Holiday two

We had hired Ravi, a friend of  Regi, a third generation Indian who took Axel around KL one morning while I was still working. Ravi  is also of the third generation, but he ancestors came from Sri Lanka. Ravi took us to Melaka, a place I insisted on seeing even though it is now a tourist trap. Melaka is tied up closely with Dutch history. I had read about my forefathers (and a few unlucky foremothers) who traveled to this part of the world from 1600 onwards. Many died young, in the prime of their life or in childbirth, as did many of their children. This wasn’t an easy climate for the Dutch and they had little resistance to the diseases common here.

We looked at their enormous tombstones which had been lifted from the church floor and stood side by side against the remaining walls of the original Portuguese church.  “hier leyt…” said many, describing the person who was remembered. Later in the museum (the old ‘Stadthuys’ which means town hall in Dutch), we looked at the painted scenes that described how Melaka went from a small village inhabited by forest peoples who lived from the land, the sea and piracy, to the current modern city that lives for a good part from the tourist trade, oil and the technology industry.

Downstairs life size bronze statues represented the various conquerors in front of their flags. Upstairs the various eras (Portuguese, Belanda (=Dutch), British and, Japanese) had their own room with artifacts from that time.  Judging from what I saw in Melaka and what I known from history taught to Dutch school children in the 50s (I was 5 when Malaysia became independent), this has always been a place of great suffering. A suffering that was born out of greed and intolerance. Now it seems peaceful although we figured from Ravi’s explanations that there are dangerous undercurrents here. The surface tolerance between the ethnic and religious groups is paper thin. Below it are the same drgaons of greed and intolerance that are ready to rear their ugly heads.

Ravi took us to the water’s edge so that I could wade my kakies (=feet in Malay, a word that has crept into the Dutch language) in the (in)famous Malaccan Straits waters.  A lovely mosquee was built on stilts and open to visitors, even to foreign Christian women as long as they put on long satiny gown with pink and blue flowers and a baby blue stretchy kind of tube to put one’ head through, leaving only the front of our face visible. All nylong and polyester, the gear left me sweating profusely, but it allowed me to wander around the sacred space, anonymously.

An entire section of town near the old docks had been remodeled and expanded with fancy condos, but them something happened. Nobody lives there and the buildings are falling into disrepair. The large billboards with pictures of beautiful smiling couples clinking their champagne glasses and reclining on fancy furniture are the only remnants of the developers’ visions. The Muslim Malay  (and foreigners, read: Arabs) were not able to pull off the development without the Chinese who refused to be part of this in a subordinate position.  We learned all this from Ravi whose opinions are colored by his own prejudices that were dripping into the conversations. As a Sri Lankan he can never be a ‘bumiputra’ Malay (derived from Sanskrit meaning ‘sons of the soil’.) He will always be a second class citizen. It is a bit like townies in Manchester, except in Manchester we have the same rights – this is not the case here. At any rate, the stalled and mildewy developments reminded me of a similar failed dream on the outskirts of Karachi – that one stalled when the housing prices in Dubai hit rock bottom and people lost a lot of money.

The roundtrip KL-Melaka took nearly 6 hours which meant that we missed both the high tea and the cocktail hour when we came back to our fancy hotel. We were too tired to go out and spent an extravagant amount on dinner because we didn’t understand the arrangement with wines that came out of a machine. Beware of wines that come out of a machine!

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