Monday, July 28, 2008

Back in Brasil

After days at home waiting to know the next business posting from my existing client, I spoke to some other people and soon found myself back in Brasil.

It took a while, since I was held over one day in Newark thanks to bad weather.

Anyway, I'm here in Belo Horizonte, working and fixing problems as is my wont. I've walked around the center of the city a couple of times; there's little of consequence here so it will be some time before I pick up my camera.

Work is too intense, my brain is too tired - and anyway its too risky to go out on the streets in Brasil with anything of value.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


As though I hadn't enough of visiting Sentosa's LunaPark, I could not resist taking Marcia to MarineLand by Antibes.

So after the obligatory shopping at Carrefour up the valley from Nice, we buzzed off along the coast and played around in the Park for a while.

The dolphins did the same tricks as in Singapore, the orcas splashedaround while their trainers dressed like the guy in the movie 'The Day the Earth Stood Still', and the seals did a better job than every one else put together.

There was an additional attraction - some raptors; eagles and vultures that basically flew from trainer to trainer in exchange for gobbets of meat (hopefully bought in Carrefour too).

At the end of the day we played crazy golf, which here is crazy because the course hasn't been tended in years so its crazy to try to get any sensible score out of it.

One of those great days with someone I love very much.

Monday, July 07, 2008

On my way again

Flying again. This time Singapore to Munich, Munich to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Nice. So many stopovers to keep the price down for my client.

It's raining most of the time and there's the threat of a strike in Germany. Made it through really late and my brother picked me up.

Crashed into bed at 2am.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Wheel

The very last thing Ilham and I did on Sunday night was to take a ride to the top of the Wheel, Singapore's version of London's Eye.

We were told that night time wasn't the best time to ride the Wheel or see the city. Not so - it was fun to see the place by night, with the lights sparkling through the beetle backs of the the concert halls, twinkling from the storied homes of people and racing down the highways.

Plus the Wheel itself changes color, so we road a rainbow to the top and back again. Not bad at all!

One of the problems with Singapore is the lack of taxis - there simply aren't enough. We walked a long way - all the way back to the Mandarin Hotel, no less, to find a taxi to take us back to the River. There we had dinner by the river edge, bringing the weekend to end with a beefsteak and beer.

Thanks so much Ilham for the time together!


After Little India Ilham and I went to Chinatown, wandering around the streets and the market squares.

Later we went to the principal Buddhist temple. This was absolutely incredible - the sheer opulence of the place, the vibrancy of the colors, the grace of the monks.

Two things were truly amazing - the museum of Buddhist history and art, and the smaller temple in its garden on the very roof of the temple complex. Truly beautiful.

Little India

The weather remained as unsettled on Sunday as it had been Saturday. So, after breakfast and checking out the best possible timing of things, Ilham and I headed off to Little India.

As you might expect, Little India is a part of Singapore that is home to a large community of Indians. Indians have lived in SE Asia for millenia, way before the English began exporting them as laborers and imperial functionaries to vaious parts of the world in hte 19th century.

Most now are merchants and traders. living here as they would in London, Chicago or Melbourne.

We visited two temples; the first we couldn't get into to, the second (which was actually near Chinatown, that we visited later) we did. Here's some fotos.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


Friday night Ilham came up from Jakarta to visit me in Singapore for the weekend. We had dinner in one of the restaurants just below the hotel, then hit the Ministry of Sound to see the night life. Quite a place.

Saturday morning, not too early, we headed off for Sentosa, the island just south of Singapore island that serves as its park, playground and pasttime.

Getting to Sentosa was fun - we took the cable car from Mount Faber, Singapore's highest hill. This is most ingeniously made. It works like the cable cars in the Alps - double band of six man carriages with a waypoint for changing from one band to the other. The waypoint is the top floor of a skyscraper that stands by the water's edge on Singapore Island.

As the car went up to the station on Sentosa itself, I could see the entire north shore being remodeled. Great trucks, greater earthworks. As I learned before, these are part of the massive investment Singapore is making to become a regional hub for entertainment and the conference industry.

We hit every one of the rides - the Pirates, the Logs, the Aquarium, you name it. Same as in most other luna parks, but I hadn't done this for ages, so it was fun all over again.

Later in the day we went down to the beach on the south side of Sentosa, taking the 'ski ride' down to the shore. It was sunny enough to sit on the beach and go for a swim, but this was cut short by a dark monsoon cloud invading the day's happiness.

