Tuesday, December 16

Day 110-Melaka

If pressed to describe this day in a few words, I would enthusiastically answer "a sensory feast". Beginning with rage for having poorly chosen a greedy taxi driver to the bus stop, my senses were soon calmed by the plush and opulent seats on the bus, as large as any in business class and fully reclinable. Border clearance into Malaysia was as smooth as oriental silk, despite my customary gut butterflys. Once onto the mainland, we rocketed down the modern freeway, every surrounding unpaved surface bursting with vegetation, the landscape a splash of the many shades of green. As far as the eye could see were spread the feathery olive crowns of oil palms, the gloomy understory guarding carpets of seafoam ferns and grasses. Intermittent stands of bamboo and multi-storied jungle disrupted the plantations, and beyond lie hills of virgin rain forest.

A few hours later we arrive in Melaka, a port city on the strait separating the mainland from the island of Sumatra. As such, it was for centuries a center of trade between India and China, resulting in an extremely rich blend of pan Asian cultures. Walking the busy streets was an olfactory assault. Within a hundred feet I would pass by shops redolent of incense, machine oil, indian curries, insecticide or chinese herbs. The whole infused with a bass note of that unforgettable sour durian. I find shops brimming with multicolored saris, swimming with the scarlet and gold of Chinese temple supplies, or quietly displaying the muted tones of antique colonial age furniture and paintings. No wonder this city has recently been named a UNESCO world heritage site.

As evening fell, I joined a chatty Australian couple for a beer. Sitting at a quayside bar, enjoying the cooling ocean breeze, we listened in on conversations in Tamil, Cantonese, Hindi, Dutch, Mandarin, Malay to name the obvious (of course we could scarcely discern one from the other).
Playing on the bar radio was a suprising delightful assortment of Christmas carols in rich chorale arrangements and we laughed to imagine that neither they nor the many other patrons had ever seen, much less made, a frosty snowman! As our appetite grew, we selected from countless options a Korean restaurant, and enjoyed our meal of noodles, fermented vegetables, roasted beef, and omelettes. After, we were invited to a most unusual treat, that of soaking our weary feet in a pool of hundreds of tiny fish, which find their sustenence from nibbling and sucking every nook and cranny of our immersed appendages. A truly unique sensation to end an incredible day!

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