An afternoon in Malacca

At a recent live storytelling event, I shared a story about three boys I met on Jalan Ampang, and how that encounter changed my life. I won’t repeat the story here but it ended with a salam and the boys walking away. But wait, what does Ampang have to do with Malacca?

I had spent a few days walking the streets of Malacca, when I found myself on Jalan Tukang Emas on a particularly hot day. The iconic green-tiled roof of Masjid Kampung Kling offered the perfect refuge from the afternoon sun. The Friday prayer crowd had just left, leaving behind small pockets of people deep in conversation, either with friends or with God.

I had been here many times before, and each time I’d find myself daydreaming about the decades and centuries that has passed since the mosque was built in 1748: what else was there around here at the time? The Chinese temple was built a century or so earlier, while the Vinayagar temple would pop up in about four decades. I wondered how the call of prayer sounded like before the age of loud speakers and clocks. No motorcycles or Hello-Kitty trishaws blasting pop songs. No electric pole and cables criss-crossing the sky. What a tragedy that these walls have eyes but no mouth.

Just as I was staring at the minbar, a boy dressed in a dark purple baju melayu stepped into my view. Eh. He stood on the edge of his toes, and threw himself forward onto the floor, before jumping straight back up. Suddenly he started moving his arms and legs as if he was possessed. There was no pattern or style. Not Gangnam, not the Macarena for sure, not to the shuffle or even ‘rave’ or whatever kids these days call dancing. He was soon joined by his brothers, all three of them dancing silently on the carpeted floor, barely making a sound as they shoved each other around.

Like rats looking for morsels of food on the kitchen floor, they ran around the mosque, and through a small door into a small warung before spilling out onto the street. While the older ones picked out their favourite karipap and pisang goreng from the table on the walkway, the youngest one walked towards me.

He asked for my hand, raised it to his forehead, smiled and walked away. His brothers ran after him with tea time goodies nicely packed in brown paper bags. They walked down the main road, past the herd of tourists crowded in front of Chen Hoon Teng Temple. Suddenly one of them stopped and showed off his moves in the middle of the road. Unlike the selfies and FB live-streaming going on around him, he danced for no one but himself.

Like a gang leader rounding up his crew, the eldest called out from between the parked cars, and poof* they disappeared between wooden stilts that made up Kg Ketek, their little kampung in the heart of this ancient city.

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