Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Messing Around In Melaka, Part 3

"Pictures are for illustrative purposes only."

Like a talisman, this disclaimer is used by many F&B establishments to disavow responsibility for discrepancies in what they serve - food, drink, rooms, and so on between what is depicted in promotional materials and reality.

Online, the photos of the rooms in the Swiss Heritage Boutique Hotel were pretty. They were, after all, the only things many had to go on when selecting accommodation besides TripAdvisor reviews, not all of which were glowing.

Back at our rooms at the Swiss Heritage - which was Swiss only in name and, perhaps, Christmas decorations - after our mid-afternoon walk around the Jonker Walk area, some of those TripAdvisor brickbats were confirmed.

Part of the waiting lounge at the Swiss Heritage Boutique Hotel, with
some travellers' bags. Shouldn't just leave them around like that.

My room smelled musty, the air felt and smelt damp, and one wall sported a brown watermark - proofs of water seepage and poor ventilation. Windows opened to the next room's windows and a narrow air well of sorts. Inside, it's hard to tell whether it's night or day. Funny, considering how the original Straits Chinese architecture had features that maximised air flow and natural light.

One side of the bed creaked loudly, threatening to cave in under the weight of any enthusiastic bed-jumpers. A Pyrex panel on the bed head for covering the embedded fluorescent lamp had come loose.

Other than that, the place looked new. Recently renovated, we were told. I loved the showers (with rain shower option, yo), and the bathroom had a new working hair dryer, which I used to warm up when the air conditioning got too cold, which was often.

Then, there's the noise. The staff and neighbours tended to get loud on occasion, and at least one other building nearby was in the process of getting new again. Among us, Wendy was most perturbed by and most vocal about the din. By the time we went out for dinner, she was contemplating moving out.

I wasn't too concerned with the state of the rooms, though it felt too much like one of those polished and expensive studio apartments cropping up in the country. I lay in bed, nursing my disappointment over a bar of "artisanal" chocolate from a nearby chocolatier. Had I taken a closer look at the package, I would have left it alone.

Good chocolate imparts an intense, somewhat spicy, charred-earth smell and sandy mouthfeel that remains for a few minutes, indicating a substantial amount of cocoa solids. Bad chocolate has less cocoa solids, contained "vegetable oil" that comes from other non-cocoa veggies, and goes down like chocolate-flavoured candlewax.

At least there was dinner: the famous satay celup. Melody also convinced us to case at least one other hotel in the city, perhaps for future visits, either before or after eating.

Wendy's eyes glinted.

This evening, Sam drove. I would take the wheel the next evening as we were only four people, so it didn't make sense for both our cars to be out. With the clipped tones of Star Wars droid C-3PO directing us via Waze, we made our way to what Melody's acquaintance said was a satay celup institution.

Parking wasn't hard, nor was getting around. Scheduling the trip on weekdays was smart. The dinner, sadly, disappointed.

The satay celup was ... well ... underwhelming

I was expecting satay celup to be skewered meat dipped in chilli and peanut gravy - which is just satay. What I saw instead was skewers of assorted bits of raw and precooked food: prawns, cockles, squid, fishballs, meatballs, otak-otak and even broccoli florets, plus a boiling pot of satay gravy - set into a recess in the centre of the table - to dip them all in.

Here, satay celup was just steamboat. About as Melakan and exotic as chicken rice balls.

The air went out of my sails quickly as we settled down to eat. Comparisons were made with the notorious Sichuan hotpot. Looking at the roiling hellbroth of peanuts, chilli and oil in the centre, it was hard to disagree.

"In China, they tend to cook with a lot of oil," the well-travelled Sam recalled. "I lifted one side of a plate of half-eaten fried rice and-" the fingers of one hand mimed an explosion, "the oil pooled at the other end."

We made short work of our dinner and went on to find things that were more Melakan, like this fried oyster place within the vicinity, whose awesomeness ensured it would be constantly walled off by hordes of expectant diners. Again, we were guided there by the voice of that fussy protocol droid.

"You have arrived!" C-3PO eventually announced through Sam's smartphone. A few robotic bleeps from R2-D2 followed. "Oh my stars!" he exclaimed in reply. More bleeps. "It is you! It IS you! ... Uh, what a desolate place this is."

No kidding, 3PO.

The fried oyster place was closed.

For the next ten minutes or so, everyone else was Googling other alternative destinations on their phones. Melody, meanwhile, looked up the opening hours for the oyster place. Consternation filled the car as we discovered how much updating some of the sources needed.

"Closed on Tuesdays!" Melody finally wailed. Another search revealed more places that took Tuesdays off. We wondered if there was a conspiracy among the hot hawker stands to go on holiday on Tuesdays.

I could've kvetched about how we could have done all this research months before we got here, but I wanted to live, and it was too far for me to walk back to the hotel.

Melody suggested a change of pace by casing a hotel, so off we went after 3PO was given new coordinates.

Where a pleasant surprise awaited.

