Thursday 29 May 2014

Behind These Eyes

At breakfast, a close friend said to me I was looking good yesterday morning.  I replied in my usual jovial dry way that you should see it from my side.  I wasn't feeling the way I was apparently looking.  Apart form the fact she was probably just being kind, this made me think about perceptions.  Most people pride themselves on the ability to read others. I  wander how accurate those perception are.  If close to someone, overtime we learn to read their moods, when to speak and when not to etc.  This, of course is an important part of a relationship.  The word empathy is used a lot to describe this ability. We can empathise with someone who has experienced a death in the family or failure in an exam, but what about organic depression or severe anxiety.  If we have never experienced it ourselves, are we confident to say we do understand?  Not so straight forward, I think.

I remember a long time ago talking to an elderly man I was looking after in hospital.  What he said to me has stayed with me ever since. 

"Never for one moment make the mistake that who you are talking to thinks exactly the way you do."

Never truer words have been spoken. The human brain is a very complex thing and depending on what it's been exposed to, will react in many different ways.  Environment and culture influence those experiences.  Being immersed in our culture from birth, we are all indoctrinated to some extent to the ways of our society.  The view of world is through the eyes of those who have come before us.  Some societies are more authoritarian than others;  the process of expressing oneself may be more restrictive. 

So, to an extent we are all products of our upbringing, controlled from birth to act in certain ways.  The shackles of these restraints are either thrown off by the end of our youth through life experiences or stay with us for the rest of our lives.  The more educated / well read we become the more flexible in our thinking; maybe, maybe not.  I know well-educated acquaintances who haven’t a flexible bone in their body or so, it seems to me.  But I think in general the ability to be reflective comes from life   experiences.

Though the human mind can close itself off if a vested interest or two gets in the way.  A few politicians and business types immediately come to mind. 

I've gone off topic a bit here.  All I'm trying to say is we really never know what others are thinking or feeling.  That doesn't mean we should stop trying to find out.  It was kind of nice that someone told me I was looking good.  But then again, maybe they need a new pair of glasses.

Just to finish off, my "friend" told me this morning I looked tired.  Ahh!  I feel much better now, back to normal.

Behind Theses Eyes - Not a pleasant sight

Tuesday 27 May 2014

The Red and Blue Ribbon

Stewart stared across the breakfast table at his small grandson eating his cereal with a spoon. Sam had been stopping with them all week as his parents were in Adelaide for work.  They enjoyed having him around as it reminded them of their own little boy all those years ago.  Friday, one more to go.  He had promised him this weekend they would go fishing, something they both enjoyed immensely.  Steward does most of the fishing of course, while little Sam plays at his feet with whatever is lying around on the wooden planks of the old Beachport  jetty. 

Steward gazed out the window at the inclement weather. 

"Ahhh, a wet drive to work."  

The fog had still not lifted and hung low over the ground in wispy pools of white.

Sam made himself comfortable in front of the television to watch Play School.

"Aren't you going to give grand dad a kiss before he goes to work?" 

Steward received no response.

"I'm wearing that red and blue ribbon pin you gave me for my birthday, pinned to my jacket." 

Sam was transfixed to the screen.  Steward smiled to himself, kissed his wife on the cheek and walked out the front door.

Mount Burr, where they lived, was a good 45-minute drive to Steward's job in Mount Gambier, very easy with most of it on the country's main road, National Highway No 1.  The tall pine tree plantations stood like soldiers to attention with only their feet visible, their heads inside the clouds.

Steward's  new Land Rover backed out of the drive, on to the side road and slowly motored up a slight incline towards highway No 1.

"Well, this is bad, can't see a bloody thing," he stated aloud to himself.

The car parted the mist like a ship parted the ocean, disturbing the air only long enough for it to flow back upon itself and leave no trace of the disturbance.

Steward fiddled with the radio's frequency knob until he found his favourite station. It was playing a song he knew well.  Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets. That brought back memories.  The night he met his wife, Sandy at the local town dance, they were playing that song.  A little rye smile passed across his face as he thought of all good times they had spent together over the years.  The raising of their boys into men they could be proud of.

