp UK and M3 about their product. Then it was time for me to go, or so I thought, only somehow I ended up (yet again) putting the world to rights with Tony, Andy Roberts DARNETand Tony’s friend, Tim, over some extra beverages. We talked about the blogging evening, whether or not marriage is a valid institution, Wordcamp, the meaning of smirting and new age festivals.
That’s what I love best about these evenings: how many conversations you can have about completely unrelated topics with people you’ve only just met. I went home with a handful of new Moo cards and a head full of ideas. Thank you again, Andy Bargery, for organising the event. I will be back.
PS Do you think I squeezed enough tags into this post???
The next London Bloggers Meetup will be on 29th July at 7.30pm, venue TBC
This is a photo of a quote by the late writer, Tiziano Terzani, whose book The Fortune Teller Told Me, has made quite an impression on many who’ve known the Far East. I can’t quite make out all the words on the hoarding in the photo, but towards the end he says something about “reaffirming the way to silence, in order to feel oneself again, to reflect and find a bit of sanity once more.” Sounds like wisdom to me. There isn’t enough silence in this mad world. By the way, if anyone knows the exact translation of this quote and where it comes from, please let me know. In the meantime, I think I’d better send an e-mail in my terrible Italian to the TT site.
I was reminded of this photo at the weekend as I was browsing the net and found a blog called Cafe Selavy. On the site, a photography book called I Viaggi di Tiziano Terzani (The Travels of Tiziano Terzani) was reviewed. It sounds/ looks amazing and is top of my library wish list, even if it is only published in Italian for now. Still, I can handle a bit of Italian, especially as a picture’s worth a thousand words and there are plenty to be found in I Viaggi. By the looks of things, this book should make the itchiest of feet even itchier as TT travelled a huge amount in the course of his life and now the photographer, James Whitlow Delano follows his tracks, of which there were many. Born a poor Florentine, TT ironically worked for the Italian typewriter manufacturer, Olivetti before turning to journalism and travelling throughout Asia as a foreign correspondent. He came to know the region intimately and lived there for most of his adult life. Everything I’ve read by or about him makes me feel internally enriched so now I’m getting curious. I want to see where the self-labelled ‘traveller’ went that I don’t already know about.
TT passed away in 2004 but not without a following and a terminal illness couldn’t prevent him from writing. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he wrote a book about coming to terms with his imminent end. Called Un altro giro di giostra, or One More Ride on the Merry-go-Round, this has yet to be published in English.
Today, I thought I’d google him. This is what appeared. It’s called Letters Against the War and is dedicated to TT’s American grandson, Novalis, ‘that he may choose peace’. I haven’t read it all yet, but I do think it’s interesting that no publisher in the USA or the UK wanted to touch it, even though Terzani offered it to them for free and yet it has been published in Italian, German, French, Spanish, Japanese and Slovenian. The only publisher who ran this book in English was based in India and now, 6 years later, I see you can order it online in English. Yet you can also download it for free from the TT website (see previous link) I am guessing that the reason for this might be so that we can read it, too, regardless of political feeling in the world. The copyright on the English download simply states that the treatise may not be modified or sold, but otherwise may be distributed as long as the copyright statement is included. It seems that Terzani really wanted this out there, especially in the warmongering territories of the USA and UK. This man who travelled the earth and witnessed so many war atrocities wanted us all to understand that war begets war and only love and forgiveness can stop it. It’s not a bad sentiment, in fact, it’s admirable. If only more people wrote like he did.
A while ago I wrote this review of A Fortune-Teller Told Me by Tiziano Terzani
A Fortune-Teller Told Me is a book that I’ve seen in the shops for some time, but always passed over in favour of something else. When I finally bought it and started to read, I wondered what had taken me so long to bring it home.
The author, Tiziano Terzani, visits a fortune-teller in Hong Kong in 1976. He warns Terzani not to fly in 1993, not even once, for if he does so, he runs the risk of dying. Terzani puts the premonition to the back of his mind for the next decade and a half, but as 1993 approaches, he returns to the question of travel. Should he take the risk? Or should he swear off flying for a whole twelve months?
