I land in busy Kuala Lumpur on Sunday Februrary 8. The scent of Melbourne is quickly replaced by the smog covering the painful goodbyes. It’s refreshing to be able to cross roads anywhere without fearing a fine, and to see masses of people in the streets at any time of the day or the night. China town, Petalling Street, food stalls, a visit to the Petronas Towers… big asian cities always remind me of Bogota. The apparent chaos -which may only be a different form of organization-, the traffic jams, the noise, quickly make me want to move on.
Our plan is to go to Borneo via Singapore. We take a bus from Pudu Sentral station, but in the confusion end up in a non-direct service that will take more than 7h to arrive in Singapore. I had visited the Lion City a year earlier so not much had changed, it is still this very organized city at the crossing of cultures. We opt to stay in China town and make the most of it by strolling in the busy night market. As a tourist, Singapore does not have much to offer, the heat and large streets make you seek air-conditioned spaces, from the over-priced coffee shops to the cheesy gondolas of Marina Bay Sands mall. Still, it is a city that has a palpable energy and undeniable attraction power, especially if you can afford to live there for a while and watch the sunset from the Kudeta deck.
“Sorry, we cannot let you board the plane if your passport expires in less than 6 months” – says the man at AirAsia check-in counter. A call to AirAsia offices and to the Malaysia immigration department confirm the situation: no flying to Borneo today for my compagnon de voyage. We have no other option but to go to the embassy to obtain a temporary passport. Seeing the cost of staying in Singapore and the limited attractions, we decide to head back to Malaysia, catching a (direct) night bus to Kuala Lumpur, going straight to the embassy and then to Malacca to wait for the bureaucracy to do its work.
At less than 2h from Kuala Lumpur, Malacca appears as another crawling mass of concrete. At its center though, is a charming old city with narrow streets leading to landmarks from the colonial era. We stay at Jalan-Jalan, one block away from the Jonker street night markets, and the picturesque riverside with it’s cafes and cruise boats. As the sun rises, the call to the prayer covers the roofs of the small colonial houses. In a half sleep, the song of the Muezin awakes a feeling of melancholia, drawing images of the vibrant commerce hub that Malacca once was. Here merchants from Europe, China, the Middle East, and Asia used to meet and trade their most precious goods. Here muslim preachers started the conversion of this part of the world to Islam. But Islam is not the only religion in Malaysia. Different ethnic groups practice their cult in an apparent harmony. Walking in one street takes you from two Chinese temples to a Mosque, from a Mosque to a Hindu temple, from a Hindu Temple to a Church accross the river, and from a Church to a Hard Rock Coffee. All gods of heaven and rock’n roll have a shrine in this small strip of land.
At night (on weekends) the Jonker street fills with stalls selling everything from energyzing shower head to delicious street food. On a large stage at the end, the local third-age club organizes a Karaoke. Gran’pas and Gran’mas take turn on the microphone to sing classic chinese songs to a captivated audience. The next day a local pop dance club takes the stage as teenagers break some moves on pumping pop music. Contrasts.Locals and tourists share beers at Soon’s bar, where photo-collage of cats cover the walls, chairs are pulled on the street, and cheap cans of beer flow from the fridge, all under the calm supervision of Mister Soon, who surprisingly speaks swiss-german. In this bar, Victor met Matt, the writer of Mostly Non Fiction, a blog “about [Matt’s] travels, all in third person”. Victor cannot help to make parallels between Matt’s story and his. Consultant in big data, Matt has taken some time off to travel the world, write, and pursue is passion for origami. We also meet Ross and Jonathan, two brothers from the UK on a mission to connect Northampton UK, to Northampton Australia, without taking a plane, which resonates with my own dream of returning from Melbourne to Europe by land, and the Great Railway Bazar book I am reading. And what to say of Julien and Marion, who come from a little toown a few kilometres away from where I grew up?
The path you follow seems to define the people you meet. Follow what is naturally attractive to you and you will met like-minded people.