Right across the border from Singapore is Johor Barhu, a busy, messy little city that has a place in my heart for two reasons now. The first reason is that when I cycled across Asia, Johor Barhu is where I finished ( I flew out of Singapore to go home, but because it is impossible to cycle on the highway linking the two cities, I finished cycling there). This time I wound up in the same hotel I stayed in last time. Because it was Lunar New Year, they couldn’t give me a refurbished room, or a discount, but they did remember me. And the air conditioner worked most of the time.
The second reason it will have a place in my heart is that I finally got to see the lion dance and the dragon dance. As a major fan of Hong-Kong Kung Fu movies, I’ve always wanted to see the lion dance done live. Well, I’ve been in Shanghai, Hong-Kong, and Taiwan during a lunar new year, and what do you know, I see the dance in a mall in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Who would have thought that? Plus the food is pretty awesome– banana leaf curry rice, (served on the leaf, you don’t actually eat it) and a whole street filled with little stalls for every kind of food you can think of, and a few foods you never did think of, and a few more foods you probably wish you had never thought of.
After Johor Barhu I went on to Melaka, one of the historic towns, where I took a river cruise, walked several miles (or at least it felt like that) had some sugar cane juice, and walked some more. Much of Melaka was closed because of the lunar new year, so I didn’t see as much as I wanted to, but one of the things I loved about it was the huge wall murals on all the new buildings, and the ‘enduring beauty’ display in the museum that I went into to beat the heat, but unfortunately had a broken air conditioner.
I’m not really wanting the cold and snow, but….
After Melaka I had planned to go to Ipoh, and I bought my ticket, and then they changed the ticket, and made me wait, and then changed the ticket again, and I waited some more in the Melaka bus terminal. That is far away enough from everywhere that leaving for a short while would be just a bit impractical. Well, I finally got on the bus, and promptly fell asleep.
I woke up in Butterworth, a town that for some reason made me think of pancakes. It was 6 am. I had slept through Ipoh. At Butterworth is the ferry to Georgetown, another historic town that I hadn’t originally planned on visiting, but thought, since I’m already here, why not? I got a small little room in a dusty little hotel, with one of the friendliest hotel owners I’ve met yet. And that is saying a lot, as the hotel owners here tend to be pretty friendly.
I walked around Georgetown, and saw the elegantly decaying buildings in neighborhoods that are starting to tart up the old things. But other than the curry, and walking around the old buildings, the only other thing to do in Georgetown is shop, but I’ve found that most of the things are the same or similar to what is in Thailand. Some of the Batik in Melaka was truly gorgeous, and they did have some great artists there, but Georgetown was just a tourist town. So one day was enough I think.
Especially since every time I look at some of the jewelry or hair ornaments, they look a lot like what I can find in Seoul. And as I was thinking that, the woman at the stall said “You like it? It is Korean style”
I felt kind of proud, that Korean style is now a selling point in Malaysia. Apparently Korea has come out in the world, as even here in Ipoh, a small dusty little town, there are posters for Korea – sparkling! and flights to Seoul at the travel agencies, and in Singapore and here in Malaysia at many of the parks and sights, not only are the signs in Chinese and English, but also now in Korean.
Even though I am not Korean, I do love my adopted home. I have mixed feelings about the Korean signs and advertisements to go visit Korea. Part of me is kind of proud, and happy that Korea is finally taking its place in the spotlight of the world. Part of me felt a selfish sadness, because I liked that Korea was my secret treasure, a place not so many people knew about.
At least this way, when I get a hunger for kimchi, I won’t have to suffer for very long.