Touristy but nice.
MELAKA, Malaysia- Much of my story in Melaka happens along the river that runs through the city. This river, which has pedestrian walkways on both sides, isn’t only a convenient thoroughfare to get from one place to another but is also lined with guesthouses, cafes, and bars. In particular, there is a strip that runs perpendicular with Jonkor Street that has a high-density of cheap cafe bars, where you can sit in wicker chairs on the riverbank, drink a cheap happy hour beer, meet people, and watch the boats float by.
When I first arrived in Melaka I went straight to Jonkor Street. This is the main tourist area, and the place is packed with Chinese tourists clogging up the sidewalks taking selfies and running into you as they try to walk while looking at their phones — yelling and screaming to each other the entire time. This street sucks. I went into a cafe bar here and ended up paying $5 for a bowl of noodles that didn’t really have many noodles and like three small pieces of chicken and another $5 for a small Tiger beer — both double the rate for the same things around the corner.
Looking for somewhere else to drink a beer or two I came to the river, which winds its way through the city and was re-developed with nice walkways a la San Antonio. I asked a guy at a cafe if he had beer and he told me that I would have to cross to the other side.
“This side is halal. You have to go to the other side of the river if you want beer.”
The halal side was clean, quiet, and empty. The beer side was messy, loud, and full of people. I crossed over to my rightful side of the river.
I walked down the strip, looking for a place that I felt drawn to. I arrived at the end near the Hard Rock Cafe and doubled back to the small local places, that are really just traditional style tk city houses that knocked out their back walls so they opened up on to the river. Hardly anybody goes into these places through their front doors anymore; the riverfront has become the main thoroughfare here.
I found myself standing at the cusp of two cafes, perplexed. To my right was a cafe run by some Indians. They sold beer for 12 ringgit. To my left was a cafe run by Malays. They sold the same beer for 13 ringgit. In a single field of view I could see both of their price lists. However, the cafe on my left was full of people and the one on my right didn’t have anybody in it. It was completely counter-intuitive.
“I don’t understand, man,” I asked the server at the place on the left . “Your cafes are right next to each other but they sell their beer for less than you sell your beer for but you have people drinking at your cafe but they have nobody.”
“They want to be cheap and sell for less. That’s what they want to do,” he shrugged with detectable irritation. “But our beer is original.”
I latched onto that. “What do you mean? Your beer is original?”
“Our beer is original,” he repeated.
“So what you’re saying is that their beer is not original?”
“It is not original,” he confirmed.
“What do you mean, not original? Like counterfeit beer?”
“It is not original,” he repeated.
We were standing right next to the cafe in question. The owners could probably hear us talking. I did not want to stir this pot anymore that it had obviously already been stirred, so I retreated to the reggae bar that had happy hour beers cheaper than both of them: 10 ringgit. It was originally my plan to pay 50 cents more per beer to be as far away from Bob Marley as possible, but due to the circumstances I relented.
I hate Bob Marley more than I hate the way that soggy underwear feels after walking around in jeans all day in the heat of the tropics.
I hate Bob Marley more than I hate the traffic jams on the elevated highways that completely destroyed Kuala Lumpur.
I don’t hate Bob Marley more than I hate Wizz Air, but I have the prerogative to avoid Wizz Air. I do not have this luxury when it comes to Bob Marley.
If you travel — and it doesn’t matter where in the world you travel — you’re going to hear Bob Marley everywhere. I’ve heard this guy’s pathetic whining on the remote beaches of Sri Lanka; I’ve heard it in Riga on a cold rainy day; I’ve heard it on the steppes of Central Asia; I’ve heard it every stop of the way from Mexico to Patagonia. Where there are tourists there is Bob. There is something in the phenomenon that could probably make a good case study in globalism, as this isn’t only about the monotonizing of the soundscape of travel but also the monotonizing of culture — or at least the creation of a sub-culture and symbology that is understood almost everywhere — as Bob brings a superficial rendering of a value system and worldview, style and identity.
It is the latter point that I find particularly obtuse: the fact that this misogynistic, racist, homophobe post-humously became a symbol for freedom, love, and open mindedness. But who am I kidding? The dude is really just a fashionable symbol for weed. There’s really nothing more to it.
But the dreadlocked and bearded Malays at that reggae bar on the river where good — friendly, engaging, accommodating. I drank my 10 ringgit Tigers and watched the boats float by without complaint.
I was informed that the cafe bars on the river are involved in wha12 could only be described as a race to the bottom beer-off. One lowers their prices and the others are forced to follow suit. On Jonker Street a 330 ml Tiger goes for 20 ringgit. At the first cafe bar on the river the price is 13. The one next door to that sells it for 12. Before 9 pm this beer sells for 10 at the reggae bar. The 90s Cafe bar is a couple ringgit more at 12, while at the cafe bar right next door, the Jonker Parrot Cafe, the price is 8 ringgit.
8 ringgit is less money than you can buy this beer for at the supermarket.
Usually, when there is an array of businesses in the same area that provide the same services to the same clientele, there is some degree of price fixing to keep things profitable — and to keep everyone getting along. But the two Indian places on the ends undercut everyone, putting downward pressure on price points along the entire strip.
I can’t complain.
The river through Melaka is touristy … but nice. Nobody bothers you, the prices are alright, and if you show up at the same places everyday they get used to you and will start telling you stories, slightly broadening your take on life.
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