Melaka: A Boat, Bird Poop, and 20-odd Muslim Women


High above Melaka.

In the central hub of Melaka, there was a cluster of trees–a tiny, urban mini-orchard. Just before the river leading into the major cultural hotspots of town, before all the restaurants and tourist sites, there was this empty lot, filled only with trees, wedged in amongst buildings and lights and neon. If you had any desire to explore the town, and especially to cross from the area where the guesthouses were located to the areas of interest, you needed to pass below the many boughs.

They were filled with birds.

When I say “filled,” you may imagine flocks of doves gaily gamboling upward, skylarks and finches and robins swooping and leaping and being majestic. You imagine feathers of all colours, the soft lullaby of birdsong in so many different birdtongues, mothers bringing food to their young. It is romantic, you think. Maybe I could sit on a bench under these trees, you consider, and be reminded of nature, and the splendour of the world, and the beauty of our earth.

That’s wrong, and you’re dumb for thinking it.

Every time we needed to cross town, we had to charge into a full-on sprint. Whenever these trees became particularly full, there was a serious risk of a poop shower. The tree trunks, the benches, the parking lot below this avian-infested flying hellzone was shellacked in a constant sheen of white goop. It was entirely possible that there wasn’t actually any pavement, but rather the fossilized, petrified remains of decades of bird crap. Passing underneath the trees during the particularly chirpy times felt like a gamble, and we would often leap over several large, cavernous sewer grates in order to flee all the faster.

The sound, too, went from being soothing to terrifying, suddenly illuminating for me why Hitchcock’s The Birds could even possibly be scary. The call of a few birds is pleasant: the sound of a spring morning, the sound of nature, the cycle of life. Several thousand birds together is the sound of flying death, of tiny, angry beaks shredding your flesh. That birds together sounds like they could probably strip a cow to the bone in a few seconds like winged piranhas, and we could only imagine what they would do to us.

Nearby there was a karaoke bar, where locals and foreigners sang Madonna and Sting. When the nesting time came, no one bothered to sing, because no one would ever hear it.

An Old Church

A church, located approximately directly under the sun.


We discovered, I suppose for the first time, that our journey through south-east Asia was going to be hot.

We knew, theoretically of course, that the weather in the south pacific was warm. Toasty. Tropical. Balmy. Delightfully temperate. But knowing that a place is hot and actually experiencing waking up with pit stains so dense they could collapse in on themselves and become black holes of sweat are very different things.

As we walked around the aging shell of the Portuguese/Dutch church on a hillside, we realized that our next few months were going to be pretty swampy. We had just left Korea at the end of its summer, and were now essentially trapping ourselves in a permanent summer until about Christmas. As people from cold climate places, we needed to develop some strategies to deal with the fact that we were melting.

Malaysia, luckily, was a hotbed of both numerous 7-11s and also readily available root beer (root beer being, of course, the nectar of the Olympians, the grog of Asgard, the amrita of the devas). We began to feed our rapidly developing slurpee addiction, and fled to bastions of shade whenever possible to elude the burning, charring sun.


The Crest

Heritage! It’s everywhere, apparently!

One of the few major Attractions, upper-case A, of Melaka was the boat cruise. You hop on a boat somewhere along the main canal running through the town, and it will whisk you away to show you all the sights.

Our boated started empty, but soon filled with roughly twenty young Muslim women, clamouring about and taking dozens of pictures of one another. They oohed and aahed as we passed the various sights, and seemed to enjoy the various lapses into Western electronic music that filtered in between the sporadic blurts of the audio guide.

The audio guide informed us, of course, that we were in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When we passed by the sign declaring the same, the women aboard our boat scrambled to assemble in good time, and got me to take their picture before it.

As our time in Asia wore on, our interest in World Heritage Sites began to dwindle. Not, of course, in the actual heritage, which was cool and picturesque and worthy of exploration, but in the designation. Did you know UNESCO hands that stuff out like candy? We stumbled on more World Heritage Sites than we could remember, largely by accident, and eventually the sheen of Worldly Importance began to wear off. When the whole planet becomes a World Heritage Site, suddenly the title loses a little bit of is meaning.

But for the locals, it was still a fairly big point of pride, and people had come from around Malaysia and the neighbouring countries to see Melaka. They had come to see what the world, or at least the shadowy, bureaucratic part of the world, had deigned important. They saw it as something to share, something to hold up as a beacon of their culture, and something that also maybe you could charge an entry fee at. For the world-weary, douchebaggy backpacker, the hub-bub became a little tedious, but for people who actually cared, for those people to whom something like this would matter, it was a pretty big deal.

Of course, I cared less about heritage sites when I could be roiling in weirdness, and our cruise in Melaka provided. As the women on our boat scampered around taking pictures together in front of every major spot in the city (the street art alley! the old church! the abandoned monorail! the bridge with red lights under it!), we played scavenger hunts with the various weird public art around us. We tried to absorb just being in a strange, different place so far from what we had experienced. We tried to enjoy our little boat, the swish of dozens of hijabbed heads bustling around us to the sound of blaring electronica, to the feel of the road, which is also sometimes the water.

3 thoughts on “Melaka: A Boat, Bird Poop, and 20-odd Muslim Women

  1. Sorry to hear about the devalued term “world heritage site” as there are so few here in Canada – currently 16 of which I have been to 7 and even did some work on one of them (Buffalo Jump, Head Smashed In Museum) and places like Gros Morne and Nahanni National Parks are so spectacular that they take your breath away. Still, if someone were to do endless visits of Canadian World Heritage Sites they too might eventually feel ‘overdone’!

  2. Muslim women in Malaysia love to take picture with everything under the sun. I do it too, sometimes, and I don’t know why.

    Love your blog. Funny! 🙂

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