The mixture that is Melaka
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We visited the “mossy forest” which contains large swathes of sphagnum moss, numerous pitcher plants and orchids. A very atmospheric forest especially when the clouds weave in amongst the trees. The variety of plants is impressive with each tree playing host to up to 100 different types of life. The moss holds a huge amount of water, a handful producing a cupful of water when squeezed, as demonstrated by our guide, who also insisted on jumping up and down on the ground to show us that it is basically a trampoline and when one person bounces, so does everyone else whether they wish to or not, and the trees wobble. I found that extremely disturbing!
After the forest we visited what remains (only a handful of houses) of an Orang Asli village. It is at the top of a steep hill but a new village has been built at the bottom of the hill and the villagers are gradually being moved into the new homes there. An older man showed us his supply of poison darts whilst our guide demonstrated how to use a blow pipe.The darts are various sizes and have different types on poison on depending upon which animal is to be hunted. I shocked myself by hitting the target at first attempt, so quit at that point
From Cameron Highlands we took a minibus (only transport available) across to a small town called Gua Musang which is on the eastern railway line, nicknamed the “jungle line”. We knew in advance that we would have to spend the night there as we could only arrive about lunch time and the train leaves at 11,00am. Our experience of the hotel there made us appreciate the fact that we were not staying longer. It is not really a tourist area and we did not see other Europeans there or in the next town. The train journey the next day was interesting as we travelled through the jungle for 6 hours (cost £3.60 each with our over 60 discount) passing through a handful of stations built when Malaya was still under British rule. We reached Gemas where we spent the next night and then took 2 buses the following day to Melaka.
We love Melaka, it has a fascinating old town, as long as the drains, the odd rat or two and the monitor lizards (up to 2 metres long) living by the river, don't disturb you
So the Sultanate thrived until the Portuguese arrived and conquered the town in 1511, they were followed by the Dutch in the midst of the 17th Century, and the British in the 18th Century. The Japanese took control for a brief period during the second W War. From the time of the Portuguese the power and influence of Melaka declined as the security for ships and traders deteriorated and the costs imposed by successive administrations through taxes increased. By the time the British were in control it was considered “a sleepy hollow” with the river silted up and unsuitable as a mooring.
We stayed a week as there is so much to see, the river area, Chinese temples, Mosques, the traditional style shops, birds along the river, botanical gardens and lots of museums. However, the most interesting was the Cheng Ho Cultural Centre which has an impressive Chinese facade
The museum is all about Cheng Ho (Zheng He in Chinese). He was born in Nanjing, China, in the late14th Century and was captured when he was 10 years old by the Emperor's soldiers but became a loyal servant of the Emperor. When he was 13 he chose to be castrated as this meant he could be trusted to take on a greater role. Gradually he became more influential and he was charged with the task of building a fleet of treasure ships to sail overseas and make contact with other rulers and visit “uncivilised” countries, making commercial and political liaisons through diplomacy
The museum is housed in one of the original warehouses with 3 wells in the building dug to supply the fleet. We watched a video with the school children and a type of puppet show, (which dealt with the castration issue very delicately!), and by the time we had been around the museum it was closing. We had not had chance to wander around and look at artefacts by ourselves but the staff told us to keep our tickets and come back the next day
A strange off shoot of the Cheng Ho story is that an English man, Gavin Menzies, has written a book, "1421", claiming that there is evidence that Cheng Ho's fleet reached Australia, New Zealand and the Americas, long before the European explorers. No other academics support his theories and they are cruelly dismissive of his writings as only academics can be. After the seventh trip, a new Emperor was in place and he banned all further expeditions, even burning ships to ensure they could not be used, and the closed door policy was put in place in China which lasted more than 100 years, leaving the way clear for European explorers and subsequent colonisation. Cheng Ho died on his return home during the last voyage so he did not see the effects of the policy change.
Another day we read online that there were celebrations in the Portuguese Settlement on the 29th June as it was the end of a six day festival. It took about 30 minutes to walk there from the town centre. We had believed mistakenly that the Portuguese settlement would be old, reflecting the time they arrived in the 1500's. In fact, it was started in the 1930's when 2 priests became concerned that the descendants of those original Portuguese settlers (Catholics), who had intermarried with local Malay women, were losing their identity, language and sense of community, (and religion?)
Tomorrow we move to Johor Bahru for 2 nights before flying to Sabah (formerly British North Borneo). We are so close it seemed crazy to miss it, especially as the bird watching and diving are meant to be superb and they say that no headhunters have been active for at least 50 years so we should be safe.