Go with a smile!

Monday, December 20, 2010


Go North Young Man
OK, my father in his “welcome to Malaysia” introduction sequence has arranged a family vacation to Meleka, which is nominally a nice place. It’s a family vacation, except that my grandmother is in no shape to travel, and my sister is in the States. Well since I’m on the topic of “Go North Young Man” he tells me that he reads somewhere – you shouldn’t think of JB as a foreign country, because it’s not. JB is actually going to be part of the Greater Singapore metropolitan area. Singapore the city is about to become larger than Singapore the country. JB is around 3-4 times the size of Singapore. Singapore will expand to JB, just as Tokyo has expanded to Kawasaki and Yokohama. Or NYC has expanded to Jersey City. Eventually this whole greater Singapore metropolitan area will have 15 million people, of which 6 million are on our island. Think about that.

It was jammed on the causeway when we crossed it going into JB. On the other side of the road are busloads of JB suckers who can’t wait to get their asses creamed by our integrated resorts. Such great neighbours are we.

North South highway
I drove there. Yes, it’s not for the faint hearted but you know I’m not. Still, there were 1 or 2 episodes with him screaming at how I cut into somebody’s lane too near to the vehicle in front. The first intimidating sign board is the speed limit – 110 km/h.

I see the place littered with skid marks of people doing stupendously idiotic things. Skid marks 50 metres long. Skid marks of cars going into the ditch. Going straight into a pole. There are 2 lanes in the JB – Meleka stretch. Unfortunately I got into big trouble because I drive too fast for the left lane and too slowly for the right one. There are people who come up to you and tailgate you 2 metres behind your ass when they’re not happy with the speed at which you’re driving. They flash their headlights at you. I’ve been tempted to slam on the brakes and start a pileup but you know, my parents are in the car too.

Traffic Jams / Navigation
It was pretty crowded. I put that down to the school holidays. Nearly half of the cars have Singapore license plates. When we got to the highway that went into Meleka, the Ayer Keroh highway was flooded with traffic going into Meleka.

My father who last visited Meleka 12 years ago (with us, as usual) notes that the traffic has become somewhat of a problem. You don’t normally think of it that way in a city that is supposed to be a rustic historic area but there you are. As noted in my Lonely Planet (bought in a cheap sale 7 years ago and only used now) Meleka’s road system is a nightmare, but it’s like any other town built in the days of horses and carriages.

It was difficult trying to figure out what road names are, since Singaporeans are spoilt by how well and clearly Singapore roads are marked. But luckily the hotel we stayed in put up plenty of signs that brought us there. It was also helpful that it was a in a stretch of clear land and you could see it from afar. But since so many of Meleka’s streets are one way, you had to make one big round to get there. It was just as well that our hotel was on the edge of central Meleka, nearer the road leading in from the NS highway. Because we didn’t have to negotiate that nightmare of that one spinal road leading down to the Red Dutch Church.

It is difficult to find places based on their addresses. It’s not like Singapore or other places where you have the name of the street, and everything is numbered from 1 to dunno what. All the maps come with landmarks drawn on them to help you figure it out. There was a lot of grumbling (mostly from my mother) and some getting lost before I located the Peranakan restaurants that we were looking for. They are Auntie Lee’s and Mako’s. Go and look for them, unless you’re vegetarian (in Peranakan cuisine, the only thing that’s vegetarian is the rice because there’s shrimp or stock everywhere). And good luck. However owing to my superior navigation skills we always found our way there in the end.

You want a historical overview of Meleka? Go and read your Lonely planet from the library.

Peranakan food
I’m often a little embarrassed when I bring people to Peranakan restaurants, because very often the food just doesn’t measure up. When I went to the authentic ones in Meleka I could taste the difference. There’s all the standard stuff: assam fish, sambal kang kong, tofu with tau choir, ayam buah keluak, 4 corner beans, claypot this, claypot that.

And people know the good stuff: more than half of the customers in those places were Singaporean. They were all packed during the weekends, and you had to haggle your way in if you were a small party without reservations. On our first night at Auntie Lee's, the head waitress was a scatterbrain whose most important priority was whoever happened to have her attention at that time. We asked her, you think we could pop over for Monday lunch? She said no problem. On Monday, we came early for lunch - not that early because my mother insisted on stretching her shopping trip to Jusco for longer than what we allowed her, but the travelling there was short because we knew better now than to travel through the centre. So we went in, and the waitress (a different one this time) said, no we don't take any customers today because we have 3 or 4 small groups from tourist companies. Of course, we were completely not surprised at being played out. Then my father sat her down and asked her if we could have a few simpler dishes. She said, OK whatever, so we managed to get our other peranakan meal.