In the end Terzani decides not to tempt fate and tells his employers at Der Spiegel that he won’t be rushing off anywhere by plane or other flying device for that entire year. This poses some difficulty as Terzani is a foreign correspondent and it’s his job to get to the site of newsworthy stories as quickly as possible. Still, Der Spiegel obviously wanted to keep their man because after a bit of cursory grumbling, they grant Terzani his wish. He can use alternative transport for the whole of 1993 and try to show a different side to breaking news, as viewed from terra firma.
Wherever Terzani travels during 1993 he consults a soothsayer or fortune teller and this book documents the likelihood of their predictions along with opinions on cultural influences on their given fortunes. It’s at times deeply personal, written from the perspective of a man who readily admits his successes and human failings. At other times he writes with wisdom about political influence. Throughout, he shows care and acceptance of both his adopted continent and its people.
By the time I turned the last page I admired the author to the point of sending him fan-mail. Determined to do just that, I googled him, only to find that Terzani had died of cancer aged 65 in 2004. I felt shock and then the fact that his death had such an effect also shocked me. How could this be? I so seldom want to write to an author, to tell them how their writing has touched me. The one time I decide I must, I’m too late.
Not long after I read The Fortune-Teller Told Me, Monsieur and I found ourselves in Rimini looking for lunch. We’d parked in Piazza Ferrari, where a muralled fence hid some restoration work from view. As we walked back to the car with our paper bags of panini, I noticed a section of mural where someone had painted a Terzani quote. I photographed it and smiled. Suddenly, he didn’t feel quite so far away.
And that would be the photo at the top of this blog…
Back in London, I had been planning our Malaysian itinerary when something in the guidebook caught my eye:
“Wah Aik, 103 Jalan Kubu. Renowned for making silk shoes for bound feet. With foot binding no longer practised, the shoes are now lined up in the window as souvenirs, at a mere RM75 per pair.”
I hadn’t even left the country yet, but I already knew where to buy a present for my decorative shoe-collecting mother.
Monsieur and I had booked a car to take us to the airport just after lunch, so we had the morning to see a bit more of Melaka. Off we went down the street in search of shoes for foot-bound women. We went to the address given in the guide but the shop was boarded up. We then popped into a large shop with aisles of offerings to help one’s prayers at the Buddhist temple – fake money in bundles, cardboard platinum Amex cards, models of Mercedes cars… you name it. Anything that could possibly help you in the after-life was there,and we even got directions to Wah Aik’s new location at 56 Jalan Tokong.
Ever since childhood I’ve heard of foot-binding in China. Jung Chang’s book, Wild Swans, was the first to teach me how incredibly painful and smelly it was. Also worth reading is the novel by Lisa See, called Snow Flower and the Secret Fan , describing the life of a girl who must bind her feet to secure her future. Some say that binding women’s feet helped a woman to remain loyal to her husband because she could never run away, such was the excruciating pain of walking. Others say that tiny feet were a sign of beauty at that time, just as a 17 inch waist was desirable of Victorian women in England. In spite of knowing these basic facts, nothing could prepare me for how tiny the bound feet shoes are at Wah Aik’s. There, in a display window at the front of the shop, are a number of regular-sized slippers and shoes, below which sit rows of shoes that would better suit the feet of a large doll than a human being’s. The shoes are quite beautiful in their various colours of embroidered silk – the Emperor’s red, a soft chartreuse, turquoise, but at a mere 4 inches long, all I could think about was the crippled women who’d been subjected to such a terrible ritual. Honestly. Who comes up with these ridiculous concepts?
The shoemakers at Wah Aik’s were welcoming. They explained that not only did they sell these diminutive shoes to tourists; they also supplied them to the handful of foot-bound women still alive here in Malaysia. As we chose pairs of shoes to take home to our mothers I noticed a photocopy of a review from the Guide Routard stapled to the wall, indicating that the French must like visiting here, too. There you are, Monsieur, it wasn’t such a wild goose chase after all.
Mission accomplished, Monsieur and I now sought out the temples on Jalan Tokong, otherwise known as Temple Street. There were three to visit: Masjid Kampung Kling with a Mecca-green roof sloping like a pagoda’s but quite empty at this time of day; Sri Poyyatha Vinoyagar, with its ochre façade and Hindu statuary, but the one we really enjoyed was the Buddhist temple of Cheng Hoon, or Temple of the Merciful Cloud.
