Malacca (8 – 9 May 2015)
I never thought that I would step foot on Malaysian soil again, at least not on the Peninsula. I had always felt that a real trip could never be had in Peninsular Malaysia (do not even talk to me about JB) and so I had not in recent years even considered a visit there, save for that trip to Petaling Jaya that I had to make for work in 2013. It was just too close to Singapore and not different enough from Singapore.
However my department had quite a bit money left for a second team retreat and we wanted to spend it before financial year end. Someone suggested Malacca and that was that. I guess I could make an exception this time if someone else’s budget was being used for the trip.
The journey to Malacca started at the WTS office at the Singapore Flyer. I never knew that journeys to Malaysia could start from there and it was an eye-opener. In fact I had thought that someone was trying to pull a fast one on me when I was told that we were to gather there to catch the coach. Do they not operate at Beach Road anymore? Should it not have at least been at that old depot near the Lavender area? When I become an antique?
WTS operates coach services to Malacca from the Singapore Flyer. We took one of their services that dropped passengers off at a few selected hotels in Malacca. It was really convenient.
The coach was scheduled to have left at 8 am sharp, and would have by then if not for a latecomer. Sad to say it was a colleague. She was not one known to get to work on time. But this time there was a tremendous jam along the way from home to the Singapore Flyer and she was caught in it. Fortunately she arrived just a minute or two after 8. Otherwise I suspect the bus would certainly have left without her!
The journey north took under six hours. There was a stop at the Big Box to receive more passengers and it was straight to the Second Link and customs after that. The mid-journey break was had at Yong Peng.
The final stop for the coach was at the Hatten Hotel and that was where we alighted. I wish we had stayed at the Hatten but we obviously did not have the budget for that. We were booked for one night at the Fenix Inn, a budget hotel nearby which was pretty good and cheap.
The whole purpose of this trip in the end was mainly to gorge ourselves silly although we had to remember that it was supposed to be a department retreat. There was therefore a mandatory team activity which consisted of two games and a sharing session during which each group talked about its responsibilities. We did have to give our department head something to tell her boss (she obviously could not tell the CEO that we only ate and shopped in Malacca) and so we played along. The games were fine but the sharing bit was a little too boring for me. I tried to make my piece a little more amusing but was cut short by the department head who thought that it was getting a bit too long. I thought I was rather entertaining though.
I forgot all about the sharing soon enough however as it was time for dinner. It could not have come sooner. I got motion sickness on the coach just after we left Yong Peng and so while my colleagues started the gorge fest straight away I had to go lie down. We had decided on Tong Sheng, a restaurant within walking distance from the Fenix Inn (discovered how to get there thanks to Google Maps). It was apparently famous for its prawn bee hoon cooked in this cheese gravy.
We had that and a couple of other dishes including some crab cooked in buttermilk sauce. I have to say that the cheesy bee hoon was interesting indeed although the reviews I had read were much better than my own experience. Nevertheless the twelve of us did get quite a good dinner for only RM 500+ on the company’s account. I would still recommend this place for dinner to someone who happened to be nearby.
We made our way to the old town after dinner. The old town of Malacca at night was still the bustling place of my memory. The Jonker Street Night Market, which operates only on weekend nights, was still running and in fact seemed even more packed than I remembered. The weather was also hotter than I recalled.
The aunties in the department were thrilled of course. They had been talking about visiting the night market for days. I much less so although I did buy some local snacks.
Some of us also stopped for some chendol and I had one with durian in it. I am not sure that it was anything terribly special although its packaging was pretty interesting.
The eating continued after we (mainly the aunties) were finally done with the shopping. Thankfully the whole department did not shop together or otherwise the whole experience might never have ended for me. My group left the old town and went to this café at the Hatten. Although I had already had the durian chendol, and I was sure that I would regret it, I got some ice cream to share anyway. Cholesterol and blood pressure problems exist in my family but that was quite far away from my mind that night.
The gorge fest started again bright and early the next morning. Well it was 8.30 am but I am usually still half asleep at that time. A few doors down the street from the Fenix Inn was a dim sum restaurant. The food was good I must say but the server a little too scary. She kept bringing us dishes to “try”. We of course had to pay for those.
Then it was back to the café of the previous night where I had more ice cream. Dessert after breakfast is a good idea I think.
I enjoyed the company of the people I was with at the café. However it would have been so weird for me not to visit the old town while I was in Malacca. The visit the night before did not count since I could hardly see the buildings. So I tore myself away from the air-conditioned café and wandered into the hot sun alone.
The stalls along Jonker Street from the night before were all gone by then. In their place were cars parked along one side of the street. I wish they could have made the entire area a pedestrianised zone the whole day and not merely at night for the market.
The old town of Malacca consists of shophouses and places of worship not quite unlike those found in old Singapore. The main difference I think is that old Malacca has managed to retain more of that old world charm. Nevertheless, I could feel that old world charm slowly receding away from the town as it became ever more touristy.
My short walk through the old town made me mourn yet again the loss of Singapore’s heritage. Too many people have been patting themselves on their backs for conserving this building or that and they even have international conservation awards to show for it. But I doubt that we would win many prizes for the conservation of authenticity. No I do not think that building a modern structure on, over or beside an old one can be considered conservation. And no I do not think that we have much to crow about if we only manage to conserve one building out of a hundred. I admit that I am a purist but I firmly believe that the preservation of heritage authenticity also means the preservation of the country’s collective identity. We may pride ourselves on the extent of our jungle of shiny skyscrapers, but such structures can be found in just about every region of the world except the poles.
But what do I know? I was in Malacca only for the food.
After we had checked out of the inn, we went for lunch at Taang Shifu. We had quite a bit of the budget meant for dinner left and we were going to try to spend all of that away at this meal. I never knew that spending money could be that difficult!
Taang Shifu serves rich Chinese fare at affordable (at least from Singaporean perspective) prices. The dishes we ordered all contained some seafood like scallop or abalone. Some of my colleagues even ordered bird’s nest for dessert. I had barely digested my breakfast by then but I was not going to skip lunch for anything in the world.
It was almost time to head back to the Hatten to catch the coach back to Singapore. There was however enough time left for the aunties to do more shopping. The big lunch definitely gave them a lot of energy to shop and bargain. One (rich) auntie wanted to buy some handphone covers and she definitely bargained hard. Another auntie joined her and the two of them put on a fantastic drama about Mothers’ Day (it was Mothers’ Day the next day) and being nice to mothers just to save a few ringgits for the first (rich) auntie. Aunties never fail to amaze me and some of the most incredible ones happen to be my colleagues.
The auntie drama was a nice end to a short but enjoyable food-filled visit to Malacca. I do have to admit that I had greatly underestimated the fun that I could have there.