The 3 kilometres to the turnoff was slow and tedious.  The fog refused to lift.  For a moment, Steward thought he could see the sun trying to force its way through the thickened soup but he wasn't sure. How he hated driving in the fog. 

Crawling along the narrow road, he came across no other cars.  It was 7.30 am and normally you would have passed something by now.  The radio gave out a fit of static then recommenced suddenly with a male announcer.

"Good morning all, what a beautiful spring morning we are having today." 

Roger Monk here wishing you a pleasant day ahead.  Steward's ears pricked up. 

"Roger Monk?  He's been retired for years. What's he doing back on air?" 

Steward was perplexed.  Maybe they dug him out of retirement for nostalgic reasons.  Music replaced the voice and another golden oldie was played. Steward himself didn't know this one.

It was taking forever to get to the highway.  The side road was full of pot holes much more than he remembered. He cursed the council for not doing its job properly. 

Finally he reached the turn off, it was still quite dark and he could hardly make out the road markings.  Turning left, he observed a sign he had never noticed before.  It was made of wood, white and pointed at the leading edge with words Mount Gambier 20 miles.

"What the heck!"  Steward was confused.  "When did the council start using wooden signage with mileage written on it?" 

Steward smiled to himself and shook his head.

"I must be dreaming. They haven't used imperial measurements  since 1966."

He felt uneasy though. The car drove slowly forward when to his total astonishment he notice another bazaar  thing.  The national highway was now only a single lane.

At that moment, a logging truck steamed passed at high speed in the opposite direction, surprising Steward to the extent he almost ran off the road.

Steward took a few deep breaths.  “What was going on?  The truck seemed to  come from no where.”

The roads so narrow, it’s not like this, it’s a national highway, dual lanes. Where is it? Have I taken a wrong turn?  I can’t have.  I have driven this road for years.”

Questions with no answers raced through his mind. 
The radio spluttered again into static.  Steward played with the tuning knob and found a station on an unfamiliar frequency. 

The surprises didn’t stop coming.  Robert Menzies' voice filled the airways telling all to prepare for war.

Steward was totally confused.

“I must be going mad.” 

He wasn’t sure what to do.  He slowed to a crawl.  The roads surface was now poor, rutted and loose. 

He looked down to his mobile phone and found no signal. The radio was now solid static.

The fog was lifting.  The sun shone through, burning off the remaining mist to reveal a beautiful day.  Steward wound the window down and took a deep breath.  What superb air, he had not smelt anything like it. 

The surrounding countryside looked very different.  Large gum trees dominated either side of the road, the pine plantations had disappeared.  The odd small clearing opened up amongst the trees to reveal the stone farm houses.  

Steward's head was spinning.  This could not be. Was he dreaming or caught in some type of time warp?  No answers. 

The road was now an overgrown track. He stopped and jumped out.  This was very foreign.  Nothing was familiar apart from the gum trees and the vast number of birds in the sky. Kangaroos could be seen everywhere. Curious and unafraid, they stood in mobs observing this strange distressed creature with the lost expression.

Mob of Kangaroos

Without warning, a spear pieced the thick undergrowth and thudded into a large red gum just to the left of his head.  He awoke from his distressed state as the adrenaline kicked in. He noticed a slight gap between two sheoaks and darted through it. Running as fast as his old legs permitted, he headed for a rocky outcrop that might offer some protection. 

Panting like an overworked sheep dog, he scurried behind the first boulder he reached.  Peering around the rock, he discovered he need not have worried, no one was following.  Steward caught his breath, then proceeded to walk to the crest of the hill to see where he was.

Looking out over the far reaching green plain, the area was deeply wooded, interwoven with vast interlocking wetlands. Hugh flocks of birds created clouds of colour as they took to the air, circling and returning to earth in a vast shimmering wave.  Dotted over the landscape, a few thin wispy grey streaks of smoke drifted upwards towards the heavens, camp fires by the aborigines.   A world of tranquility, except for a flickering glow of orange and red on the horizon, standing out in stark contrast to the rest of the greens and greys, an artist inadvertently  dabbing the wrong water colours on to his masterpiece.  

