Posted by: facetothewind | December 15, 2014

Malacca and More

The problem for me with having found a nice apartment is that now I never want to leave the house.

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At home I get to luxuriate in relative peace and quiet, high above all the hot mess that is much of Kuala Lumpur. The minute I walk out the door however, it’s the Arab women baking in their burkas, the wall of heat and humidity, the rats scurrying about the food stalls, the cars blocking the sidewalks, the traffic fumes, and the inconsiderate drivers who will mow down pedestrians like mere roaches.

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After being out and having my senses assaulted on all levels, I find my pace quickening as I head to my building to seek refuge. I jam the 29th floor button on the elevator and count the 30 seconds it takes to get to my floor. And then the door wooshes opens and I’m safe again in my little bird’s nest, watching the lights twinkle and the moon rise. It’s my own little expat fantasy world complete with fern garden and sky pool. It’s not real but at my age, who needs or wants reality? Does the reality of the grime of KL make one a better person? Honey, I lived in bad neighborhoods in New York in the 80s. I’ve lived in bad neighborhoods in San Francisco in the 90s. For whatever good fortune I have attained in this life (mostly hard work and a little help from my friends), I’m terribly grateful to not have to live on ground floor grime anymore.

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I am still making peace with this city — trying to find things about it that I like, quiet corners, lush inner city retreats, places to catch my breath and collect myself from the assault of the outdoors. And one person I’ve recently found to be enormously delightful is Rozz Ritzman, a cross-dressing Malay cabaret performer who wears foot-high heels, eyelashes as long as palm fronds, and can belt out a torch song like nobody’s business. Here I caught a performance of her at No Black Tie, one of those prized nooks of civility in KL. It’s a cabaret that feels like a speakeasy. And behold what’s on the stage…

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Not just the fabulous Rozz, but also one of the most prized pianos in the world — a Fazioli — one of only two in Malaysia. They’re ridiculously expensive, hand made in Italy, and not at all what you’d expect from this little club tucked away in a steamy/seedy/touristy alley in Bukit Bintang. Sitting front row and hearing Rozz running through her torch variety with a Fazzioli as accompaniment is one of the reasons to love Kuala Lumpur.

And of course there’s the other reason: the sweet Chinese guys. Here Chuan brought over his best buddies to go for a swim. They mostly speak English but have little moments of Cantonese on the side (“Do I need to hug him goodbye?” one asks Chuan at the door). Being that they’re all in their early to mid-20’s I had to lay down the law…no electronics at the dinner table. In America, you’d get a snarled look for making that demand. But these guys were great — they complied and made a valiant attempt to converse in English instead of checking Grindr while seated at the table. Still, I find it challenging to cook for Asians as I mostly make Western food and they often don’t appreciate it and will turn their noses up at it. I’ve resolved not to cook for anyone who doesn’t have a Western palate as it’s simply too much work and expense to shop and cook only to have them not like what I’ve cooked. Chuan has a Western palate and is facile in the kitchen straddling Eastern and Western cuisines. So he sometimes will make the bok choy with oyster sauce and I’ll make the spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce. And for me it’s wine. For them it’s hot water. Go figure!

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But I’ve come to realize that the best way to survive KL is to get out of KL as often as possible. The most recent foray was to Malacca, about a two hour drive from KL. Some call it the Venice of Malaysia…

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This was one of the first times I’ve been able to walk down a sidewalk in Malaysia without a motorcycle trying to run me over. The birds chirped loudly in the trees.

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I could have sat at this table for days except that the food was pretty bad. The atmosphere, however, made up for what the kitchen lacked. We sat alongside the river watching the boats cruise by. Chuan buried his face with embarrassment as I waved to kids on the boats. I liked making the sometimes impossibly grim Malaysian faces light up. Don’t know why they would smile — goofy old white guy, maybe?

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This was the view from our hotel room balcony. The beautifully restored colonial room at the Wayfarer Guest House was $54 USD per night…

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Night time is the best since the sun is terribly intense (even hotter than KL) and the vehicular and pedestrian traffic on this holiday weekend gridlocked the little streets.

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But at night it was peaceful and sweet. We slept a few hours during the day and stayed up late walking around the streets lined with British and Portuguese colonial architecture dating back to the 17th century (but mostly early 20th century buildings remain).

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Fanciful pedicabs take people on a little ride around town with blinking lights, loud pop music, and stuffed animals. Some would say tacky. I thought it was great fun — like a rolling slot machine…

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Malacca made me happy and hopeful that there are parts of Malaysia more charming than its capital city and all I have to do is explore the country more. Next stop is Pangkor Island. Can’t wait!!

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Watch the video set to 1930’s vintage Chinese new year music:

And enjoy the photo gallery below. Click on an image and use the arrow to advance…

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Responses

  1. Wow. Malacca looks beautiful. Good for you for laying down the law about electronics at the dinner table. I can’t stand people who are riveted to their gadgets. So rude!


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