It didn't last long (tine enough for a Cuba Libre) then we shot off to see the dolphins do their thing in the pool. I haven't seen these dolphins before - they are long nosed like the river dolphins of the Amazon, but their bellies are pink. Where are they from?

After the show was over, we walked back along the beach to the bridge that links Sentosa to one of the artificial islands built along the coast. The sign says that this is the southernmost point to which you can walk in Asia. Counting bridges from Malaysia to Singapore, from Singapore to Sentosa, and from Sentosa to this point, well its possible. But looking at the map, more of Sentosa lies south of here...

The sunset was beautiful, especially from the ski ride back up to the top of the tower. We got back to the hotel and basically crashed.

What a fun day!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Back to Singapore

I was too anxious to miss the alarm I basically didmt sleep much last night.

Up early to catch the early coach to Singapore.

There is no rail service from Melaka as in Wolrd War Two the Japanese tore up the tracks from the area to use for the Burma railway. Melaka had long lost its economic importance after centuries of European rule; no one cared to relay the track after the Japanese were defeated. 

So there are coaches instead.  The ride is supposed to take just under 5 hours.  The price is 17 ringgit. Still cheap.

The sky is a flat grey - almost a photographer's favorite 18%. 

We leave more or less on time, with only 4 passengers on board.
The AC is classic too much, ezpecially as its cool enough outsde.

The road so far is the same I came down on from KL, so we are evidently cuttting inland.

 We leave the freeway in what I think is Pusat, which is where the train came through.

 The coach unexpectedly (for me) pullled into a restaurant/cafe.  'All off - 20 minute break!' the driver calls out.  Great!  

The restaurant is a gigantic buffet with small supermarket on the left. One black (yes, black please) coffee and slice of gingerbread and my last 4 ringgit is reduced to 50 sen.

Around the back of the building, splendors!  A palm tree plantation!  So I can click a foto that isn't a jagged blur taken from the coach window.  Here it is :-)

After the break, we are back on the freeway again.  Same superlative standard, same slenter trees lining the roadsides, same rolling hills of palms to the horizon. This must be the main freeway from Singapore north, through KL and on.  There's plenty of vehicles, but as volume goes the traffic is quite light, and there are fewer trucks than I would expect to see. Is that because the rail service is better/cheaper, truckers prefer not paying tolls or because the trade is local or simply isn't there?  I don't know.  But it isn't like India, that's for sure.

At Kudai we exit the freeway again and on the normal maind road, which is still an excellent six lane highway.  Here there is more traffic - mostly cars though but there are more trucks too.  And plenty of coaches, which must still be the principal way of getting around long distance.

Eventually we arrive in Johor Bahru, the city facing Singapore Island. Low hills, buildings half hisden amongst the green, contruction sites and long malls of commercial operations mixed in with spacious residential housing.

Shortly afterwards we are at the border crossing and going through Malaysian customs.  The delightful thing is that, on the sidewalk before going up to the somewhat worn offices of the customs house, is a long line of people selling absolutely delicious looking snacks.  Is this a good sign or one where they calculate you must wait hours to get through the controls.  Well the control was quick (no queue!) I rejoin the bus.

We cross the same causeway I saw on the way up. At this hour there is no queue of traffic.  I see a glowering building on the right, looking for all the world like some high tech sentinel.

 Sure enough, its Woodlands, road version.   A cold grey place with its glassy towers angled so it looks to be on constant alert.  The architects must have had fun designing a 21st century castle of dark steel bars and tinted windows.  It certainly chillls the spirit.

Long queues (separate for each booth), trainee control guard, old ladies with incomplete data. Usual luck.  30 minutes later I'm through.

Well its a grey day in Singapore too, with the occasional droplet trickling down.  Hope it clears for the weekend...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Melaka Day

Some part of the night it rained slightly, because when I woke up I could feel a chil wetness in the air and see large droplets of moisture sliding from the tips of the leaves that shadowed my window.

After a quick breakfast in the hotel garden and a quick look around its ‘Malacca Museum’ I headed out to explore the town by day. The night tour was really good because I was able to correlate what I saw with the street map.

My hotel was located in one of the principal streets of the old residential area, once called the Heerenweg (the Lords’ Way) and now Chock Tan after a man whose family had a house here once (its now a Chinese cultural center) and became Malaysia’s first Finance Minister.