It took a moment until he realized what he was observing.  Though it was still cool, sweat poured down his brow and on to his eyes. He wiped the salty solution away. An uncontrollable tremble took over his body. He fell to his knees.

Mount Gambier, the volcano had not erupted for 4600 years and there he was watching it.   Steward touched the small red and blue ribbon his grandson had given him and cried. 

He eventually staggered to his feet and slowly descended the ridge walking towards the far distant glow not knowing what to do or where to go.  He staggered on for what seemed hours.  He looked down at his boots, now covered in water. 
These were the old wet lands of the South Australia's Southeast before the European settlers drained them.   It felt a thousand pairs eyes were focused at him, but he saw no one. 

He wandered through the wetlands looking for the telltale smoke of an aboriginal campfire for he needed to be with others.  The anxiety of dying in the wilderness alone mounted in his ever increasing confused mind.  What did he do to deserve this fate?  Where did he go wrong?  More questions with no answers.

Exhaustion set in, he could no longer stay on his feet.  The sun was low when he slid to the ground underneath an old  red gum and rested his back upon the trunk. He closed his eyes. 

A bright light appeared in his dream.  The light spoke to him, it was his dear beloved Sara.  She whispered to his soul, she was there by his side.  The light became brighter and with it, all fear left his body.  Her comforting face filled the space in in his head.  All was well now. 

A large group of aborigines surrounded the prostrate body  lying still, under the old gum tree. A large black hand removed the pin on Steward's jacket and they all milled around to admire the beautiful soft blue and red ribbon, wondering what it was.

Sam was stilled glued to the television set when the screen flashed brilliant white before fading in on itself to a pin prick. For a moment he thought he saw his grandfather's face. 

"Grandma come here quick, the television is broken."

No response.  He jumped up and ran around the house looking for her. 

"Grandma , Grandma, where are you?  Talk to me I'm scared, Grandma, Grandma..."

Twenty years later.

Sunday afternoon and Sam got up from the couch, as he was shouting to his sons. 

"We're going out, get your things.  Enough lying around for the day." 

Two small adorable fair haired boys fell into line as they giggled to each other.  The twins loved it when dad took them for a drive.  It was always an adventure  and the chance of an ice cream or piece of cake was always on the cards.

"Daddy, where are we going today?" they chortled back.

"Surprise!" was the abrupt reply.

Sam had read in the local newspaper about an interesting local discovery a few years ago. A cave with Aboriginal paintings had been discovered in a range of hills close to Mount Gambier.  Remarkable to think that after all these years of European settlement, they were still finding artefacts.  It was being open to the public for the first time and he was keen to take a look.  Besides that, the boys loved drawing and were always interested in the bedtime stories he told them about the aboriginal dreamtime.  Getting them away from the television had become a priority. He remembered watching way too much tv himself as a child.

Aboriginal elder

It was a glorious day, the sun shone fiercely through the few clouds that were in the sky.  They bumped along the old dirty track that led to the caves.  A number of other cars followed behind looking for the new signs that were put up to direct them to the location. 

This part of the area's vegetation was till mostly intact and had survived the farming revolution as it was designated a national park early on in the country's history.

A make shift car park had been organised on a piece of flat land below a rocky outcrop.  The path to the cave was steep and difficult to transverse. 

The boys plodded on gamely.  Not complaining at all.  Sam was proud.  He thought how much better behaved they were than him at a similar age.

Eventually the path ended and after rounding a large boulder a small opening could be seen under a ledge.  It wasn't very obvious, so he now understood why this had not been discovered earlier.   

After crawling on all fours for some metres, the cavern opened up.  A temporary lighting arrangement was in place.  It did a good job of exposing the magnificent array of cave drawings.  A guide was on hand to explain to the public the significance of what they were witnessing. 

