Don’t Mess with Malacca

The marketing message de jour here seems to be “Don’t Mess with Malacca”. You see it on tourist information boards and t-shirts and bumper stickers. It could be interpreted as vaguely threatening but after a few days in Malaysia you come to realize that it was probably chosen by a marketing guy tuned into western messaging (well sort of) and to his ears it sounds hip.

Being hip and shopping a lot are very important values here.

I’m sure our driver “Dragon” – the one who drove us and our bikes from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca would agree. He’s in his 40s and showed up with a rasta cap on (although black – not the rainbow variety) and a t-shirt emblazoned with Amsterdam in large gold letters and a huge picture of a pot leaf. I spent five minutes with him while Ian was gathering luggage and then very happily volunteered for the back seat for the two-hour drive. Dragon spoke about two decibels above what was required and whenever the silence in the car lasted too long he’d laugh out loud and yell Relaxxxx man. Relaxxxxxx is gooooood. Time to relaxxxxxxxx. He told us Muslims aren’t supposed to drink beer but well….His son is in a rock band and the girls love him….Yes indeedy a very hip and cool (and loud) driver.

When I was here 25 years ago I remember drivers in button up men’s short-sleeved shirts and ironed trousers and lace-up leather shoes. They called you sir and madam…

I have to say I would have sat in the front seat with that driver…And its not that I would want to go back in time to a more conservative time or god forbid a more-buttoned down Muslim Malaysia, but it just demonstrates how an Islamic country that practices sharia law (enforced for Muslims only) ultimately has little control over western cultural influences as long as it remains somewhat of a democracy and wants open trade. It will remain somewhat of a democracy thanks to wealthy Chinese who own a lot of the wealth and are only interested in a government that remains secular, at least for non-Muslims.

Of course there are radical Islamic elements here (as there are anywhere nowadays) and there are soldiers patrolling the streets. Pity I couldn’t paint this contrast of a non-threatening Muslim culture and the terrorists who call themselves Muslim for all those bigots we now know exist in the UK and the US. I was on a right-wing facebook page the other day (trying to understand who voted for Trump) and as I read a war of words over Hollywood’s refusal to celebrate the upcoming inauguration I found some terrible anti-Islam stuff including a charming story that went something like this “there was a woman in full burka who gave me a dirty look at our supermarket (in West Virginia). Her husband asked me if the package of sausage he was holding contained pork. I told him it didn’t even though it did. Does anyone know what happens to Muslims if they eat pork?” Yeah you guessed it – she was a Trump supporter. I thought of her today in the mall and wished I could show her what I was seeing. But that kind of American doesn’t travel and so remains ignorant.

So here we are in Malacca, once part of the sultanate of Malacca and then a one-time Portuguese trading post that was eventually controlled by the Dutch and then the British. There is a bit of the original Portuguese fort left but not much as the British destroyed it in their quest to make Panang the trading capital. However, a lot of heritage buildings have been maintained and despite the rather touristy nature of the stores that they house the overall impression is of colonial Malaysia.

I am enjoying both the laid back architecture of the old city as well as being in a small city.

We are staying at the Jonker’s Boutique Hotel, a heritage building on the edge of Chinatown. It is an upscale three days for us with a king-size bed and a bathtub. I am a happy camper and think I will now be ready to head up the coast day after tomorrow on my bike. I think I may finally be winning the health war – in the end I believe I was suffering from a major allergic reaction (I ended up going to a pharmacy and getting over the counter antihistamines and this has proven to be the answer rather than all the stuff the ear nose and throat guy gave me).

The streets are decked out for Chinese New Year – the year of the Rooster. There are gold roosters and red posters everywhere – the streets are full of lanterns and the shopping malls (yes we hit two again on a quest for detailed maps) are full of gifts wrapped in red paper for the big day.

Speaking of marketing, I guess it is time to hit the tub and contemplate Theresa May’s Don’t Mess with Me speech (I am trying to understand what her threat actually means…feel free to comment retainers and leavers alike…she talks about the UK becoming a tax haven — that’s the threat. Now, wouldn’t this cost the UK in corporate tax revenue? …who will fund the NHS if taxes are lowered to attract corporations who keep doing business with the UK despite trade barriers with the EU only because they don’t have to pay much in tax. I think the answer is the middle class. Tighten your belts Brexiters.)

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