Here we were able to watch members of the local Chinese community pay their respects in a variety of ways. They burned rods of incense in clusters, held between their pressed palms as they bowed before the Goddess of Mercy, to whom the temple is dedicated, eventually leaving them to smoulder in a large, brass urn. Inside, the walls were panelled with dark wood. Offerings such as fresh flowers or fruit sat on ornate, carved altars, above which golden figures glistened in the gloom. Back outside, we watched, intrigued, as worshippers burned written prayers and fake money in a busy incinerator and could probably have wandered about there quite happily for another hour, just observing the rites of the temple’s visitors, but once again we had deadlines.
Back on Jonkers Street (also known as Jalan Hang Jebat) we wandered into The Geographer Café, just ever so slightly starving as there was practically nothing left in our tums, given that the fat-fest of the previous night hadn’t done much to fill us up and we hadn’t yet had breakfast. For hours now, we’d been existing on bottled water. In the humidity, this wasn’t really as hard as it sounds.
The Geographer is reputed to be quite a cool hang-out, but when we were there, it was hard to tell. The place, with its stacks of GEO and National Geographic magazines, all well-read with curled corners and tumbler-stained covers, felt just a bit tired, but the food was great. I took a brief break from the Asian scene, just for one meal, tucking into a delicious pasta tossed simply with olive oil, garlic and red chilli. Monsieur chose a piccante pizza as we sat in the open air, watching the world go by. Compared to the night before, it was almost disturbingly quiet. Perhaps all that line dancing had tired everyone out.
One of my (many) strangenesses is a love for tiny cars. I think the old Fiat cinquecento is a superb piece of design for urban living and, wherever I go in the world, I always find myself face-to-face with a little vehicle of some unusual appeal to me, and only me. Monsieur, being a man and French to boot, would never admit to liking little cars. He’d rather ogle a luxury sportscar, making me wonder if he’s headed for an early mid-life crisis, but reassuring in the fact that I know that at least he’s not suddenly producing an excess of oestrogen. Anyway, here is the little yellow car I fell for just before we left Melaka. It was parked just along the street from The Geographer and Monsieur had to pretend not to know me as I angled for just the right shot. I don’t desire much in this overly-materialistic world but my, how I would love a little yellow car like that.
Melaka was livelier in the dark than she had been in the daylight. Once we’d bade farewell to Cedric, we walked across to Jonker Street, past the miniature windmill surrounded by a perfect bed of flowers that would look more appropriate in Disneyland. It was a very different place to the one we’d left that afternoon: stalls had been set up along the length of the street in front of the shops, selling everything you could possibly conceive, from terrapins to knock-off handbags, earrings to pewter souvenirs. It was time for some touristy retail therapy so my wallet came out.
I was very proud of one purchase: a boxed model of the Petronas Towers which now lives on my desk at the Architects’ Offices. Priced at 18 Ringgit, I later saw its twin at the airport for a cool 80 Ringgit. Epicurienne loves a bargain, so this deal has gone down in her hall of fame. Then I picked up a handful of painted ceramic magnets. There was one of a couple in a rickshaw in front of Christ Church, so that had to be bought as a reminder of Cedric The Brave. Another of a Nyonya woman was destined for my soon-to-be Former Flatmate, whose fridge door is invisible beneath his magnet collection. Then our attention turned to a shop full of collapsible model junks. Monsieur admired the wooden masterpieces, and we chatted away about how little they cost (RM 180), but the bulk at this point of our journey would prove impractical and we didn’t know where we’d put it once home, so on the shelf they stayed.
Further along Jonker Street, we found an emporium packed to the gunnels with inexpensive souvenirs. There I bought cellophane-wrapped packs of floral incense with ceramic burners and a sweet little daisy ties for friends back home. A few doors down, we gazed into a hall filled with middle-aged women practising line dancing. This seemed so incongruous at first – line dancing in Malaysia? – until we passed more halls of the same and a large outdoor stage where ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ was pumping out as line-dancing groups competed in country and western team uniforms, replete with cowboy hats. The crowd clapped along and cheered their favourites. Apparently line dancing is quite THE thing in Melaka.