Aboriginal rock art from various locations -  Google images

The boys looked on in awe, mouths opened.  The scene was one with nature.  Kangaroos, wallabies, emus and birds of all kinds.  Beautifully depicted in the aboriginal way, vivid natural colours with simple, but inspiring symbols. 

At the back of the chamber in all its prominence was the erupting volcano.  The aborigines were there to witness the event. 

Sam took a step back to take everything in.  His eye glanced upon a curious symbol -   two blue and red lines. 

Memories flooded his mind from that long ago day.  He had been frantic, he could not find his grandmother. He ran screaming to the next door neighbour for help.

"Where's my Grandma?  I want my Grandma." 

Police cars, sirens, people everywhere.

His dream was broken, upon hearing the guide make a comment about the two-coloured lines. 

"The archeologists don't quite understand this symbol yet.  It doesn't relate to any animal or plant we know of.  At the moment the meaning seems to be lost in time."

Sam with a tear in his eye, looked down at his two small boys. 
But he knew.


Thursday 22 May 2014

Never Too Late

The week had been a long difficult one.  Pressure was building at work to finish my current project before the end of month cut off.  My wife was also looking forward to a more relaxed weekend having to put up with me, grumpy and irritated most evenings through the week.  Both of us looked forward to retirement in the not to distant future.  Do some travelling; a spot of fishing maybe; fix up my extremely untidy overgrown garden and do the odd job or two around the house.  Work, work existing to work.  We had been talking about have more balance in our lives for years, but it never seemed to get any easier.  Anyway it was Friday, time to wind down in front of the tele which we did after a quick but tasty toasted sandwich dinner. 

I had dozed off when the door bell startled me back to reality. I looked at my wife puzzled.

 “Who could this possible be at this time of night?”

I glanced at my watch, 11.30.  Way too late for anyone to be calling.  I staggered to my feet, body stiff from inactivity and lumbered towards the front of the house. I felt uneasy as I tentatively opened the door a fraction and peered out.  It took a moment or two for my eyes to focus on the blue uniform.

"Good evening Sir, am I speaking to Mr Peter Larkin?" the burlier of the two policeman asked. 

"Yes that's me. What can I do for you?"

The two policeman glanced at each other and the smaller one spoke.

"Do you mind if we come inside for a moment?"


Peter led the men down the narrow corridor to the family room where they sat down on the settee.  Stella, Peter's wife had a concerned look on her face. 

"This isn't going to be good, " she thought to herself.

The burly policeman took a deep breath in before he spoke.

"Do you have a son Robert Anthony Larkin?"

" Yes, what's happened to him?"

"I'm sorry to inform you, Mr and Mrs Larkin, your son has died in a motor accident on the freeway 6 pm this evening."

The words didn't mean anything to Peter at first. I t was like they had no meaning, not real, just words.  Stella's scream didn't even seem really.  He looked around the room in this daze and felt the tears rolling down his cheeks.  The pain of reality seeped into his consciousness.  His hand felt for Stella. She was inconsolable and collapsed onto the back of the settee sobbing.

After a few minutes, the burly policeman spoke. 

"I know this is a very difficult time for you, but unfortunately I must ask you to come to the hospital to identify the body."

Peter didn't answer at first. His mind was struggling to comprehend.  He had not seen Robert for almost 2 years, even though they lived in the same city. 

"Yes of course," he eventually murmured. 

We haven't seen each other in years and now I'm going to see his corpse.  He thought, how ironic. 

Peter and Stella sat in the back of the police car, numb.  Life would never be the same again.  Robert was their only child. 

Peter thought long and hard. He knew it was he who had driven him away.  He was to blame, no one else.  Poor Stella was torn between the two loves of her life and in the end, sided with her husband. He had no right to have let this happen.  But he did.  His pig headedness created this mess.

Peter and Stella married later in life.  Robert wasn't born until they were both close to 40.

Robert was not like his dad.  As a youngster he was shy, timid and insecure. The polar opposite to Peter the self-assured high flyer. The corporate animal who lived and breathed work.  He was never home and when he was had little time for his wife and child.  His job was to provide for them and that was what he excelled at. 

