Yesterday was my birthday. To celebrate 42 consecutive trips around the sun without dying, my family took me into downtown Melaka to do some touristy stuff. I know, I know…a lot of the local expats poo-poo doing tourist stuff. The way I see it, I didn’t come all this way to not do all the Melaka things there are to do in Melaka. Besides, people with that “it’s not cool enough to be fun” attitude end up having less fun. We headed into town with the goal of checking out this tall sailing vessel we’d passed a few times on other expeditions.
The process of getting to any particular location in Melaka is as follows:
- Step One: Drive until you can see it
- Step Two: Drive until you find parking. This will take longer than you expect, as both traffic and parking are unforgiving here.
- Step Three: Figure out if you’re paying the city, a business or some other entity for the right to put your car in that particular place. It’s confusing, and there are shakedown scams based on tricking you into thinking you got a parking ticket. These are often run by local security guards.
- Step Four: Walk to your destination, alert for coolness and the odd impending traffic catastrophe as you go.
We wound down some narrow streets flanked by buildings from the colonial period – 15th century or so — still looking very Renaissance but with air conditioning units in every other window, and we found our tall ship without taking even one wrong turn. This was a family first.
The ship itself is on dry land, a model built to resemble Portuguese trading vessels from the period. The interior had been converted into a really nifty maritime history museum that covers the history of Melaka’s trading from its founding as a port, to its century or so as the most important shipping center in the region, through the Dutch, Portuguese, British, Japanese and second British occupations, into modern independent rule.
I dig history, and really enjoyed the slice-of-life images the exhibits painted. They did a good job of evoking the sense of Melaka’s busy markets back in a time before Europe and Asia even knew they were only half of the world. I was especially struck by the variety. During its heyday, a year in Melaka’s port saw hundreds of:
- Ships pass through each month, of different nationalities and designs
- Languages spoken regularly in port, including many extinct today
- Varieties of trade goods exchanged, from fine china to pottery to textiles to spice
- Different types of currency in use, ranging from stamped coins to small jade statues
- Tons of water and food taken on to sustain crews as they moved on to their next destination
After enjoying the interpretive cards, paintings, maps and dioramas, we headed off to dinner. Bev had a general destination in mind so we meandered toward it. On the way, we found our first Bonus Garden of Melaka.
When Bev and I were in China, we spent each day walking from one great and famous place to another. Almost every day, we would stumble through a park between Points A and B that was far niftier than either of the destinations we had planned to visit. For example, between the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, we walked through an enormous park where classes ranging from tai chi, to ballroom dance, to badmitton were taking place on this broad flagstone path. We dubbed them “Bonus Gardens” and use the term to this day.
The Bonus Garden in Melaka rested at the nexus of three major markets. It sat, landscaped and dotted with benches and play equipment, between a high canopy of shade trees. Their trunks wound in that sinuous jungle tree way, forming nooks and crooks to climb or rest in. The smells, music, and other sounds of the surrounding city wafted through along with a cool evening breeze.
Bev and DJ were hungry, so they dragged us out sooner than I wanted for a dinner of blisteringly spicy seafood soup, saffron fried rice and chicken satay with peanut sauce (All meals Gabe attends must include chicken stay. Left unsupervised he would eat the entire national supply). We washed it down with coconut water straight from the coconut, and pronounced the evening a success. Then we went back to the Bonus Garden.
Because here’s the thing about Bonus Gardens.
Normally, I’m a big believer in staying goal-oriented. The life I live and the things I’ve done wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t. But Bonus Gardens are important. They’re opportunities you find between your destination and your starting point…and more often than not they make up your favorite memories, best stories and most important lessons. Remaining on point, but also alert for Bonus Gardens, is a key aspect of Kicking Ass. Ask yourself:
- How often do you find out later that you missed an opportunity because you were overly focused on what you thought you wanted?
- How often did your goal in that case not work out?
- How many of your best friends were people you set out to meet, as opposed to those you ran into along the way?
- What percentage of the best things in your life are there because of a random chance instead of an established plan?
- If you went back in time and asked yourself of 20 years ago what he/she thought your life would be like today, would he or she even be able to guess?
I’m not saying the existence and importance of Bonus Gardens mean you shouldn’t aim for and eventually reach your original goal. I’m saying you should remain alert for Bonus Gardens, enjoy them for what they are, and return to them when you have time to give them the attention they deserve. It’s a balancing act, I admit, but one well worth becoming good at.
One final thing about Bonus Gardens. They are everywhere, all the time. If you’re missing them it’s because you’re looking too hard straight forward and not taking time to look side-to-side. Either that, or you’re still on the couch without a Point B to strive for.
When I was first in Japan for my 13-year stay, I was in Osaka for a couple of months. In the core downtown area I was wandering in the streets off the main grid, turned a corner, and there in a tiny plot was a full Japanese Buddhist temple, complete with pillars, incense burners, a gilded canopy, a purification font with a dragon statue — a totally random moment of serenity — and I actually went back a number of times — I was proud that I actually FOUND it again. Anyone who has been in Japan knows that off the main grid is the land of insanely wandering allies with no apparent rhyme or reason!