There were lots of stalls selling animals at he Night Market. We saw mice, hamsters and turtles, tarantulas, scorpions and even a pile of fluffy, sleeping pups. At a calligraphy stand I found Double Happiness signs for home, deemed a good luck charm by feng shui enthusiasts. Hopefully this would see the fates smiling happily on my future home with Monsieur.
It was time to stop shopping. Monsieur was getting hungry and I had managed to fill my bag with gifts for almost everyone back home without destroying my budget. Our stomachs had now begun a noisy protest against the omnipresent signs that it was dinner time. Food was all around us and the locals were standing in groups gossiping as they ate plastic platefuls of delicious-smelling food. Everywhere we looked there were steamed dumplings, noodles in polystyrene containers, chicken rice and fast-moving chopsticks. It had been quite a day. In spite of the dinner gongs going off inside us, we were desperate to rest our heavy legs somewhere quiet, so we left the market behind in search of a sit-down restaurant and a bit of peace.
This was not easy. Our guidebook proved unhelpful for the immediate area. There is no restaurant at the Hotel Puri, a neighbouring restaurant that had looked promising at lunch time was now closed for dinner, everywhere along Jonker Street was heaving and the only other place was too surreal. As we entered the latter option we noticed a large iguana asleep in a cage, an empty dancefloor and four bored staff who fell upon us with menus in case we might give them a purpose in life. Stale smoke hung in the air from previous evenings and there were no other patrons. Bad sign. This wouldn’t do at all.
At the end of Jonker Street we took a cab to a Chinese restaurant at the Renaissance Hotel. “We haven’t made a reservation,” muttered Monsieur, “I wonder if they’re fully booked.” We needn’t have worried. As we walked through a lobby that screamed 5 star hotel, up to our second floor destination, the Long Feng Restaurant, we couldn’t have guessed that our prayers for calm would be so accurately answered. The dining room was certainly stunning. There were the requisite fish in a crystal clear aquarium at the door, starched white table cloths throughout, carved rosewood furniture and beautiful ink wash pictures on the walls. But there were no other patrons, and once more, there were four staff, just for us.
The Rough Guide lauds Long Feng as providing “excellent Cantonese and Szechuan dishes in a classy setting.” As we settled at our table which could have seated six, the setting was certainly as they’d described. There was even a private banquet room with sliding doors off the main dining area and Chinese singers warbled away over the music system. The view from our window told a different story; across the street there was one of the dubious hotel frontages with crooked blinds and seedy entrance that we’d passed earlier on with Cedric. Nearby were massage parlours. Distracting us for a moment, our very pregnant waitress, dressed in a shapeless blue sack, brought us menus and delicious jasmine tea. Thirsty enough to drink a lake dry at this point, we swiftly moved on to beer and water. The food, however, was not to please our Western tastebuds. Everything we chose looked wonderful, but when we started eating, there was an all-pervasive greasiness that we weren’t used to. Monsieur’s duck had been cross sectioned to include marrow in the bone. We’d never seen it done like that before, although apparently duck marrow appeals in this part of the world. My chicken smelled divine but consisted of more fat than meat, so most of that went untouched. What a waste. I felt so guilty that we couldn’t finish what must be considered a feast by so many in this town. The rice and Chinese vegetables were simple and tasty, however, and kept us going, but we left hungry. Already feeling bad about the leftovers at our table, I felt worse about our waitress. The poor girl had looked tired when we arrived but now she had turned grey and looked ready to collapse. She needed to get home and rest with someone else to wait on her, not expend all her energy on a mere two diners as she’d done tonight.
Back at the hotel I found a benefit of staying at the Hotel Puri: they had the Travel and Leisure Channel. I watched a presenter called Jennifer Convey as she travelled around the “Coat d’Azewer” (Côte d’Azur), eating “kwassantes” (croissants) and referring repeatedly to the “absolutely breathtaking views”. She played with a puppet called August (presumably Auguste) in a marionnette shop, crooned in saccharine tones “that’s so CUTE!” or “that’s so sweeeeeeet”, talked about walking in “jar-deens” (jardins) and was generally annoying. However, it was wonderful to see our beloved France from a very different part of the world so I nodded off that night on a cloud of imagined Provençale lavender, to dream of poppy fields and the Dordogne.