The passing street lights filtered and flickered an array of motley ghostlike shadows through the glass window on to  the occupants' faces as they sped along the almost deserted highway to the hospital. 

It wasn't all bad; there were times they tried to get along. Robert longing for his Dad's love and attention, but Peter's short fuse and intolerance would more often than not, surface to destroy whatever little bond that was developing. 

Never close, as time went on, they drew even further apart. Adolescent was particularly difficult.  Robert was not good at school and struggled with low self-esteem.  He got into some trouble with the police, petty larceny, nothing too serious. Peter could not accept a son of his would do such a thing. They never spoke to each other much after that.

The last straw came just over two years ago.  His son had just got his first real job. It was going to work for a department store as a sales assistant.  Stella was so happy for him and knew that deep down he finally felt good about himself. It was a start and that is what he needed.

The car was nearing the hospital.  Peter stared out the window and remembered what a fool he had been.  Instead of being happy for the lad, he had started an argument. 

"A son of mine should not be working in any department store as a common salesman," he shouted at his son. 

Robert shook with rage.  Even in his finest hour, he still wasn't  good enough for his father. Without thinking, he lashed out.

Peter just remembers sitting on the floor with blood streaming down his face.

"Get out!  Get out!  And never set foot inside this house again. Do you hear me?  Go!"

And with that he went, never to return.  Stella was beside herself, torn between love for her son and her husband. 

Stella was the last to get out of the car.  She didn't want to go in.  She had forgone her only son two years previously and knew now it had been the biggest mistake of her life.  She would never receive the forgiveness she longed for. Never hear the words from his lips," I love you mum." Two years ago she had taken sides.  At this moment she hated herself and despised her husband.

Peter walked in front of the policeman as the approached the morgue.  He just wanted to get it over with.  Stella sat down on a bench outside.  She just couldn’t do it. The memories of him being alive was all she desired.

The refrigerator door was open and the body shrouded in a white sheet was pulled out. Peter took a deep breath and braced himself.  This was to be the last time he would ever see his son in circumstances no parent should ever endure.

The burly policeman readied to pull the sheet back off the face.

“Are you ready, sir?” 

“Yes, just do it.”

Peter’s eyes misted over. The face was exposed.

Peter was transfixed and started to stagger backwards.  The policeman caught hold of his arm.

“You ok, sir?”

“This is not my son.”

“Excuse me, sir but the shock can confuse. He’s been in a terrible accident.”

“This is not Robert.”

He quickly turned and bolted out the door to find his wife. 

“Stella, it’s not him, it’s not him.” 

She looked up from her handkerchief with eyes as wide as saucers and embraced as they cried together.

The police came out of the morgue looking concerned in deep conversation.  The burly one stepped forward and explained that the only identification discovered at the scene of the accident was a driver's licence with their son's name on it.  Maybe it was stolen? He asked whether they knew where their son lived

Peter had no idea, but Stella, gazed up at Peter and uttered, 
“I think I know where to find out.”

Robert Larkin was still in bed when the door bell rang.  The sun was barely up and for the life of him, he couldn’t imagine who could possibly be calling this time of the morning.    

Father and son - Google photos

First Impressions of KLIA 2

After our pleasant few days in Malacca, we journeyed down by bus to the new KLIA 2 low cost terminal.  I looked forward to exploring the new buildings as I frequently fly Air Asia. They have an enormous presence there,  utilising  over 80% of the allocated space for airlines.  The old LCCT “tin shed" was not a particularly pleasant place to spend time between connecting planes. I was not to be disappointed.

The new terminal is situated less than 2 kilometres from KLIA. This is far closer than the old LCCT terminal that took up to 40 minutes by road to get to.  The Express train now joins both in less than 3 minutes.  This should facilitate the movement between two terminals to a mild inconvenience. 

First impressions as you enter the new terminal is that it doesn't feel much like an airport terminal, but more like a shopping mall. In fact it's called Gateway@KLIA2 and locals are being encouraged to use it as such. 

