There are some cities that make you reminisce of an era long gone. They preserve a chapter of the past so perfectly that you relive it whilst walking down its winding rivers and old alleyways. Malacca is one of those cities. The moment I arrived, I was reminded of Tainan and Xian. I felt like I was walking through the pages of one of my most beloved history books.
The modern day skyscrapers were nowhere in sight. Instead, the streets are lined with old shophouses – some lay abandoned as they decay with the annals of time, whilst others have been preserved and readapted for modern use. The Baba and Nonya Heritage Museum is one of these places. As I walked through the old house that is now a museum, I am reminded of my childhood. I grew up in a shophouse. There is something of an older (younger?) version of me that I see nestled in the history pages of modern Malacca.
My terrible sense of direction accidentally led me to Malaysia’s oldest Hindu Temple: The Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple. From down the street, I heard the melodious beats of the drums. I followed the music till I found my way to the entrance where I very quickly removed my shoes and walked in. Within moments, I was reminded me Singapore’s Sri Mariamman Temple. That same soul. That same history.
No matter where the traveller goes, she only finds herself.
It was not my first time in Malacca. I had been there several times growing up. But it had been decades since my last visit and my memories were blurry and incoherent. It’s odd – how one can intuitively know a place, and yet not remember it.
Earlier that day, I’d boarded a bus at Queens Street Terminal in Singapore not quite sure what to expect. The bus journey was a bit of a ruckus. The driver was one of those impatient old uncles who spoke to you in a language you didn’t understand and then got annoyed with you for not understanding. He also missed his exit and then reversed the bus for close to a kilometre on the highway.
I didn’t know whether to be amused or scared. I was mostly amused.
A journey that was supposed to take 4 hours also ended up taking 6 hours… I really should have known better. But my Japan years had taught me to expect things to work like clockwork, when in reality – they often don’t. So I stared out the window at the miles and miles of vegetation as I got lost in my spiralling thoughts.
“Do I look tired?” I asked him as I remembered my reflection in the mirror that morning.
“You are tired.”
It’s true. I was.
Between managing the demands of a business in a startup phase, holding down a new job and trying to maintain a semblance of a personal life hasn’t been easy. It’s like I’m split into a multitude of different people – the business owner, the author, the employee, the friend, the woman and finally… the person.
The soul. The Little Light.
It’s so easy to get bogged down by the gazillion different things that are competing for your attention that you forget who you are and what you’re all about.
And deep down, I was still a traveller in search of adventure.
“Do you always travel like this?” he asked me.
“Like what?” I said, confused.
“Without a plan… doing everything last minute and then expecting it all to fall into place?”
“Yes,” I said in a matter-of-fact way.
I had no idea what was so funny.
Unlike Tainan, Malacca doesn’t feel like it’s haunted by ghosts. Unlike Xian, Malacca doesn’t have the feel of an ancient civilisation that’s slowly decaying with time. Malacca just is. The vibe in Malacca is that of a past that no longer is and a present that couldn’t care about the future. It’s a nice place to be.
But Malacca wasn’t always like that.
Conquered by the Portuguese in the 1500s, Malacca was once a well-known international port. Many traders came to the city from Arabia, China and India. After the Portuguese, Malacca was also under Dutch and British rule. With so many layers of history – one gets the sense that Malacca is a place where differences can come together and co-exist… and after a long history of comings and goings, Malacca can finally just be.
The population of Malacca is under one million, but it is beaming with culture and heart everywhere you turn. Artworks are sold by the street side capturing the soul of the city and its inhabitants. You can buy trinkets, clothes, slippers and what have you not at every corner you turn. And don’t even get me started on the food. It is an absolute delight wondering where to eat and then realising that you don’t have enough time to try it all as you have to get on a bus and head back the next day.
“Has it really been seven months since I got back to Singapore?” I asked him.
Yes. It had been that long. Being back ‘home’ has had its benefits… but deep down I was still a traveller in search of adventure. That hadn’t changed. That free spirited part of me had just gotten lost in the day-to-day grind.
I’ve spent all of my adult years outside of Singapore and a part of me didn’t even know how to be at ‘home’ anymore. In coming home, I had rediscovered a lost part of myself and at the same time had lost a part of myself.
Does that make sense? It does in my head…
Anyways, the food in Malacca was simply epic. The best thing I ate was the Pandan and Salted Egg Yolk Cake at Wild Coriander. It even came with a cherry on top.
My iPhone refused to charge while it was in Malacca, but it was miraculously back to business when I returned to Singapore. A ghost in the machine or a sign from the universe?
I am back home… I have a ton of work to do and a ‘to-do list’ that grows bigger each day.
In the interim, I’ll dream of my next holiday. I’m thinking sand, ocean, beach, trees… and a pina colada.
What say you?
Till next time, stay sane.