Saturday, 27 August 2016

Messing Around In Melaka, Final

The wait. G*ds, the wait.

Half an hour into our arrival here and it wasn't yet our turn. Wendy marvelled at how the lady boss managed to keep track of the orders with a cheap notebook and pen.

At last, the "famous" fried oyster place was open, and business was booming. People gathered around a stove to watch the chef at work from a safe distance from the heat but not the fumes. Our hair and clothes remained fragrant until we reached the hotel with our bounty. No way were we dining in, not with so many lining up.

I remember a big, mostly flat griddle, more like a shallow wok, perched atop a roaring flame. The chef, a balding middle-aged uncle in an old, off-white vest, would pour a huge steel mug of cracked eggs into the wok and stir it for a while, leaving it to cook for a bit before tossing in the oysters and what looked like a sambal mix that's so dry you can probably count the chilli flakes on the surface.

Once cooked, the contents would be portioned off onto different plates, for dine-ins or takeaways. Separate batches would be processed if some of these, say, were requests for non-spicy ones.

Some of those gathered seemed to be picking some up because of the hype, including three young ladies. "How do you spell 'omelette'?" one of them asked another. Too bad her friend came to her rescue before I could step in.

Five minutes became ten, then fifteen. Not long after that, Sam and Melody suggested we wait it out at the neighbouring kopitiam, where a stall was serving noodles. We ordered drinks to avoid being chased out of the premises, but as the night wore on, the kopitiam's need for seats became greater.

A nearby table hosted a family of maybe eight or ten, and one of the daughters vanished for a bit before returning. I would see her waiting by the fried oyster stall later after we left the kopitiam; seems her family was also hankering for an after-dinner snack.

It was insane. Some of those people had been waiting for half an hour - and it would be a while more before they got theirs.

At last, we sped to the hotel with the spoils: one small(!) pack of the "famous" fried oyster o-m-e-l-e-t-t-e, with chilli. The package was opened expectantly at the hotel's empty dining hall.

The verdict registered in the awkward silence. Then, someone voiced it: "Not very special at all."

About forty minutes of our lives that we would never get back, all for a pile of dry albeit well-seasoned fried eggs and shrivelled oysters, which we could barely see in the dim light. I'd seen the chef cut the oysters with a pair of scissors, puncturing them and letting the juices run out - probably not a good idea.

"So different from the ones in Penang," Sam noted. "Those are moist, not so dry."

And the oysters are mostly whole, I added mentally. Tinier, but whole.

The chilli was a nice touch and it didn't taste awful, but we couldn't hide our disappointment. I wonder how the others, who were still waiting when we left, felt about their o-m-e-l-e-t-t-e-s.

31 December 2015...

The disappointing after-dinner outing underscored the gloom of the next day, when we packed our bags for the return to KL.

To get rid of last night's dissatisfaction, we had the hotel's breakfast. We planned on making one circuit around the Jonker Walk area, punctuated by an after-breakfast snack at The Daily Fix café and several brief stops elsewhere, before going back to the hotel.

I can no longer recall much of this day, numbed perhaps by our impending departure. The past several days had been fantastic - I wished we had several more. Melody wanted to return to Calanthe Art Café probably for the damned alluring claypot Nyonya curry laksa, but for some reason, we didn't.

On the first day of our trip, we had nosed around The Daily Fix and climbed to the upper floor where a few more seats and a tiny gallery were. Because of my fear of heights, I lingered at the foot of the stairs - g*ds, there were gaps in the staircase!

When I did make a move, I took my time. "C'mon, you can do it," Melody's voice rang out, egging me on. I felt I was being teased. I think I also heard Wendy or Sam cheering, "Go, go, go!" So happy to have them on my side.

An exhibition at the upstairs gallery on "dying trades" prompted the question whether the Melakan state government was helping these industries stay afloat - lower rents, subsidies, tie-ups with hotels and tour operators and the like - for the added touristy value. Not a bad idea if it was.

Today, we took a table near the counter and ordered a couple of coffees and a plate of those pandan and gula Melaka pancakes. Each "pancake" was about two and a half inches in diameter and was to be drizzled with gula Melaka, reminding me of the onde-onde we had on Day One.

Encouraged, Melody ordered a gula Melaka cupcake, which proved to be overkill. Sweet, sweet - albeit slightly dry - overkill. We had no complaints about the coffee.

