Trip Start Oct 15, 2008
Trip End Mar 20, 2009

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Friday, February 13, 2009

I'd like to open with  a public service announcement: If you ever find yourself in Melaka, DO NOT stay at Shira's Guest House. Ugh, I have such a litany of complaints I don't even know where to start. I guess I'll start with the bathroom: There was only one...for 10 guests. Of the 10 guests I held several distinctions: I was the only Westerner, the only female, and the only paying guest. The other "guests" were all friends, family, or business partners of the owner; nocturnal chain-smokers who stayed up through the entire night yelling and smoking in the kitchen. My room shared a wall with the kitchen and there were several holes in the wall so that the smoke and the conversation flowed freely between the kitchen and my room. Every hour or so I would get up and make an appearance in the kitchen, arms crossed and scowling so that they would know I did not approve. They would politely offer me coffee, as if their talking alone wasn't sufficient to prevent me from sleeping. At some point, probably around 4 am, one of the men offered me some sort of food wrapped in a banana leaf. I've been conditioned to associate a banana leaf with pure deliciousness - usually sweet beans or sticky rice - so I could not refuse. I unwrapped the banana leaf, plopped the white morsel into my mouth, and immediately began to gag. Fermented rice soaked in whiskey - I suppose the Malay equivalent of a Jello shot, except totally disgusting. I was angry, but also hopeful that the whiskey might help me sleep. I think it actually worked. I didn't wake up again until 8 am.

Ok, enough complaining. Guest House aside, Melaka provided a great opportunity to soak up some Malaysian history. The town has been colonized by pretty much everybody: Portuguese, Dutch, French and Chinese. This makes for some breathtaking architecture, most of which has been wonderfully preserved. (Some to the point of excess, so that I felt at points as though I was in Epcott Center rather than Malaysia). Most of the tourists are Singaporeans who travel to Melaka for the delicious "Baba Nonya" cuisine, which combines elements from traditional Chinese and Malay dishes. As usual, I was particularly impressed by the desserts. My favorite was Cendol: A pile of shaved ice topped with coconut milk, palm sugar syrup, green-bean flour noodles, kidney beans, and sometimes corn. I also enjoyed the pineapple tarts, a traditional dessert prepared to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Several shops in town claimed to have baked the largest pineapple tart ever known to man. The tarts were prominently displayed in the storefronts and all seemed to be about the same size. Most notable was the fact that the pineapple tart competition was held in 2004, so all of the tarts were about 5 years old.
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