Day 74: Melaka, Malaysia. We had a much needed morning of admin – sorting out finances, replying to messages, and working through a list of places and things we need to research.
After lunch we headed out to tick a few remaining ‘must-sees’ off our sightseeing list. We dropped into a nearby church that we can see from the guesthouse rooftop, a Catholic church built in 1856 which was modeled after Montpelier Cathedral. A stunning and very calming interior.
Next on our list was St John’s Fort. Originally a Portuguese chapel dedicated to John the Baptist in the 16th century, the fort was built by the Dutch in the 18th century. It’s unusual for a coastal fort to have battlements pointing inland, which is where they feared an attack might come from (they were already comfortably controlling the surrounding seas).
Then we walked across town to the Royal Malaysian Customs Museum. The museum was opened in 2006 and provides information and exhibits on the Royal Malaysian Customs Department. It sounds a little boring, but actually it was surprisingly interesting and very well put together. The building the museum is housed in was constructed by the British colonial administrators in the early 1890s to store imported trade goods such as rice, sugar, spices and textiles imported from countries across Asia.
The exhibits show artifacts that have been confiscated, including animals and plants, along with guns, drugs and items decorated with religious texts.
There was also an exhibit of sexually offensive items that the Customers Department has confiscated over time. It’s pretty amusing that they chose to display them in a glass case for all to see – we’re sure some visitors must be offended to see a bunch of sexually offensive items.
Next was a major highlight – a visit to a tiny rice wine bar just around the corner from our guesthouse, called Sin Hiap Hin. The bar is over 100 years old and is managed and run by a sweet old lady called Mrs Lee (known locally as ‘Aunty’).
We plonked ourselves on two wooden chairs at the 100 year old wooden bar, and Aunty took down a selection of Malaysian rice wines from the shelves.
We started with lychee rice wine, and rose water rice wine. Both were fabulous, only a little sweet but fairly potent, at 27%. While we were sipping, Aunty told us a little bit about her background. She married her husband in 1973 and has lived in the bar ever since. The bar has been in the same family since it was started 100 years ago. She has 4 children and 6 grandchildren, but has no idea if any of them will take on the business and manage it in the future. Let’s hope someone takes it over, as it’s an absolute gem.
The bar opens from 9am to 6pm (sometimes 7pm) – it used to open later, but Aunty said that people get too drunk and then there is trouble, so now she prefers to only open during the day. Apparently many years ago, when her husband ran the bar, it opened much earlier and people used to pop past for a drink before work to get them through the day.
There’s an old round table in the bar, with a marble top which has been cracked in two. Aunty said it happened some time ago when a customer got drunk and smashed it with an empty bottle. He came back the next day to apologise and said ‘he had had too much to drink’. While it was nice to get an apology, sadly the table couldn’t be repaired.
Next Lil tried the coconut rice wine, and Aunty suggsted to Jim he should try a Chinese liquor that (perhaps not surprisingly) is very popular with the Chinese, called Male Silkworm Chiew. Lil wrinkled her nose when she saw that silkworm is included in the list of ingredients. It’s also prescribed as a medicine, traditionally used for ‘strengthening the body and waist’. The dosage for adults is 45ml, twice a day (‘after meal and before sleep’), which at 34% alcohol should have you feeling better in no time, or perhaps feeling nothing at all. Jim is now complaining regularly that he doesn’t feel well and needs some medicine. Nice try.
We shared one last drink between us – an original Malaysian rice wine, then paid our bill, thanked Mrs Lee for her hospitality and said we’d pop back tomorrow to try another couple of local drinks.
Dinner this evening was at a Chinese restaurant close to our guesthouse – we didn’t feel like straying too far. Noodles and more noodles and kung po chicken, all very good.
As we walked home, a girl was giving a huge tortoise a bath on the doorstep of her house, while another smaller one trundled about inside the house. Never a dull moment, as they say.
We’re still deciding what to do tomorrow. Doubtless it will involve a fair bit of walking and another trip to the rice wine bar, so Jim can have his medicine.