We are lucky. No one is around at the Chinese hotel that we picked. That's too bad because it looks nice and there are also a few temples on this street. Now we go look for the next address, a guesthouse in an old Chinese wooden house. Katja checks it out, it's only a small room without windows and available with 3 bunk beds. It's not what we're looking for. We feel this is not the right place. Therefore we go back through the evening traffic to Chinatown. On the way to the hotel we stop, there's reggae music coming from a small hall. At the front there are cane chairs and two mighty stone lions guarding the entrance. In the hall is a wall painted with Bob Marley covers. Further inside, in the courtyard, there are many plants and a small basin with goldfishes. Behind that we find a well also occupied by a fish. Just a fish so the water won't get too dirty. As long as the fish lives this water is good and alive.
Using a small stair case we go up to the rooms and to a dormitory. All rooms are taken but there's still room in the dorm. Everywhere in the building we can feel a good atmosphere, a good "Chi". The former opium house painted in white, the wooden beams in black and the roof is covered with old tiles. All along the courtyard, cut-off plastic bottles with plants hang from the ceiling and mobiles swinging in the wind made by Soon, a swiss-german speaking Chinese man. There are no glass windows, only vertical wooden shutters and blinds protect the windows to let the air circulate. 2 rooms have windows facing the street and 2 rooms face the courtyard. From the dorm you can see the street with small Chinese shops and a temple. There a few guests around. Margret is from Ireland, but lives in Australia, she's a teacher and on the way to China to study Anthropology. As a stopover she learns Chinese in Melaka. We reminded her of herself since she also used to travel with her kids. There are also Germans, Dutch and Americans here. We hang the mosquito nets over the beds and the next day we moved to a room with it's own mosquito net and rattan beds. Anika is amazed by the ceiling fans and the hammocks in the courtyard.
The Chinese quarter consists of small streets and even smaller facades which however host bigger and longer buildings. Here you can find workshops of craftspersons of all types, various shops and food stalls and the oldest temples of course. Not only Chinese but also Hindu temples and mosques. After a while here we have the feeling to be in a different Malaysia from the one we got to know.
Even though, different cultures can be felt, this quarter is a world of its own. The Chinese is very busy and hard-working. They are respected as craftspersons and businessmen. They rather think about their future and that's how to plan their activities. The children receive education. The businesses are honest to keep the regular costumers. Across the guesthouse lives a 74-old man who rather opens a shop then to retire. He found a niche and offers goods in small amounts that no one would offer. This way he can built a way of living for his handicapped son that he can take over when he can't do it anymore. The material element is important to the Chinese. Also gambling and betting are also popular here and also children are supported to join. This sharpens their skills in accounting and business. Soon told us that kids often gamble within the families with their parents and sometimes even with money. Maybe that's also rooted in their culture.
Soon organizes for us a visit to a temple. The guard opens the gates for us at 10pm after the temple closed and explains the statues of gods to us. Similar to animism religions there is a large variety of gods all having their own function. They are archtypes and they are similar to us with their strengths and weaknesses. There are gods of war, gods that are excessive and luxurious, gods that help with fertility and all a whole lot more that I can't grasp. We were impressed by the god of pleasure. As oblation people smear opium on his beard, bear, coffee and other things are donated. Buddha and a something that looks like a female buddha can also be found there. The Chinese decide for themselves when they want to visit a temple. There they pray, donate and wish. Some temples have drums to set people in trance.
There are also altars at home. When you look inside the open house the first thing you see is altar. Low at the ground is the altar for mother earth and the top part of the altar is for various gods and oblations. It's also the place for ancestors. A panel or picture and the daily oblations as food and drinks are said to keep the spirit of the ancestors alive. There are often TVs next to the altar. The spiritual and material world are close to each other. Spirits have the same value as the Living.
At every house's entrance there is a red box with incense jossticks and many more altars on the streets and corners. Sometimes there are little mirrors or wind chimes above the entrance that redirect the Chi energy according to Feng Shui.
Bands march through the town. Buddha statues are on the wagon decorated with flowers and lights. It's almost a bit like carnival, just warmer. Every wagon looks different. All of them are colourful and glow with light. Tomorrow is the birthday and the celebration starts today.