The building is in 3 parts, the drop-off and pick-up - private and public transport hub where you walk into the Gateway shopping area then finally through to the main terminal building itself. The entire three areas have extensive shopping, 330 retail shops in total, I believe.  At this stage only a little over a half are open.  This, at first glance, is no low cost shopping experience.  In fact, it's the complete opposite, with brand name boutiques and chic restaurants throughout. There is even an upmarket extensive supermarket.  The first one I have seen at an international airport.

The airfare may be low cost but the shopping experience will make up for it.  Spend a few hours shopping here and you'll need to be paying for excess luggage. 

The building is designed for shopping through and through. No direct walk to the departures. The pathways bow left and right from the central line in a semi circle much like a peeled onion to make sure you have to walk passed most of the retail area.  There is very little seating, a clever ploy I think, so if you want to rest your weary feet it must be in a coffee shop or such.

I joked with my wife that next time we can fly in from Sandakan, do the shopping, then return the same day without leaving the building.

In all seriousness, I'm no great spender so this is mostly wasted on me and maybe for the majority. It will be interesting to see how well businesses prosper in the future especially the non-food outlets that are not on the main thoroughfare. 

The KLIA express (train) comes right into the centre of the buildings. It’s only a 30 minute trip into Sentral (main station) Kuala Lumpur.  It’s quick and very convenient, though a little expensive at 35 Ringgit one way.  The buses are slower but a lot cheaper at about 10 Ringgit . 

As I didn't arrive at the new terminal, I can only comment on departures.  The experience was seamless.  Efficient baggage drop off with minimal wait and plenty of operational x-ray machines.  

The departure / arrival departure gates number 5 on 4 piers. The outer pier requires a long walk over a skybridge to get to and takes a good 10 to 20 minute.  No issues with seating here, plenty with food outlets aplenty. 

So, there you have it.  A very pleasant experience even though my aircraft ran 90 minutes late. 

Time will tell if the retail outlet functions the way it's designed to.  I certainly like the light airy interesting building which, in my humble opinion, will give KLIA 1 a run for its money.


Monday 19 May 2014

A Few Days In Malacca

The morning after the wedding's reception, the alarm decided to relieve me from my sleep.  The head was heavy, the half dozen glasses of red wine had seen to that, but I quickly remembered the task at hand for the early morn - find our way to TBS, the relatively new bus station in KL for our trip to Malacca. 
Always worried about being on time, my phobia forced us to leave our hotel at 6.30 for an 8 am departure.  The trip there involved changing from the LRT to another line, but with no hassles.  KL's underground rail system works very well apart from the ticket vending machines that more often than not, don't work.  The authorities recently have made an effort to make it easier to transfer from one line to another by improving the walking assess and multi-trip ticketing, far better than the somewhat disjointed arrangement a few years back. 

We arrived with plenty of time to spare and waited for our host and daughter.  This station, I must say, is nothing like your average bus station. It's large, very modern and most importantly for me, clean.  Only a few years old, it mostly replaces a facility in Chinatown for those travelling south in the country. 

The Transnational bus arrived on time.  I sat with Lili and Poh with her daughter Karin across the aisle. Word of warning here.  Never sit between good friends as you spend the time being talked across, it feels a lot like playing piggy in the middle.  I jest, of course, it was not really a problem and made the 2.5 hour trip fly by, even if both ears are still ringing.  

LiLi and Poh

Malacca lies on the West coast of Peninsular Malaysia roughly half way between KL and Singapore.  It has a long, interesting and varied history.  This is not immediately apparent, as you bus in; the outer areas have a lot of modern construction, housing as well as business.  This leaves an impression of an economically growing vibrant city. 

I have previously been here a number of years before, but recognised very little at first.  I was told a lot of people investing here are from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Tourists abound, so there is a very significant major hotel presence, very grand for a city of this size. 

