I found I was a bit afraid to leave the Vipassana compound, and- as ever- the moment I looked forward to so vehemently was anticlimactic. There I was, with the bike in front of me and the road waiting. Every rivet in my saddle was heavily rusted despite having been stored under a roof, and my tires were deflated, but that was quickly remedied and I enjoyed a leisurely ride through the palms. Once I popped out on the main road again I found that I had little inclination to ride. I got a late start as ever, delayed by a little volunteer clean-up, and the sun had already put on an oppressive mien. I sat around debating whether or not to just get a hotel room and reorient myself. I was particularly keen to attend to the emails and messages that awaited me, so I found some wifi and learned that nobody had missed me. None of the hotels would check me in before 3 o’clock, so I reluctantly hit the road after staring at the clouds for 15 contented minutes just for the sake of it.
I took off down a busy road without a shoulder, full of construction and devoid of anything else. It was a treacherous endeavor and once again I found myself wondering whether this would be the day I got hit by a car. Soon enough I managed to criss-cross the road and ride with the construction barriers between myself and the traffic. The road was quite nondescript, just a winding, slightly hilly road through expansive palm plantations. It was disconcerting just how many palms there were, not a lick of natural jungle remained as far as I could see in every direction.
I rolled into a town at last after 100k, sunburned, hungry and weary. I found a cheap little hotel and plugged back into the world for a while. I tried to meditate for an hour, but it was difficult in the cramped little room, with the hurried hum of traffic just outside. I found myself beginning to rock a little as well, which was somewhat unsettling, and I was getting strange thoughts in my mind that did not seem my own, one of which- to provide an example-insisted that I focus on the point just behind my wisdom teeth for some reason. I stopped after about forty minutes.
I had arrived at the conclusion that it was time to go home soon and began looking at flights. This was not a task my mind was really suited to, and I vacillated a lot; this is not my strong suit in the first place, and I hadn’t had to organize any transportation in a while. On an impulse I decided to buy a flight home from Denpasar, Indonesia. I had never been below the equator, and Indonesia seemed like an awkward country between mainland Asia and Australia to leave unexplored, so I decided to see what was going on. I was headed to Texas, ultimately, and it was cheaper to book my flights separately… but I did the math wrong and booked my second flight for a day later than I should have, which was only the first of a number of fumbles I was to make as a cycle tourist taking public transportation again. That would wait though- I was headed to Melaka to visit my friend Teddy.
I met Teddy in Tajikistan in a happy and very fortunate manner: I was heading East and he was heading West when we just so happened to crest the top of the Ak Baital pass, the second highest highway in the world and certainly the highest point of our trips at 4,600 meters (15,280 feet) above sea level. We cheered each other together, spent some time chatting in the cold, exchanged information and carried on our separate ways. 6 months later, I found myself a few days from his home in Malaysia!
I got an early start the next morning and made it within striking distance of Melaka. I found another cheap hotel, as I was now totally averse to camping in the heat, and enjoyed a bit of an early day. It was still Ramadan and the town was pretty quiet, but I passed a good half hour talking to the receptionist. She had never met an American before, and she was crazy excited. Her English was impeccable, refined to the point that her slang was on point, though she claimed to be nervous about using it. She asked a lot of questions, we talked about my cycling trip, and found we had a common interest in anime. She finally let me go clean myself up and rest, but I really enjoyed talking to her, it felt really special to make her day, she was so excited! It was also refreshing to be able to speak openly with a girl in a hijab, quite a contrast to Muslim culture in Turkey.
The next day I was in Melaka. I arrived early, and waited at a café for Teddy to get off of work. As it happened, he saw my bike on his way home and greeted me by tapping on the window outside my table! I jumped up and gave him a hug, then followed him to the house. As I suspected, it was his family home. Even though Teddy is 37 and has a good job, it is traditional for him to live in the family home, as he is unmarried. His family was very sweet, and it happened to be his sister’s birthday, so right off the bat I was served cake and coffee. The house was full of women: his mother, his aunts, his sister, and a niece. We made our greetings, and I realized that his family was culturally Chinese, as are many of the families on the West coast of continental Malaysia. To hear Chinese again was not something I expected so soon! Teddy was the only one who spoke fluent English and his sister had a little, so I found myself wishing I spoke Chinese once more. We went out for a late dinner and then I hit the sack, with a whole room to myself. The next day Teddy had to work, so I was left to my own devices. I woke up late and vacillated between laying in bed all day or exploring the city. I finally elected to check out Oldtown and shuffled downstairs. The girls had breakfast ready for me- actually a choice of breakfasts- to my surprise. After that I followed them out to the front courtyard, where they were engaged in making hundreds of dumplings for some Chinese holiday or another. They weren’t actually dumplings, but there is no English word for them, and they insisted that they were for New Year’s, but I could have sworn that had already passed, in February. Incidentally, this was the fourth New Year’s celebration I encountered in the last 5 months. They showed me how they made them, we took some pictures, and they insisted I try one, which I deferred until later and stripped down my bike for the commute downtown.
The weather was mercifully cloudy, so my late start didn’t cost me. Melaka is lovely and interesting, with a colorful history. It was colonized- which is just a softer word for “conquered”- by just about everybody. The Portugese got in first in the beginning of the 16th century, after a series of bloody forays, and established a fort. Then the Dutch came later that same century and ousted the Portugese for about 160 years, before the British supplanted them officially in 1824. The British were ousted by the Empire of Japan from 1942-1945. At last Malaysia declared independence in 1946, and in 1957 officially gained it. From 1946 to 1989 the government battled a Communist terrorist movement. Of course, the movement is only labeled “terrorist” because it failed- the Communists won in Vietnam and are called heroes.
There is a lot of Dutch architecture in Melaka. There is also the Church of St. Francis, which has been rebuilt and repurposed a number of times, to which a Dutch graveyard is attached. It was strange and interesting to see Westerners buried so far from their native land. It is hard to imagine how far it must have felt travelling in a wind-powered boat to the far side of the world, to fight and die, or to die of sickness, or old age, while others came to trade or pillage or preach in a strange land that did not want them, and no one really knew whether they would see familiar shores again in their lifetime. There were also the remains of that first Portugese Fort, and a number a Museum outlining Malaysia’s history and path to becoming an independent nation. Malaysia has also been Islamic since the 13th century, which in itself is unusual; trade brings many things. When the Portugese landed, they battled Sultans.
We went out for dinner again that evening, and of course I wasn’t allowed to pay for anything. It was great to get to know Teddy. We found we had a lot in common, and we talked a lot about spirituality. I think I convinced him to try Vipassana! I left the next day, eager to get to Singapore. I didn’t get very far, however, and basically took another rest day in order to figure out how to get to Bali. The next night, however, I was hooked up with another fellow who hosted cyclists and found myself in a solid line of Warmshower hosts to Singapore. My first stop took me to Jerry, a Malaysian cyclist who had a restaurant in a nice old building with an open hall and bathroom above where I nestled comfortably for the night after a sweltering ride along the coast.
The next night would prove to be quite eventful, and I will save it for another post! Only a few posts left, friends! We are almost at the end.