I think we will be back here again.

Unfortunately, we can't say the same about another café.

We stumbled onto this place, which shall not be named, on our last trek around the historic Chinese quarter for this trip. We'd heard about it from other coffee enthusiasts and were curious.

While our noses were still at the door - is that a ... a motor vehicle inside the shop? - somebody burst out from inside, going, "How many people?" She looked around at us clustered around the entrance. "Minimum one drink per person, okay?"

Banyak tak cantik.

Taken aback, we hesitated before declining. Among us, Sam was the most perturbed - and offended - by this. Years in customer service and café-hopping honed her opinions of how customers should be treated and how coffee should be made. The bad vibes stung and lingered like burnt espresso on the palate until we stepped into the low-key but more accommodating Localhouz.

However, its cosy charm did little to soothe Sam's rancour - and Wendy's, as it turned out. "Un-ac-cep-ta-ble," Sam said. "Even if you're selling atas (posh) coffee, customers are king. You still need good customer service."

Wendy agreed. "That was not very professional, coming out and telling customers they can't come in unless they order one drink each." Nor was there a sign telling people about this 'rule'."

Eventually, it boiled over into a couple of one-star reviews on the café's Facebook page. It seems they were not alone. Many would-be customers were also caught off-guard by the brusqueness of the staff; some who swallowed their pride spat out middling to unfavourable thoughts about their coffee.

However, it seems this café won't be changing its MO any time soon, thanks to the constant flow of visitors to this city. We (me, using the royal plural) wish them all the best.

On the way out, I noticed belatedly that Localhouz does not encourage photography within the premises, although that rule might have applied to the paintings on the wall, which seemed to be for sale.

On a table beneath one of these paintings, lay a familiar book.

Whose copy was it?

"One of our staff's," the lady at the counter replied. "She's a fan."

A fan of Senpai's in Melaka, who works at a great place with great décor at 53, Jalan Tokong, 75200 Melaka? What were the odds?

Damn, forgot to ask for the staff's name to personalise a copy of the book. I hope she's still working there.

Anyway, Localhouz. More comfy and welcoming than that other café. I liked Localhouz's lemongrass juice. Too bad we had stuffed ourselves before stopping by, or we'd have sampled more stuff. The loh mai kai (glutinous rice with chicken) looked nice.

Preparing to travel can be a pain. The packing and the sense of being uprooted is uncomfortable for those not accustomed to a jet-setting life. Homebodies like me find having to travel particularly discomfiting, regardless of the distance.

I don't hate my life. I just think more needs to happen in it. That also means I needed to get uncomfortable.

But once you're away, the discomfiture ebbs, and perceptions start changing. Time seems to slow down and you're compelled to follow suit.

When you're miles away from the life you've known for a long time, you're also away from the things about it you don't like. And you begin to wonder why you didn't notice that before or do something about it.

Seeds for the next getaway were planted as I surrendered myself to the embrace of the high-pressure shower of my hotel room - a monsoon deluge compared to the shower head at home. Thoughts of what I would be returning to crept up, chillier than the morning showers I've had (before the heater eventually kicked in) on this trip.

A familiar discomfort emerged, that of the homecoming, triggering recollections of the past few days and making packing up difficult. Writing this brought it all back, and reading this again will, too.

I don't - or want to - recall much of the journey home. The weather was hot when we hit the highway and I stopped to top up the fuel tank on the way out of Melaka. Wendy and Sam reached home first, more than an hour before we did.

Back home, beat and thirsty, I washed my feet, turned on the air conditioning and laid on my bed. My body recognised it, and I relaxed. Sleeping on alien beds is hard. But my bed felt way too comfortable, like the grip of satin-wrapped chains.

So this is what it means when you're "too comfortable".

I wasn't relaxed. I was lethargic. And this lethargy, among some other stuff, was keeping me from doing things.

Strange, I thought. I'd gone as far as Melbourne, apart from Jakarta, Bangkok and Sabah. But it was after this Melakan getaway that more pieces fell into place - and kept falling.

I don't want to live like this.

My feet grow restless.

I need to get away again.

Like, perhaps, a runaway prince from Palembang all those centuries ago.

If you encountered this page by chance, I suggest starting at Part 1, followed by part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.


Post a Comment

Got something to say? Great!