We arrived at 1030 and were picked up by Poh's niece, Joyce and taken to a small Chinese restaurant on the side of the road near the coast.  The very congenial owner greeted us with a broad smile and after much chatter in Chinese, a course of food was decided on.  I'll admit now on most occasions I allow my wife to decide what to eat.  If it was left up to me, I'd eat the same old boring stuff every day.  I am not that adventurous when it comes to trying new food, but when forced to, I usually enjoy the experience.  This was no exception.  The food, apart from being inexpensive was  of high quality.  The ambiance of the surroundings and the owner's ancestry's looking forlornly down upon the diners  added to the culinary experience.

Our hosts live about 10 kilometres north of the city centre along a road full of old abandoned mansions and multi-storey high rise.  I fear the old buildings with their large grounds will in time, create a great wall of towering condominiums. They are too much to maintain for the average private owner and are only saved from demolition, if  business is interested in utilising the size for commerce.   Some of the local banks have done just that in the centre of the city, but unfortunately there are more mansions than interested parties.

Poh and her families' houses are just a street back from the sea.  The ambiance of the area is one of peace and quiet; only the occasional dog barking intruded, no cacophony here. 

After meeting the family and a quick shower, we ventured first to a coffee shop to try the local brew and watch 'kaya' being made. ( a coconut, sugar and egg yolk spread ) The golden brown treacly substance is smeared onto a piece of toasted bread or bun and served with local black coffee.  We watched it being made in a back room.  Two ladies sitting over a metal stewing pot, the ingredients heated over a low gas flame and stirred for 3 hours to get the right consistency. It is very sweet, fattening but scrumptious.  After a short walk to view the straits and its shipping, we ventured back into town.

Half way there, the traffic started to grind to a halt and it soon became apparent this was no ordinary jam.  As we crawled along at walking pace a long line of parked and par king cars snaked for a hundred metres or more in front of us.  The reason, you ask?  The world famous ( for this place at least ) Klebang coconut milk shake.  Yes, the world here was grinding to a stand still for a milkshake.  I don't know about you, but for me to line up dozens deep, it would have to be something very special.  I was to learn later that Malacca inhabitants won't give another thought to waiting in a long queue for  an indeterminate amount of time to get into their favourite chicken and rice ball or satay celup restaurant. Nothing like good food to create your routine and habits.  We did some general sightseeing and shopping, then returned for the evening Mother's Day dinner.

Malacca is steeped in history.  Going back 500 years, it was a strategic outpost, one of three ( the others being Singapore and Penang) due to its location on the Straits of Malacca.  It controlled trade that passed through the very narrow waters between Malaya and Sumatra.  This all changed in 1511 when the Portuguese arrived and overthrew the local Sultan.  The European presence in the region was increasing due to the spice trade which led to increased colonisation of the region. 
The Portuguese built A Famosa ( fort,  only the front gate exists today ) and remained for about 130 years with limited success as traders until the Dutch in cahoots with the Sultan of Johore  replaced them, though even today there is still an enclave of Portuguese descendants.

"Red" centre of town

The Dutch for their part built the " Red Stadthuys"  administration  centre of town that can be still be seen today though these days, it consists of museums and various churches.

Wikipedia History of Malacca 

The Portuguese Fort Gate today

Eventually 180 years later, the British replaced the Dutch, who had agreed to accept some land in Java in exchange. There they remained until independence in 1957. 

The eclectic blend of European and Asian buildings makes Malacca the interesting place it is.  The old part of town has very narrow honeycomb streets that were never designed to cater for motor vehicles.  Most are one way and frequent traffic jams are common.  There is a mixture of trendy modern business with traditional Chinese family homes.  The old buildings are generally narrow, deep terraces with roofs made of rows of unique corrugated clay red tiles.  In the oldest buildings, the original plain dutch facades are hard to find being replaced later by Classical, Chinese and Malay additions. 

Narrow winding oneway streets

Unique designed Mosque

The town has many churches, temples and mosques - all interesting in their own way and its diverse inhabitants complement the feeling of something unique.

The old Portuguese Fort encompassing St Paul's church - Wikipedia 

The evenings meal was in part prepared by the adult children of the family to show appreciation for their mothers' efforts. Most of the children live and work in other parts of the country or overseas and made the effort to be there for their mothers as well as for the Vesak day celebrations, the Buddha’s birthday.   