I put away my phone, giving up on taking more photos. Not that there was much to photograph up here anyway with my less-than-awesome gear.

"Queen" Melody's dais: one of the round sofas at the rooftop Sky
Garden lounge of the Swiss-Garden Hotel and Residences
Malacca (photo by Sam Fong)

The girls felt different. Melody posed, Cleopatra-like, on a large circular sofa for Sam, whose photo-taking skills ("Make me look hot!") and cameraphone (Apple, mah!) she admired.

Around us, the wind raged. I was convinced it would wrench our gadgets off our hands, sweep them away to the city below and brain an unlucky passenger or vehicle.

We were thirty floors up in an alfresco lounge, the Sky Garden, at the Swiss-Garden Hotel and Residences Malacca. Fierce gales greeted us when we scoped out the infinity pool, the family pools and the water recreation area and followed us up here - could've been our proximity to the ocean. The floor next to the infinity pool was wet and puddled - did the wind splash all that water out of the pool?

The hotel and apartments were attached to The Shore, a newish shopping mall situated in a piece of land surrounded by river. I was a bit sulky when the ladies decided to spend some time in this mall after checking out the hotel - weren't we supposed to get away from that?

However, at the elevator lobby, we met an older gentleman and what I thought was his assistant. A conversation was struck up, and Melody kept it going. Her curiosity about the current topic would arouse a similar interest among others, which tend to lead to unusual situations.

The nighttime view from the Sky Garden lounge (photo by Sam Fong)

When he learnt we were curious about the hotel, the gentleman introduced himself as the executive sales manager of that very hotel. "So you're gatecrashing?" he said, and we were all nods and "Yes."

Accustomed to antisocial behaviour in KL, we did not anticipate him personally showing us the pools and, later, the rooftop lounge and got one of the staff to "show us around" (read: stand there while we roamed, gawked at and photographed the place).

Of course, none of this happened without a little grilling on the way. "You're not planning on opening a hotel, are you?" he asked us at one point.

We were a little taken aback by that. Industrial espionage, here?

As if we could.

Eventually, Melody's line of questioning also raised a couple of flags. "Cut to the chase," said the manager when we took the elevator up. "What exactly are you looking for?" Understandable, since he could've been in trouble for showing us around if we had been the wrong type of guest.

Melody revealed her secret identity as a freelance writer with a pen in several publications' inkwells and explained that we were shopping for hotels in the city. I suspect she was emboldened by our success at "sneaking" into the E&O in Penang and being wowed by it. I reckoned a weekend at the E&O was something one would have to save up for.

The manager was more relaxed after that. We'd learnt how young the hotel was (just over a year old at the time of our visit), so not much was done to market it while the kinks were being ironed out. Once we arrived at the 30th floor, he and the assistant left us.

As far as rooftop lounges go, Sky Garden's d├ęcor was relatively modest compared to, say, that one in 1Utama. Big cushioned chairs, water features, a bar, wooden footpaths and more, surrounded by colour-changing lights. But it was open to the elements - too much, if you ask me - and what a view.

Then, my fear of heights kicked in and made my hands tremble and sweat. I put away the phone, not trusting myself to keep a firm grip on it. The ladies, however, had a ball.

Part of the Sky Garden rooftop lounge (photo by Sam Fong)

Coming down from the high, we gathered at the lobby. We still could not believe our luck. The rooftop visit was more than we'd bargained for. Then, we learnt how much each room cost per night.

We had to restrain Wendy, who was ready to move her luggage from the other "Swiss" place we were staying in.

We could empathise. For just a few ringgit more, we'd have a pool, gym, rooftop view, swankier surroundings and no noisy neighbours or construction cacophony. But that would also mean forfeiting what we paid for our original accommodations. And we were already a day into our sojourn in Melaka.

It wasn't worth the trouble. We'd anticipated being unable to see or experience everything in this city, so we made a point to return and stay here - provided the prices didn't rise too much by then.

Witn that, we browsed around in the mall, which had an aquarium and two food courts, one for Chinese cuisine. I went along; the Sky Garden visit made me amenable to following the girls around. They posed with life-sized figures from Snoopy and window-shopped. We continued to make plans for Melaka Part 2 on the way to the parking lot.

Incidentally, Swiss-Garden Hotel and Residences Malacca hosted the contestants of Miss World Tourism 2015/16, who were here, I think, for the finals that Thailand couldn't host for some reason. Memories of Melaka still fresh in my mind, I was incensed by the noise some groups were making about the event "promoting" vice and whatnot.

Their "concerns" and shallow notions of piety paled in comparison to the hospitality and generosity (and, perhaps, courage) the manager and his assistant showed to four clueless chumps from KL.

Don't mess with Melaka, yo.

Some random passer-by pointing at a now-famous slogan - with
his forefinger, naturally (photo by Sam Fong)

If you encountered this page by chance, I suggest starting at Part 1, followed by part 2. Part 4 is here.


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