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Pavle Radonic

Rounding back from a walk after supper the evening of the first day, you saw the old Hainanese place with its dim lights, cavern-like, open onto the street. Muar was another Chinese-dominated town alright. Numerous Chinese eating houses from the early period could be found in any Malaysian town, mostly of a kind. Here, both the floor and walls were untiled, the red plastic stools missing. The last lick of paint had been applied decades before.

After all the high gloss of the Singaporean version, it prompted a stop, late as it was. Minimal furnishings and decorations and, on the left, small cubicles in a row, small wooden enclosures. The place was almost untouched, entirely escaping the renovator's fancy.

The wood of the cubicles had taken a different tone to the render of the walls, a discoloured oyster white, it would be called on the present-day charts. Two, three…. Five tight spaces with single table and chairs. Four or five diners would leave little elbow-room inside those chambers. Soft pink for the frames of the panelling and angled cut-outs added some styling to the entries.

At that hour there were no customers. Five or six other tables sat in the main dining hall. This was a large, wide room that these odd private compartments rather constricted. 

In the days following, lunches would be taken at Kedai New Eastern Restoran, the meal order invariably needing the chap to come out from the kitchen. First attempts by the wife were assayed from four feet distance leaning forward; the woman unable to venture any nearer, and poorly-accented Malay and Chinese left her flustered. As for the locals in Singapore, the failing here the woman felt all on her side.

A portrait of the old founder hung over the register. These reigning spirits commonly presided over the registers in both Indian and Chinese eating houses. The money they had brought into the family ensured the pioneers would be honoured for at least one generation.

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