The first thing that struck me was how simple, almost modest, were the houses on the street. Narrow fronted but deep, they could also have been like English terrace houses but for the curved Chinese roofs and the round hole punched through the walls that partitioned the front porches of each property. Each hole was decorated differently and colorfully. At the very end, looking through them all the way to the other end, it was an ever-diminishing series of portholes, each opening up a arc of its own space. Or like looking through the eyes of Odysseus’ planted axes – a skilled archer could shoot the length of them.

I walked up to the end of the street and looked on the Malacca River. Beside e two workers were busy repainting a bollard by the riverwalk.

Just over from me several workers were sawing and sanding blocks of a deep orange stone, ready to lay in place on the section of wall that was being rebuilt on the location of a Portuguese era bulwark.

Crossing a bridge that has stood at this location since the town was founded six hundred years ago I found myself in the old main square – at least the one the Dutch and British used as such. The Stadthuis, the church, the main warehouses and the model windmill are all painted a drained shade of blood red. Who knows why? It does stand out though, like a crimson fist slammed on the ground.

As I walked down towards the river mouth I saw a reconstructed water mill and, towering over a long warehouse now converted into a tourist mall, the masts and spars of a rebuilt Portuguese trading ship called a ‘nao’. This was the container ship of its time, a bulky behemoth that transported everything from cattle to cloves. Ingeniously this one is made into a museum which recounts the history of Malacca. And good for me it was open, because just as I walked up to the ticket offce the glowering grey crowds carried out their threat – it began to pour down.

So, while it rained ferociously outside, I strolled through the decks of the great ship reding the story of the town and of its various occupiers – Sumatran, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, British.

It seems the only ones that actually made something of the place were the Sumatrans and Chinese. The business model the Europeans used (monopoly trade) condemned the place to languish. The Brits wanted to abandon the place and moe the inhabitants up the coast to Penang: that didn’t happen so it just languished instead.

By the time I had finished wandering through the displays and dioramas the rain was down to a soft whisper, falling silent as I left the innards of the vessel to stand on the upper decks. Here another couple of mannequins had been posted to wind a windlass. Bronzed (literally) and frozen in position,suffering all that natre could throw at them, these two were beginning to flake a bit. I couldn’t shake “Pirates of the Caribbean” out of my head.

From the top deck I could see where the original river’s mouth had been blocked and diverted by a sand bar, now in the process of being transformed into a walking are for vistors. The river curved round and continued to the sea, passing under a road bridge that, in times past, was once the sea. In fact a lot of land either side of the river is reclaimed land. Where the ship is “moored” is once where the sea broke against the beach hard by the old fortress.

I clambered off the museum ship and walked around a land museum which is part of the complex. Other than a couple of outsized maps of the place there’s nothing of signifiance there, so I left quickly, heading for the last vestige of the fortress called ‘A Famosa’.

I walked through a park decorated by a train and a couple of airplanes (part of Malaysia’s history), the Museum of Ethical Beauty and the Museum of Islam (the Malaysian government is determined to ensure and enforce its racial distinctiveness) and a decorative Chinese roofed wagon, I got as far as the Malacca trees when the rains returned with a vengence.

Running for cover, I took shelter in the Chinese wagon. A brilliant move, as form here I coud see the whole area and watch everyone else run for cover too. The rains hammered on my protetive roof for well over an hour, leaving me to pace from end to end of the wagon as would a caged tiger in a circus wagon.

Rickshaw drivers passed by with their colorful rickshaws wrapped in plastic, expressions resigned to the rain hammering at their heads. Locals huddled and ran for the shopping mal over the way. Schoolchidren in bright yellow capes scampered to the Independence Museum. Tourists clattered down the steps from the church on the hill above and into the protective arch of ‘A Famosa’, the steps themselves a cascade of water chasing them all the way. Three men came out of the Museum of Islam, sat on the steps, lit their cigarettes, and ruefully looked out at the darkening sky – no business for now at least, no enlightenment possible.

The tempest played tricks on everyone; it diminished to the point of exhaustion and then, just as everyone bagan to pick up their plans and set bravely forth, it wheeled back with even greater force and thoroughly drenched however had dared cross the square. My refuge turned out to have a few leaks, leaving me to dance a light dervish as I avoided drops trying to wriggle down the back of my neck.

Eventually the darker of the cluds rolled away to torment someone else. It was still dripping but I determined to cross the square to get to the Independence Museum and under a less drippy shelter. Another squall rode in, leaving me there for a few minutes. Then I hopped over to ‘A Famosa’, now emptied of the better part of refugees, and up to the church on the hill.