We were asked if we would like to walk in their annual parade the next evening and accepted the invitation without question. 

The proud Mothers

The following morning saw us exploring the old St Paul’s Church on top of a small steep hill in the historical centre. Upon ascent, you are greeted by St Francis Xavier himself in all his marble glory. ( he was interned here for a short period of time after his death).  Built by the Portuguese early on in its occupation for its Catholic population, only the outer walls and Apse of the church are now intact.  The interior walls support many tomb stones of the local Dutch and Portuguese dating from the 16th century, but unfortunately for me, not in English.  The Dutch converted it to Dutch Reformed where it remained as a place of worship until Christ Church was completed in 1753 in the Stadthuys. 

After investigating the tombstones behind the church from the English period, we ventured down to the remains of the Old Portuguese fort.  Not a lot to see but interesting all the same.  My attention was distracted by a group of people using what I could only describe as a golf shaft-cum-telescopic rod with a frame to hold a telephone on, so one could, by stretching the arm and rod away from the body, take the perfect self-indulging selfie.  Really, I could think of better ways of taking photos without looking ridiculous.  Anyway each to their own. 

The old fort that was unceremoniously blown up by the British is continuously being rediscovered, the foundations at least,  each time they excavate old car parks and building lots. Some of these areas are quite a distance from the remaining gate meaning this must have been an impressive structure in its time; at one stage it housed the entire Portuguese population in Malacca. 

That afternoon we prepared for the Vesak precession.  The participants wear all white, so that proved a challenge to find a clothing combination that came close.  My wife and I had a slightly offbeat look, but came close to looking the part.

We drove to Poh's uncle's place to collect a bus with 40 other devotees that took us to the site to assemble.  Due to anticipated traffic issues, we left early and arrived with plenty of time to spare.  In fact, time to try out the famous local celup satays.

The dining tables are round with a circular metal container sunk into the centre.  This pot contains a mixture of what looks like peanut sauce and oil.  Underneath the table is a gas flame to keep the contents simmering.   The idea is to go to a large bank of refrigerators and choose from an assortment of skewers with either chicken, pork products, seafood or various vegetables.  The food is then placed into the boiling sauce and cooked.  Occasionally, the staff add more sauce into the mixture and gives it a stir.  The smell of peanuts permeates through out the premises.  Simple, effective and delicious and when finished, the waiting staff just tallies up the empty skewers left and you pay for what you eat. 

After dinner, we all looked forward to our impending walk. With 42 floats in the parade, we were assigned to number 19. I assumed for some unknown reason this was just going to be a jaunt around the block.  How wrong I was. 

Beginning of the Vesak Parade

The night was hot and sultry.  I was sweating profusely before we even began.  The start was slow due to the sheer number of people involved.  I won't attempt to estimate the numbers, but it would have been in the thousands.  This stop start affair meandered through the older sectors of town with large numbers of people lining both sides of the streets to pay their respects to the Buddha.  Small gifts were handed out to the crowd with children being the main beneficiaries.  Almost all were of Chinese descent apart from a small sprinkling of overseas tourists. 

The walk lasted two and a half hours and all of us were foot weary by the end, the atmosphere - the sounds and sights and the sense of community made it a fulfilling and tranquil experience. 

One of the numerous floats

The last full day in Malacca was spend eating and talking with  our new found friends.  One last surprise awaited me though. An evening meal was arranged in a popular open air restaurant.  Our group who had been doing a little last minute window shopping were the last to arrive.  And there on the table in front of me was, to my utter surprise, a Klebang coconut milkshake. 

Everyone, by this stage, had heard I would not get into a line up for a milkshake, but someone made the effort for me. 
This simple gesture typifies the great hospitality and generosity shown to us for the few days we were in Malacca.  I extent my deep gratitude to Poh and her family members who went out of their way to make our experience an exceptional one. 

The next morning we bused it to the new KLIA2 terminal (another post) and returned to Sandakan. 

Is that milkshake worth lining up for, you ask?  
All I'll say is go to Malacca to find out.

The famous milkshake