|If you wish to see all of my Malaysia pictures on one page, without journal entries, go to Malaysia Images. Otherwise, all of my Malaysia pictures are incorporated into my journal, which is divided into 3 sections and begins below with the section on Kuala Lumpur and Melaka:|
|Kuala Lumpur & Melaka||Penang||Other Malaysia|
Friday, December 26, 2003, Jana & I began our 4 week trip to Malaysia, where I would meet her family and she would show me around her native land. Jana is of Chinese heritage, as is about 30-percent of the Malaysian population (over 50-percent is native Malay), perhaps another 10-percent is of Indian heritage (mostly from South India originally, some still speaking Tamil). There are other groups as well, all of which makes for a great combination of cultures, food, and heritage in Malaysia. Jana, growing up Malaysia, is able to speak 3 local dialects of Chinese (Hokkien, Cantonese, and Teochew) in addition to Mandarin, English, and the Malay language (which, itself, is very similar to the Indonesian language). Suffice it to say, one could not have a better traveling partner in Malaysia (though virtually all the locals, are, by necessity, multi-lingual). We departed Washington, DC, 5:30 PM, Friday, and arrived, Kuala Lumpur, about 9 AM Sunday, losing 12 hours passing through time-zones, flying west to east (though Newark, Amsterdam, and Singapore).
Islam is Malaysia’s official religion. I’ve been told (I’m not sure whether correctly) that virtually all native Malays are Muslim, born into that faith under law. I also understand that government policy very strongly encourages tolerance of all faiths and that, by and large, there is no tension in the daily interaction between and among members of the various ethnic and cultural groups that make up Malaysia, though there may be political differences, as the major ethnic groups each tend to support different political parties.
Saturday, December 27, 2003
This morning found us in Amsterdam . . . beautiful early morning . . . beautiful airport scene . . . low sun, blue sky, blue & white KLM planes . . . a wide walkway disembarking from the 747. The first segment, from Newark to Amsterdam on a Singapore Airlines 747, was 6 hours. It will be another 12 hours flying time to Singapore.
Our seats are in row 50, next to the galley, which is in the middle of this part of the passenger cabin. On each side of the galley, the seats are 3 abreast. I notice we are being served by beautiful Asian hostesses in comely blue/gold/paisley ‘uniforms’ [batik-like?] . . . my eyes drawn to the pretty Asian faces, so young and well-formed. I wonder (facetiously?) if Singapore Airlines has a beauty requirement.
Monday morning, December 28, 2003
The 12-hour flight segment from Amsterdam to Singapore went smoothly. As with the first segment, this one, too, was full. One gets into a strange, netherworldy rhythm on these longer flights, as one accepts a seemingly never ending series of airline meals/refreshments, interspersed with periods of sleep and reading and/or movie watching. Time seems to pass slowly, but not disagreeably (at least not as long as one has good books to read or movies to watch). I found I could doze or sleep quite comfortably, despite the wicked AC draft down the galley-narrowed aisle, provided I wore my heavy jacket and wrapped an airline blanket around my neck, scarf-like. Thus I dozed, ‘worked’, and ate with Jana at my side. The sleep mask I got from the attendant was both comfortable, and very effective in blocking out the light from the frequent opening and closing of the curtain to the brightly-lit galley.
We arrived in Singapore at 6:15 AM, Sunday, taking the short 8:45 AM flight to Kuala Lumpur (KL). As we were arriving, I concerned myself with filling out my immigration/customs cards, worrying whether the dried fruit in my self-prepared trail-mix (raisins, pineapple & cranberry) constituted "plant products" of the type to be declared on the form. As we about to deplane, I was telling Jana about my neurotic worries and recalling the time I’d inadvertently brought a banana into England. Just then, there came an announcement over the plane’s PA system: "If there’s a passenger aboard by the name of Keith Stanley or Stanley Keith, please identify yourself to a member of the crew before deplaning." I wondered if they had somehow gotten wind of my fruit smuggling.
It turned out to be worse--we learned that we shouldn’t expect our 4 checked bags to arrive with the flight. We were given directions to an office where we might file a claim. When we found that office to be locked with no response to our knocking, I found a helpful airport guy dealing with luggage on the carousel. He directed me back to the office and found someone to open up and take our claim. We showed them our baggage claims and described our bags in all memorable details, both as to exterior appearance and contents. Their computer check gave no indication as to the present location of our bags, though we were assured that, "99 percent of the time" these things turn up in a few days.
After the hour spent getting our [first] claim filed, we were waived through Customs without inspection (perhaps because they were aware that our checked bags had not arrived?). Later, it bothered me to realize I’d not had the opportunity to ask my question about my dried fruit---just call me "the inadvertent smuggler."
Happily, despite the long delay occasioned by our missing luggage, Jana’s sister (Pat) and brother-in-law (Kean Giap) were still waiting to take us back to their small, 3-bedroom apartment in KL, where we are staying the next four or five days. I am pleased with the relative privacy of our bedroom in their Kuala Lumpur apartment and find I can recharge my computer on their 220V outlet though the use of three adapters in series. We don’t wear footwear in the apartment . . . I like the coolness of the polished marble floors against my feet . . . the apartment is not air-conditioned, except for the bedrooms at night.