Whereupon it began to rain heavily yet again, leaving me – and everyone else – to scrabble for the one vaulted area protecting what would have been the altar and is now the void where Francis Xavier was once laid to rest.

Dutch tourists, English schoolteachers leading their local and expat students, Chinese visitors and local vendors trading old prints; everyone sheltered between the gravestones of Dutch governors, English sea captains and Portuguese bishops.

A long, long wait later, long enough for me to have read and translated every inscription on every stone several times over, I renounced the hope it would cease raining completely and strode out to take the pathway that lead down to the Dutch cemetery and behind the Stadthuis. Unbelievably, I made it without being oaked through, so continued on back to the hotel and download the fotos I managed to take.

Fifteen minutes after I walked into the hotel the grey clouds thinned into wispy trails and the sun began to shine. I took a green tea and some cake in the hotel’s foyer, then went out again to pick up my tourist trail from where I had left off - the church on the top of the hill – by way of a quick detour to see the Chinese temple, the mosque and the tilted church (St. xxx’s church isn’t built straight, it leans to the right in mimicry of the Tower of Pisa).

The street vendors were still there, with their stalls laid out in the courtyard before the church, by the one-handed statue of Francisco Xavier and under the shade of the great trees which towered over the yard’s raised dias. This time the ‘tourists’ were local girls, chatting on their cellphones and browsing the stalls.

I walked down and headed for the tower with a rotating observation deck so I could get the full panorama of the town. As I did a chill wind plucked at my T-shirt and very dark clouds appeared on the horizon, bearing down fast. I walked smartly to the tower and just got under cover when it began raining again. This time it wasn’t playful; it was vicious. It let up slightly; I got aboard the deck and, as it began rotating up to its full height, black clouds came screaming in from over the hills. We were at full height and rain pummeled the glass windows of the deck. Lightning cracked, the wind roared and the sight below me was washed away. Not the cleverest place to be – a glass crow’s nest in the middle of a monsoon storm.

After a few minutes the deck began rotating down towards the ground, and frankly I was happy to get off. “Could you install windscreen wipers the next time I come by please?”, I called out as I left the area, heading for the nearest café to drink a warming cup of coffee.

The rain wouldn’t let up, so after an hour I lost patience and scampered from eave to tree to stall to covered walkway till I made it back to the hotel again, suitably damp for the second time in the day.

Evening was modest – dinner in the Geographers Café and back to the hotel because it was chilly and still threatening heavy rain.

Still, what a delightful place Malacca is. The local government is clearly investing in infrastructure to develop local and international tourism. The weakness is access to long distance transportation, but if this could be overcome or mitigated, then I think it has great potential because it is one of the few towns in Asia that has retained in its heart both character and history – and is not merely strings of shopping malls, hotels and flyovers.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Melaka Night

I booked into the Hotel Puri, which sounded good on its website as it prides itself of being a family run business in an old merchant house.

There is little trace of the house, which evidently was owned by one of the city’s trader families about 150 years or so ago. But it certainly has character and is notable by its tiled atrium, its garden and one room leading on to the garden where the local version of swifts have built their nests.

“Is it the tradition here that having birds nest in your house brings good luck?” I asked. “Indeed so.” came the answer.

I threw the bags on the bed, checked the TV for news and the internet for a connection. All OK.

When I walked out of the hotel to stroll around town in the evening, I found myself totally overcome by the magical beauty of what I saw before me.

Almost all the houses in the street were lit by strong red lights, fixed to key points of each one, of every one unique and splendrous. I drifted through this part of Melaka (which I discovered to be its Chinatown and formally its Dutch residential area) without an idea of where my feet were taking me, my eyes drawn to the delight of another corner, another building, another splash of red.

Absolutely wonderful. I asked for how long this had been the custom and I was told that it only began last year. Long may it continue!

During dinner at the Geographer’s Café (well I couldn’t resist, could I?), as I sat at my table looking out onto the street, a young rickshaw runner parked his tinsel-and-flower decorated vehicle on the sidewalk opposite and propped himself against it. He shot a glance over to me, I to him, and so on at least five times. I raised my glass of fruit juice to him, he smiled. As I paid the check I asked the waitress how much a rickshaw was. “About 20 ringgit an hour” she replied. So I paid her and wanered over to the rickshaw wallah.