There’s just a great amount of effort that goes into making all this food and it’s hard to get all this stuff done – with all that work you might as well be making gourmet food and making your sucker customers pay through their noses for it.

Satay steamboat
One of the other places we heard about was a steamboat, where instead of cooking stuff in steamboats, we cooked them in satay sauce. Naturally that stuff was recycled over and over again and it could get a little icky. I navigated the way there, but I made my parents walk for 5 minutes against 1 way traffic, just so that we didn't have to make 1 big round through obscene levels of traffic.

The food was OK, not too bad. Not as fantastic as Peranakan food, but what could ever be? I must say that the teenage waitresses and short skirts were a definite draw.

Jonker Street (aka Jalan Hang Jebat)
This is a historic street with all those old Peranakan shophouses. Then we went into one of the more famous eating places (number 88) to try their chendol. (note: every chendol seller in Jonker Street sells the best chendol in the world. Just like the one on the street in Penang that also sells the best chendol in the world. Go figure.) You wouldn’t think much of those terrace houses, looking from the front. Then we went to the toilet at the back, and then my father discovered: wow this is one of those famous Peranakan houses that he heard so much about. It’s 7 rooms deep! I suppose that’s the way that people built houses 300 years ago.

Behind that street were 3 places of worship, another great testament to racial harmony in Malaysia (or rather the lack of serious racial disharmony): a mosque, an Indian temple and a Chinese temple, all side by side. That Chinese temple is also the oldest in Malaysia, and it’s 350 years old.

It’s a fairly good night market with plenty of special Malaysian pantries, peranakan kueh. All the dialect clans are there (Teochew, Hokkien, Hainanese, etc. True to form, the Hokkien one is the flashiest).

Markota parade
There was a big shopping centre that was built on reclaimed land, near the city centre. Kinda like Parkway Parade in Singapore. It’s not exactly crawling with people, so that’s nice. It’s nice to visit all these places like Bangkok, Meleka, Penang because they remind you of what a nice place Singapore used to be in the 90s.

We parked somewhere and disappeared into the mall for a few hours. Then we came out and found a RM 100 fine on our windshield because we hadn’t bothered to

I thought that it would be a boon that we could watch EPL in the room since we had ESPN. I stayed up on Sunday, waiting for Blackpool - Tottenham to begin. It never did. I later found out why - the match was cancelled due to the snow. Same for Chelsea - Man U. The only match I caught was Sunderland - Bolton, and one spectacular Craig Gordon save aside, there was nothing interesting.

Parking fine
We decided to pay the fine at the Sentral bus terminal. It’s conveniently located at the outskirts of the city centre, 10 mins drive away from the hotel. 5 mins if you didn’t have to drive the big rounds mandated by the fucking one way system. We met with a monstrously corpulent guy at the counter. My mother couldn’t figure out if the sign outside said “Open” or “closed”. That guy laughed and said, “you can’t understand basic Malay? You must be a Singaporean.”

As we waited for the fine clerk to make his leisurely way in, he asked us which part of Singapore we stayed in. He lived in Bukit Merah and worked in the port as a crane operator, earning $3K + a month, which was big money in the 1970s. Unfortunately his fucking stupid agent forgot to renew his work permit, and he got thrown into jail and deported to Malaysia. He said that he’s still bloody sore about that experience. One of the more interesting things he told me is that Bukit Merah used to be a gangster hangout during those days. That’s interesting. But I suppose ports used to be operated by gangs.

My father’s buying a car in Malaysia. Apparently, as part of his package to become a permanent resident in Malaysia he gets to buy a Volvo for S$40K. Yes, you heard it right. How come most Singaporeans don’t know this? Because they are fucking sheep who insist on clinging to their preconceived notions of what Malaysia is like. (Granted – you can never drive that car into Singapore if you’re a Singaporean. But still…)

Second link
On the way home, I wrote a song. Rather, I took another music idea that was in my head since the mid-90s and completed it. That's the perfect combination, the inspiration of youth and the wisdom of experience. I'm half relieved because I haven't written a song in a long time, but then again, it's not as good as my earlier stuff.

My father decided to take the AYE back from the second link. He would get off from Normanton Park and take the Queensway / Farrer / Adam / Lornie way to Toa Payoh. The plan worked a treat, and we avoided the congestion at the PIE. Just as he was about to gloat, we bumped into a freaking huge congestion at the Farrer Road flyover. It was a jam that stretched for 5km. In hindsight, we should have bailed out of Adam Road by taking the PIE to Toa Payoh but we realised that way too late.



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