Owning a rickshaw is serious business in Malaysia. It’s not just about cycling your heart out as you transport passengers from A to B in exchange for Ringgits. You need and an eye for clashing colours, a friend in the plastic flower business and Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen flair; anything to make your ‘shaw stand out from the rest. It’s a case of ‘my ‘shaw’s better than yours,’ with the aim of attracting more business.
As rickshaw novices, Monsieur and I didn’t know any of this when we presented ourselves at Dutch Square in Melaka. There, outside the Stadthuys, an imposing Dutch colonial building with a perfect dark terracotta façade, stood a clutch of rickshaws with their owners, all competing for the attention of tourists like ourselves. We almost stepped into one ‘shaw, only to be hijacked at the last minute by Cedric, a slight and smiling chap with enough front to get us away from a rival and into his vehicle before we could say ‘hello’.
Seconds later we were in the middle of Melaka traffic, our lives flashing before our eyes as Cedric pumped his chicken legs up and down furiously, weaving us through cars and lorries, occasionally of the oncoming variety. We barely had time to consider the rickshaw’s decoration on the rick-ter scale of trashy. We supposed it might be an 8, surrounded as we were by more plastic floral arrangements than you’d find in a funeral home. Then we realised that it was probably more of a 6 or 7; Cedric didn’t have fairy lights on his ‘shaw.
Cedric turned back to us to tell us what we were passing, but we didn’t understand much, partly because he was speaking a unique combination of Malay and English, and partly because the breeze carried half his words into the buzz of traffic. He turned off the road at the foot of St Paul’s Hill, “Lah lah Sin Paul Hill,” he said, pointing up at the ruins above us. I was much more interested in how we hadn’t yet crashed. Cedric only spent fifty per cent of the time looking at the road; the rest of the time he was twisting around to tell us what we were seeing, chattering away in an enthusiastic but incomprehensible manner. “What did he say?” asked Monsieur, repeatedly, thoroughly convinced that being a native English speaker, I would understand. “Haven’t a clue,” I replied with a shrug.
At St Paul’s Hill we parked near A’Famosa, a gate that is the last surviving part of a Portuguese fortress that once stood here. Built in the early part of the 16th century, that makes this lone gate the oldest evidence of European construction in Asia. Somehow, Cedric made us understand that we should go to the top of the hill and he’d wait for us at the bottom. We should take our time. This was all conveyed using an expressive selection of gestures, proving the point that spoken language is only responsible for a very small part of communication.Heeding Cedric’s instruction, up the hill we trudged, past locals hawking their crafts on picnic blankets at regular intervals. It was so humid that I wanted to plonk myself down next to them and have a rest, but Monsieur marched me on. Somewhat breathless we soon reached the top where St Paul’s Church stands in ruins. In spite of being a bit of a wreck these days, its position makes for some spectacular photos. We marvelled at the gnarled trunks of the trees by the church, wondering how old they were and what they’d witnessed in the course of their lives. Below us, the port was busy with the comings and goings of container ships, a far cry from Portuguese galleons or colonial trading vessels. We looked down the other side of the hill to the dark, peaked roofs of the Melaka Sultanate Palace, a modern building the architecture of which is based on traditional palace styles. Looking at our watches we realised we should be getting back to Cedric. We descended the hill to receive the warmest greeting from the brave little man. He made us feel like long-lost family. Nevertheless, it was with some mild anxiety that we climbed back into the rickshaw for part two of our tour.
Straight back into the traffic we went, brave Cedric riding for his life. Somewhere on our left was the Independence Memorial, not that I noticed. Cedric was driving us into the middle of the road now, in rush hour traffic. I was convinced we’d be roadkill in minutes. Cedric turned across cars which approached at a horrifying speed, braking to give way to us at the last minute. “I can’t look, I can’t look!” I yelped at Monsieur, covering my eyes as Cedric pedalled us towards a certain death. But no. Somewhat obviously, we survived, as I’m able to write about this experience, which has probably lowered my expected age of death by about a decade, and were soon travelling along calm residential streets. At last, my heart resumed a regular beating pattern.
