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This article is taken from PN Review 127, Volume 25 Number 5, May - June 1999.

Theory: a Post-Colonial Excursion John Needham

When we remark that it seems quiet for New Year's Eve, the Indian waiter reminds us that its also the first day of Ramadhan, when any festive eating at all is frowned on by the Islamic community. 'Bunch of hypocrites', he adds laconically - he's already discovered that we're from New Zealand and evidently assumes that we'll be no more sympathetic than himself to Moslem moralising.

In a moment he's taking a critical view of Singaporeans too, coming here flaunting their money more than ever now that the Malaysian ringit is going down. Slight of build, intelligent of mien, and elegant of dress, he seems a little anxious to impress; and it turns out that he's not just a waiter but the manager, and a graduate of a Swiss school for restaurateurs.

His restaurant, serving excellent Malay-Chinese food, is in one of the refurbished shop-houses that are amongst the tourist attractions of 'old Malacca'. Originally built by the the Chinese traders who arrived here in the early fifteenth century, a hundred years before the Portuguese, they're like wind-tunnels designed to funnel any wandering sea-breeze through their seventy-yard-long partitioned interior and out into the street in front; a mixture of east and west, with classical pilasters rising to curled eaves and spiny dragons rampant, and, inside, carved wooden partitions, tiled floors, and sunken areas with pot-plants to catch the rain that comes through the ventilation slits in the roof.

After our Malaysian excursion, I'll ...


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