The nearest 7Eleven is likely to be on a street corner within a few minutes’ walk. Buy a Magnum ice cream bar, because you deserve it for all your hard travel, and a can of 100 Plus, an isotonic drink, to replenish the fluids you lost sweating today. Dash to your air-conditioned AirBnB apartment, plop yourself on the couch, and watch a bad sci-fi movie. You can brush your teeth later. In the meantime in Melaka, Malaysia:
Feel the spirit
Melaka is a ghost town with traffic. Its heyday passed 300 years ago, then the Brits blew a bunch of stuff up and Melaka waned until 1957 when Malaysia’s independence was proclaimed here. The historic decline makes the entire old town feel like it exists solely “for the benefit of the tourists,” who wade through hot streets like zombies.
Development, which intensified after UNESCO proclaimed the city a World Heritage site, has created odd pockets of emptiness. A grassy vacant field stretches behind the Dataran Pahlawan mall. The failed Melaka Monorail rusts along the river. When it’s windy the revolving cabin ascending the 110-meter Menara Taming Sari issues an eery wheeze reminiscent of ghost movies. Flood-lit construction sites of mixed-use developments resemble space colonies.
With few to no sidewalks, traffic whizzes by in weird patterns as you teeter on the non-existent shoulder between the road and the open sewer (make sure you breathe through your mouth). Grown men drive trishaws decked out in bright plastic flowers, Hello Kitty dolls, and neon lights while blasting Indian bhangra or European techno.
Here is the end-of-time, might as well go out with a sparkling grin.
Visit a museum
If old Melaka feels like a life-sized diorama, consider this: a poster board in the People’s Museum lists no fewer than 29 public museums. They are inexpensive and informative and you can get through them quickly. The private Chinese Jewelry Museum and the Baba-Nyonya Heritage Museum are pricier but well-executed and you get a guide. But if you can’t sleep visit the ruling party (UMNO) museum. The Maritime Museum could easily be called Mehritime. And at the Enduring Beauty Museum you can catch up on Axl Rose’s tattoos.
The place could use a dentistry museum.
Cover your ears
Earplugs or not, the pre-recorded call to prayer from a mosque awakens you at 6:00 a.m. An old Chinese man deep-throats himself with mucus and when he spits a juicy one out, it sends an appetite-destroying cartoon echo through town. Malaysian pop enlivens the near-freezing interior of the local bus and lodges the worst earworm in your brain. The weird sounds can drive you crazy. You could put in your headphones but wouldn’t you rather hear your fangs grit?
Buy junk on Jonker Street
Aside from tourist-watching, the only reason to visit Jalan Hang Jebat, or Jonker Street, is because it’s unavoidable. The best time to visit is Friday and Saturday after sundown when the night bazaar transforms the otherwise sleepy street into a flea market. Get your tacky jewelry, flip flops, or a corny t-shirt here, and when done, dislodge remains of various snacks sold here from between your ivories with your fingernails.
Worship in seven faiths in seventy minutes
The pointy spires of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church lean so much they seem to be toppling. Refrain from making parallels with the current state of the Church. Moving on. On the nearby ‘Dutch Square,’ the brick-red Christ Church is the oldest Protestant Church in Malaysia, built in 1741 as Dutch Reformed Christian, then converted by you-know-who to Anglican. Across the river on Jalan Tukang Emas, wave your one hand to Ganesha‘s four while you listen to the tavil-and-nadaswaram musical drone accompany two ministrants in the inner sanctum of the Sri Poyatha Moorthi Hindu Temple doing their thing with fire bowls.
With its mongrel architecture, the nearby Kampung Kapitan Kling Mosque is impressive, too, particularly the tiered minaret and pyramidal roof. Two rules: 1) Don’t make any Klingon jokes and, 2) if you aren’t Muslim, refrain from converting to Islam just to see the interior because it’s nearly impossible to convert back. Look through the window or at the photos instead. Split your final ten minutes among Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism at the Cheng Hoon Teng (Bright Clouds) Temple (1645), the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia and the most photogenic of Melaka’s houses of worship. Good thing you left it for the end.
But you must be hungry now.
Eat a hawker center
You’re never too far from a hawker center (food stalls surrounding a central seating area). Best come in the evening. Except some stalls close after 9 and some, especially nasi lemak, the Malaysian national dish, tend to be only open for breakfast and lunch. Some specialties are only available on weekends. And holidays like the Chinese New Year shut everything down, except the stalls that remain open but charge up to 20% extra for good luck. Oh, and Mondays are an off day for many stall owners. The whole system can very confusing to navigate, so if you see something you like get it now because you may not have a chance later.
Take a seat and wait for a drinks server. Order and pay for your beverage at the table. As for food, order at each selected stall with your table number, and pay COD at the table. You know what? Nevermind. Don’t even bother brushing your teeth in Melaka. You will eat all the time.