These streets were Melaka’s answer to suburbia. The single-storey bungalows stood on smallish lots, and all seemed to have a covered porch acting as an outdoor living room. People were sitting on their porches shelling peas, drinking cola, dozing in the late-afternoon sun or listening to music. It was blessedly restful here compared to the bustle just behind us, apart from all the yelling, that is.
It was soon obvious that lots of the residents knew our man, Cedric. They shouted out to him and he looked happy and proud as he waved back, yelling something in his own, special martian lingo, yet again, as he pointed back at us. For all I know, he could have been calling us names, like ’Pale Man No Balls’ and ‘No Good Wife’ but I didn’t get that vibe. Cedric was a hard worker; a dynamo, in fact. He was proud of us. We showed his friends that all was well with business.
Soon, we entered a massive, empty car park by the water. This was Portuguese Square, and was surrounded by hawker stalls selling fish and seafood straight from the net. Cedric was melting before us. We suggested he join us for a drink, but he politely declined, saying he would rest for 20 minutes and talk to his friends. Judging by the many people approaching him with shouts and smiles Cedric certainly seemed to know everyone in Melaka.
Monsieur and I sat by the shore, drinking beer as the setting sun cast a pink glow on Melaka. A woman sold fried fish at a portable barbecue stand near our table, her baby jiggling happily beside her in his pushchair. Crates of sea creatures, (the likes of which I’d never seen before but resembling giant armoured beetles), sat near us twitching their antennae but unable to escape. The various fish stalls and snack stands were already busy, even though it was still too early for the dinner trade thus, in its total simplicity, that seaside beer break turned into one of the most beautiful Kodak moments in my memory.
Having watched the sky change from blue to rose to mauve and purple as we finished our beers, it was time to move on. In hindsight, I wish we’d stayed there all evening, but we weren’t yet to know what culinary strangeness awaited us that evening. Cedric had recovered his energy now, so off we rode, onto dark Melaka streets. This time, the roads were quieter, thankfully, because we didn’t have the fairy lights that twinkled on some of the over-pimped ‘shaws we saw. We passed seedy hotels with narrow stairways straight off the street, massage parlours and non-descript eateries. Turning into a quieter road, Cedric became super-animated “Lah lah high school,” he pointed across at a modern brick building with student artwork taped to the inside of the windows. Things like that are so universal, it makes us remember that we’re not all so different after all.
Just before returning to Dutch Square, Cedric waved at people squeezed into an open shop frontage where food was being sold. “Lah lah, Hainanese Chicken Ball, Melaka BEST!” He lit up, perhaps indicating that he’d worked up an appetite in the previous few hours. It did have the air of a place which probably did serve the best rice balls in town, but at the same time, its location was uninspiring to say the least. That was probably the second mistake I made regarding our one dinner in Melaka. More about that later.
Superhuman Cedric was now slowing down. He deserved a ginormous serving of those chicken rice balls but heaven only knows where he’d put them; he was seriously small in stature, and now he was tired out.
Back outside the Stadthuys, we paid Cedric the agreed amount for the afternoon’s adventures, and he kindly took photos of us in his beloved ‘shaw before riding off slowly into the Melaka night. If ever I should be asked for advice on visiting Melaka, I’d say this: go to the Stadthuys and insist on finding Cedric. He’s very slim, but genial and genuine, and he rides as if he were born in a rickshaw. Don’t expect to understand everything he says but do expect to end the ride happier for having met such a man. He’s modest, he’s hardworking, he’s popular, but most of all he makes you feel like part of his family and when you’re travelling, that’s a very good feeling indeed.
To read previous instalment, click here.
Ever since I started blogging, I’ve found it fascinating and enriching to get to know some other bloggers. One of my first blog-pals is Razzbuffnik, who writes All The Dumb Things. The reasons I’d recommend visiting his site include his fantastic photos, covering every sort of subject from seventies’ Cambodia to a firebreathing Razz and the fact that this multi-faceted man writes about his many adventures in life, with a combination of intelligence, good humour and wisdom.
I asked Sydneysider, Razz if he’d answer some questions for me so I could post them on this page.
