Saturday, 8 August

It’s about 7 am, and it’s still very quiet here in Melaka. This is our first holiday outside of KL since the pandemic started. After work yesterday, we joined the mad traffic dash that seemed to have everyone head out of the Klang Valley, but could have just been people trying to get home.

The hotel we’re staying in (a family favorite) is thankfully still operating, but at what seems to be an incredibly lower capacity. A lone staff member manned the check in counter where he informed us that the kitchen and coffee house were closed indefinitely and there would be no food served for guests.

On the drive in an irregular tourist wouldn’t really notice a difference: the streets are still brightly lit and clean, and roadside eateries seem to thrive. As we passed through the center of town, at least some of the colorful and loud trishaws were carrying passengers. Young people on motorbikes and on foot were weaving through traffic, we assume after having had a late dinner. Many wore masks.

Getting dinner after we checked in, we saw signs of the larger impact to this state’s tourism: the stalls where Chinese and Singaporean tourists would once be sitting down and having durian are now closed. The buses that used to take them around town are empty and dormant. A smaller hotel nearby and the massage parlor downstairs lies quiet, its doors shuttered.

It’s still beautiful in its emptiness

As the morning was bright and sunny, we took our usual climb up St Paul’s Hill. Past the Dutch graveyard, amongst the sleeping cats, sat a familiar face: a local vendor who sells artworks depicting local landmarks (and cats). He didn’t recognize me at first, but a quick flick of the mask down settled that.

“There’s still a lot of tourists,” he says. But times are hard, and they’re not spending as much as they used to. The stalls selling snacks and drinks are doing slightly better. “I’m selling art, and you know, it’s not something people come here to buy,” he laughs. I wish him well and continue on my way.

Looking up

In the evening, the lane into the popular Jonker Walk night market is barricaded, and a RELA officer checks the temperature of visitors. People are starting to flock and form a line. We have our kids with us, but they don’t allow anyone under 13 into the night market, which means we can’t reach our intended dinner spot at Geographers Cafe.

We enjoyed the food here very much.

We acquiesce, and have to change dinner plans on the fly. Off the side to the lane is a small Malay eatery, which serves delicious asam pedas and a halal version of the famous chicken rice balls. A lucky find. We walk on along the riverside, passing the posh Casa Del Rio. People are everywhere, even on the river cruise boats, but almost all of them are mask-wearing locals. Every shop supports the MySejahtera app and the patrons have no problem following the rules, at least in the town center.

Saturday evening is here, and the street is crowded. There’s several groups of what seems to be university students, taking selfies and enjoying the view. There’s a busker playing a nearly unidentifiable rendition of “Happy Birthday” across the river. We meet several aunties on their evening exercise, water bottles in hand. If not for the masks, it almost seems normal.

We end the day by walking back to the hotel. In total we’ve clocked a respectable 10km by foot, and everyone is comfortably full and ready to turn in. It’s been a good day for us, and we hope it was the same for this beautiful and historic state, too.

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