I see you have been waiting for me”, I said with a wry smile. “Indeed so Sir” he replied. “So tell me, how much would it be for a short ride late at night as it is now?” “For you 20 ringgit an hour – I can take you to see all the tourist attractions and tell you their stories.” “Since this indeed is the price I have heard is the rate, then I am happy to take a short ride with you. That way tomorrow I know where to go to take some photographs.” “Are you a photographer Sir?” “Not really, it is my passion and hobby, and occasionally I sell a few, but this trip I am just a tourist and don’t have my good camera with me. And do please stop calling me Sir.” “Of course Sir.” was the inevitable reply.

Khaleed, I learned as he pedaled me round town, was an electrical engineering student who worked as a rickshaw guy in order to put himself through college and earn a little extra cash. The rickshaw was his family’s, which in fact owned two more. Third son of six children, his family came from Melaka and his father worked as a tradesman, as I recall. Khaleed’s English was excellent and his manners a privilege to be honored with. But he couldn’t stop calling me Sir. Terrifying, that. I ain’t old enough to be a Sir.

His pleasure in showing me the old town was evident as he told me the story of the place. Most corresponded to what I had read but it was fun to stand at midnight by ‘A Famosa’, the very last vestige of the Portuguese fortress, and be told its story again, and by the Malacca tree and be told the three tales as to how the city got its name.

I learned something new too – the building in which Malaysia’s independence of the Brits was signed in 1957 lies just across the square from ‘A Famosa’, the first European edifice in the Malaysian peninsula. This must have been deliberate. Every act of the independence is much cherished, as indeed it should be. Even the car the new Prime Minister was driven in has been preserved under a broad canopy. The building is now a museum celebrating the county’s independence.

Having seen earlier the old tombs behind the old Dutch Stadthuis (where I was told the story of the secret passageway, the sultan took to escape the Portuguese when they took Malacca Island in 1511, we ran up the steps to the top of the hill on which stands the ruins of the old Portuguese church. There Khaleed told me the story of an English teacher who centuries ago once taught at the school he attended (it was founded in 1824) and whose gravestone was on the hill. We read it by torchlight, to discover that, though the family name was hers, the tomb wasn’t – but the story of a young family, lost in the space of just a few years, was infinitely more tragic.

Within the walls of the church, its roof the stars in heaven, we could make out immense slabs commemorating the lives of Dutch merchants and garrison commanders, fine words with finer flourishes on hard grey stones. A water filled, oblong hole protected by a chicken wire cage under the vault of the apse was the one time resting place of Francis Xavier, the Jesuit priest who traveled as far as Japan.

Then I made my own little discovery, one which took me back exactly 40 years to another time and another continent. The wife of Jan van Rieckart, founder of Cape Town, was once buried in this church. I remember him – I learned all about him when I went to school in Cape Town back in 1968. My oh my.

I always knew Malacca to be one of those almost mythical places in history where traders, travelers and treasure are mixed and mingled. I did not for a moment imagine that this was the crossing point of Zheng He, Albuquerque, Magellan, Xavier, Tasman, van Rieckart and van Diemen. How privileged I am to stand on this very hill where every one of them stood at one time in their lives.

The next stop was over on the other side of Chinatown, in an area both traditional and being developed. The newer part is a redeveloped bend in the river, something that could become a smaller version of the eateries on the Singapore River.

Here there is a small luna park (well, ferris wheel at least) and a newly finished ‘corniche’ lit up by trails of blue lights that double in the reflection of the river. The older part is a section by another bend built and maintained in the traditional Malay style of building. Houses are raised on wooden stilts about one meter from the ground. “That’s for the potential flooding, to allow passage of refreshing and healthier air under the wooden floors, and to keep the insects and rats out”, Khaleed explained to me. Just like in Queensland. Same purpose too.

“I’ve read that there are still people here who speak Portuguese. Is that true?” I asked Khaleed. “Indeed there is a Portuguese Colony, though I’m told only some of the old people remember the language. The younger people have lost interest in that part of their past. Do you want to go and see?” With that, off Khaleed pedaled, despite my protesting that it was late and he’d pedaled enough.

Some fifteen minutes later we were going through streets called “Almeida” and “Lisboa”, soon to find ourselves by a concrete plaza and large sign celebrating the ‘Fiesta Fan Juan e Pedro’. “Only one Portuguese word in that” I said, “the rest is Spanish”. “Well I told you …” came the reply.