On Buddha's Birthday, the altar in the temple is given various alms. Fruits, drinks and 2 big packages with birthday presents are placed on the sides. People kneel down in front of the altar and bow down during praying. More altars standing in water are set up. From a source they are showered with water in a meditative peacefulness. The smell of jossticks is every where. They are lit in dozens. The people are happy and they radiate peace. They light candles and sticks or burn paper money or paper with wishes. Some people also eat and drink, everybody roams freely. We get bananas and candy from the birthday table. Our kids are very interested in the happening. To them it's normal that Buddha celebrates his birthday with a big party. No wonder, they haven't witnessed a stiff and tight Christian ceremony.
The same day there is a Hindu procession. Some people prepare themselves for a trance. Hooks with lemons are attached through the skin of some peoples backs. The skin is stretched by the weight. Other hooks are equipped with pots or ropes are attached to them that are pulled by others. Long skewers, fumigated with bananas or maybe that helps the poking of the skin, are also poked through the cheeks. The pain is lowered with some white powder, others take lime juice before poking, yet others, some special cigars. The state of trance is not only caused by drugs. The pain and the adrenalin also adds up to it. Meanwhile some people are already deeply in trance. One man tries to pull himself free, another's eyes seem to pop out of his eye holes. He scrabbles his legs like a bull with hooves, another man reminds me of a wild boar.
Everything is accompanied by drums, trumpets and monotonous singing. Two oxes wait patiently to be tightened to a wagon. Finally the procession begins to move. Woman in yellow and orange Saris with pots of milk on their head escort them. Everybody is the wet, the clothes stick to their skin sometimes. The kids are fascinated.
On bike through Melaka
After a few days, a lot of people know us already, especially our kids stand out and draw attention every where. There are a lot of joke but differently than the Malays, who pinch our kids at the cheeks. Often people ask about our bikes and trailers. Words about us has spread among the trishaw riders. I had a few conversations with them and changed bicycle with one of them for a short while. Now we are hardly asked for sight-seeing tours like other tourists.
The best way to explore Melaka is on bike. On the contrary to the advices of travel guides we feel safe in the dense traffic. We stick out. The drivers drive carefully. Just like everybody we just need to look forward and pedal. Feeding into traffic is not a problem. You just have to be determined and react accordingly so the traffic knows how to react.
But the fun only really starts without the trailers and luggage. Freed with the weight I reach the acceleration and speed of motorbikes and sometimes I even overtake them. Cars don't have a chance here anyway. On bike I can pass the cars left or right and change lanes whenever I want. There are no problems because they are used to it. Other 2-wheel vehicles move the same way. Also riding against traffic in one-way streets is common and also not a problem. Sometimes though I feel that others don't expect me to ride with such a speed without the trailer. Even with trailer and luggage we ride 15km/h, a speed that is faster than most bicycles here. Without the weight the speed can be doubled.
We sat at a table and eat. We hear noise from the outside. A Landrover drives along the streets and pulls trailer which shoots smoke out of several canons. Margret jumps up and closes the doors quickly. "What is it?", I asked amazed. This is to fight against mosquitos with insecticides. We retreat to the kitchen and finish our dinner. Last week this is said to have happened already. We got to know that so far there are 2 people who got infected by Dengue here.
Now the streets are sprayed on a regular basis. After a while we hear the noise again. We run to the road and see how the drains along the buildings are sprayed. Quickly I get the camera and barely managed to snap some pictures before the road disappears in smoke. we quickly close windows and doors too. Unfortunately they don't really seal the room. Then we realize that the back side will be sprayed too and also close the door to the kitchen and our room. We face the fans towards doors and windows to avoid the smoke in so easily. Now we feel halfway safe until the smoke is above the building and sinks into the courtyard. It's like in a war movie. Now we feel closed in and there is no way to escape from the smoke. Our eyes get teary. The whole Chinese quarter is gassed. A giant cloud hangs over the quarter.
No one was informed, no one is warned. The poison enters the airy houses. People can't escape. The shops are effected so are the food and stalls. Some people stand in the smoke and inhale it. Mostly simply people live here with small shops or craftsmen. They live in tight and unhygienic circumstances. About these diseases the spreading of it they don't know much. This way mosquitos and other animals have perfect conditions to survive. At night, rats run along the houses and cockroaches are everywhere anyway. Instead of education and information people receive pest control from the state. Without warning the poison is spread. Lucky are those who have 2 legs and tight windows. A woman in wheelchair and kids playing outside had no chance disappeared in the smoke. Of course, it's good when the government takes care of this problem but also the individuals should be protected as well. At least you should have the chance to secure your food and leave the area. Soon said that this procedure repeats once a week since the 2 people got sick. It was like that since he was a child. Once a month the houses are sprayed. If there's a disease like in the case it takes desperate measures.