“Sure” he replied. So here we go, getting to know a bit more about Razzbuffnik.
Epic: When and why did you decide to take up blogging?
Razz: Last year in April because Mrs Razz has been at me for years to write down my anecdotes and then turn them into a book. She’s filled out three pages with just titles of my various stories. I also have thousands of photographs that are just sitting around going mouldy so I thought that I might do something with them.
Epic: Why do you call yourself Razzbuffnik?
1. I want anonymity and it also gives a modicum of privacy to the people I write about.
2. When I was in the carnival there was a kid I knew whose father used to call people by either of two made-up names. One of the names was Simeon Gloudfartz and the other was Izzy Razzbuffnik. I’ve always thought that Izzy Razzbuffnik was a funny name so I thought I’d use it as a nom de plume for blogging.
Epic: Explain your inspiration for All The Dumb Things
Razz: Paul Kelly’s song, “I’ve done all the dumb things”. Also, when I think about my life and all the stories that I have, it makes me realise that it’s “all the dumb things” I’ve done that people are interested in hearing. Many of the things that I’ve done are so stupid that most people are just incredulous when I tell them about them.
Epic: What makes you laugh?
Razz: That’s a hard one. Sometimes it’s the stupid things that people do. Then again, stupid things that people do sometimes anger me. I like wit and crazy off-the-wall stuff.
Epic: Which is the best blog you’ve read recently and why?
Razz: Besides yours of course Again that’s a difficult one. I find that I read about 10 blogs regularly and I don’t feel that I’ve got a favourite. Pat Coakley’s Single For A Reason is pretty good as she quite often has very good photographs with interesting observations about life. She’s a pretty smart and insightful woman.
I’ve also been reading Finkenwalde who is an ex-marine. He’s a very insightful guy who’s proof that not everyone who volunteers for the armed services is nuts or a meathead. Sometimes he writes about mundane family stuff that almost brings a tear to my eye. I think he’s been through a lot (not combat) and he’s one of those people who thinks a lot about what goes on around him.
I also check out Unique Muslimah to keep in touch with what Muslim women have to say. I think that anyone with fears about Moslems should check out this blog to see how decent and loving most of them are.
Epic: If you found yourself stranded on a desert island with three people of your choice (alive or dead) who would they be?
Razz: This would be conditional on whether I could speak their languages or they mine.
1. My wife (I’m not just saying this to look good. Mrs Razz is my favourite person.
2. Leonardo da Vinci
3. Thor Heyerdahl.
Epic: If you were visiting Sydney for the first time, what would you recommend doing or avoiding?
Razz: Recommend: go to a small beach like Clovelly and do some snorkelling. Avoid: King’s Cross.
Epic: After Sydney, where would you like to live next? (if you might ever consider moving again)
Razz: A few years ago I would’ve said Vancouver (I used to live there) but I’ve been back a few times over the last couple years and it’s really gone downhill. If I had the funds, I think I’d like to live in France for half of the year and Sydney the other half.
Epic: Where is your favourite place on the planet?
Razz: The Grand Canyon. I’m also very happy to be sitting in my backyard with Mrs Razz, reading the paper and relaxing.
Epic: What has been your proudest moment?
Razz: Getting married to Mrs Razz.
Epic: If there are three pieces of life advice you could give to a banker caught in the current credit crunch, what would they be?
Razz: Are you a banker? If so please don’t take offence.
1. Get out of that profession. (I’d say this even if there wasn’t a credit crunch.) 2. See 1. 3. See 2.
Epic: What’s on your bedside table?
Razz: Three unfinished books.
“Freedom at Midnight” which is about how Britain gave away an empire. It started off pretty well, but Gandhi’s decision to start sleeping with his niece so he could get in touch with his feminine nurturing side has turned me off.
“Love and Death in Kathmandu” which is about the Nepali prince killing his father. Way too much astrology and superstition for me.
“Attila” a fictional account of Attila the Hun. Not very well written.
Epic note to reader: Perhaps you’re starting to see why I so enjoy reading All The Dumb Things. Visit the site with a cup of something warm and plenty of time to read… And just in case you’re wondering what the photo of tomatoes signifies at the beginning of this post – you’ll just have to visit Razzbuffnik’s site to find out.