We cycled up to a plaza by the sea wall where a small restaurant was still serving drinks to the few people that chatted and played music by the plastic tables. “Two mango juices please! And by the way, do you speak Portuguese?” “No” responded the tired waitress with a shrug. So much for that then.

A reflection on the night sea as the lights of the fishing boats bobbed on the horizon. Then back to the hotel. Three and a half hours rickshawed around Malacca on a soft, warm night. Guided by the best of company too. What better way to begin to know Malacca?

Bus to Melaka

The mist rose later this morning giving an ethereal feeling to Kuala Lumpu as its spires glittered dimly in the soft light. Almost like a shimmering, evanescent city in a tale of Sinbad.

During the day in Kuala Lumpur I had to take the taxi a few times, thereby learning the trick of taking rides in KL instead of being taken for one (or several).

Here it is: in most rail terminals there is a ticket booth for taxis. Tell them where you want to you, pay the fee they charge, give the receipt to the cab driver and repeat address. Simple. Alternatively, say “by the meter” – ie the ride is metered (as it should be), not a fixed price that they might suggest or you might (like me) ask.

I had to go to the Bengsam district (the nicest I found in KL, fewer high rises, more bohemian, nice looking restaurants and clubs); to get there from the station where I bought the bus tickets I asked “how much” and got answers from 35 ringgit to 15 ringgit. I took the 15 ringgit offer. When I was advised to say “by the meter” the ride back turned out to be 5 ringgit.

So now you know.

I wrapped up my last meeting in Kuala Lumpur in the early afternoon and jumped on board a bus bound for Melaka.

The bus terminal was fascinating – a true view of the real Malaysia, instead of the Petronas image. Here you see the various ethnies mixed up, because the people who take a bus to the various parts of the country must of necessity jumble up. Since the wealthy don’t travel this way, then you see where public/private money isn’t spent too.

The building has been repainted many times, and just as quickly is battered by the passing travelers and their bags. Just as in the Gulf states, elements of religion are always present, from the chapels (male and female) to the several dress styles.

The area is split into sections. Through the middle on the left side are the ticket counters for the coaches that go to most everywhere in Malaysia. Access to the coaches is through stairs that descend through the floor to the bus lanes below. These access ways run the length of the terminal

To the back of the ticket counters are stalls that sell everything from clothes to DVDs. Mixed in with them are left luggage stalls. In the spirit of true enterprise, each of these stalls employs a guy who recommends to every traveler that, even for a short period and a modest fee, it is infinitely preferable to deposit your bag with them rather than wander around the terminal overloaded. I was so proposed many times. Almost agreed too, but for the fact I was trying to jump on an earlier bus.

To the right are all the food stalls, offering fast local food at reasonable prices (for me at least). Not many people eating though. Running the length of the terminal’s frontage are all the other stalls – soft drinks, snacks, fruit, tobacco, etc.
And amongst it, all the noise, shouts, cries and murmurs of a station you would expect find anywhere else in the world (well, except Budapest, which is deathly quiet).

I managed to jump aboard an earlier coach. Fearing that the air conditioning would be as bad as the train (indeed so was I told), I came prepared with heavier shirt and sarong to hand. Fortunately it wasn’t so bad.

The trip out of KL was totally uneventful, the voyage taking about two and a half hours. The road to Melaka is a six-lane freeway of German style and standard. The roadsides are sculpted, edged and planted with thin trunked, large leaved trees. Haven’t a clue what they are. Either side, through the hills and plains, nothing but palm trees, just like I saw on the trip up from Singapore. I’m told these are plantations for palm oil, which would make sense. They appear to be planted in groves. Access to them, if difficult sometimes, is certainly possible. Below some trunks I saw what looks like white plastic containers. What they hold, I don’t know. Many of the palm trunks are wrapped in a furry coat of ferns, whose seeds must have germinated in the rough bark of the tree itself.

Through a toll plaza, in the darkening light the outskirts of Melaka begin to appear: modern, spacious, well lit and somewhere that could easily be a town in California or the Carolinas.

The coach pulled into a section of an absolutely massive shopping mall that evidently doubles as the main bus terminal for the city. Not a bad idea, that. From there jumped into a cab to take me to the hotel I had booked earlier, which is in the old part of town.

I am in Melaka, the old and legendary city of Malacca, once capital of the spice trade and imagined by the early European explorers to be a city of gold.

Let’s see what’s here …