The first evening, we had supper at a street vendor’s place in Chinatown (noodles in a tasty sauce with crispy bacon-tasting pork . . . a good value for only a few $’s). After dinner, we strolled the nearby, open-air, night market [Jalan Petaling], where I bought a switch blade knife for it’s novelty value. Jana bought what appeared to be a superior Rolex knock-off for a friend for RM110 (about $30US), with Kean Giap’s expert assurance that it was all but indistinguishable from the real thing.
Kuala Lumpur: Monday evening, December 29, 2003
After sleeping-in a bit late and a good breakfast (beans in a sweetened tomato sauce with eggs, +), KG & Pat dropped Jana & I at KLCC, the large, classy, well-designed mall at the Petronas Towers complex. It has 5 levels, a beautiful, domed skylight atrium (now decorated for Christmas), and all the amenities, including some top-flight stores, two food courts (one specializing in Asian food), and some fine looking Asian restaurants. It also has an excellent Japanese bookstore (Kinokuniya), which is as good as the best Barnes & Noble and more interesting--it has a nearly as extensive collection of English titles as B&N, as well as a large selection of Chinese titles, and others in Japanese, Malay, etc. It also has a café with a view.
After spending much of the afternoon on our feet, Jana & I stopped at [The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf], where Jana had a latte & I had a coffee-mocha ice-blended beverage, better than a Starbuck’s Frappucino [because less sweet (with a sharper coffee undertone and a dark-chocolate’s bitter sweetness). I’m sure I will order this again another time and wonder if it will taste as good on subsequent orderings, or will instead come to taste like the bottom of a coffee cup in which someone has extinguished a cigarette].
With our coffee drinks, we enjoyed the view of the skyline & park in the intermittent, low-angled sunbeams, especially the mesmerizing spray patterns and formations of the plaza’s large dancing fountain. After the Coffee Bean, I found a great value on some good-quality, dressy shirts at the Japanese department store [Isetan?] and bought two. Btw, the mall movie theater shows first run American movies (and some others) for a full-priced adult admission of about 10RM (i.e., 10 ringitt (the Malaysian currency) . . . this translates into less than $3US, so, from my perspective, it is a very good value, though I don't know that I've come all the way to Malaysia to see "Lord of the Rings."
[As an interesting sidelight, while we were at KLCC, there was a parachuting competition going on. Each competitor would jump, one at a time, from one of the higher levels of one of the Petronas Towers (maybe about 900' up?), free-falling 4 or 5 seconds before popping his chute. The chute was a controllable, wing-like thing, reminiscent of hang-glider, allowing a gliding, controlled descent. Each contestant would try to come as close as possible to landing on a target spot, which was made more difficult by the sometimes blustery winds.]
At around 8pm, our hosts treated us to a six-course dinner at one of the better Chinese restaurants . . . this was a truly fine meal, with six main dishes served (whole steamed fish, shrimp waldorf salad, venison, ostrich, tofu & vegetables). The tofu, homemade on the premises, very soft and in a subtle sauce, was, no doubt, the best I’d ever had. After dinner, they took us to KL’s "Golden Triangle" area, allowing us some time to walk through this area of upscale nightlife, which boasts a goodly amount of neon and other brightly colored lights, as well as a number of shopping malls. Back at home, we enjoyed an aperitif of mandarin orange and coconut juice.
Tuesday, December 30
Jana & I began the day with KG’s guided tour of some Kuala Lumpur highlights: Lake Gardens (a beautifully peaceful park of some 92 hectares, including the separate Orchid Garden & Hibiscus Garden), the National Mosque, the old railroad station, the National Monument, Parliament, etc. After that, KG dropped Jana & me at the Central Market, where we looked at the batik & other wares and had lunch at Ginger’s (Malay cuisine - good).
Wednesday, December 31
This morning, Jana, Pat & sons, and I had a fine dim sum at a local restaurant, then dropping me off at KLCC. Before entering the mall, I checked out the entrance and lobby area of the Petronas Towers (some neat architecture/design) & took a few pictures. There is a public observation ‘deck’ on the 'Skybridge' joining the two towers (at about the 41st floor level), but the tickets for today (free) had all already been claimed by the time I inquired. I again visited The Coffee Bean, KLCC, finding that their mocha ice-blended beverage most certainly did not taste like the bottom of a cigaretted coffee cup.
Later, as I left the mall, I got a good parting shot of the Petronas Towers & Skybridge at night, before meeting Jana & our hosts, who again took us to dinner. Afterwards, we stopped at the Palace of Culture (performing arts building) and the art museum to stroll and appreciate their architectural beauty & form, as lit at night.
As an aside, I have to say that I’m getting more and more comfortable at our host’s apartment, appreciating some of its design features. I especially like the marble floors, so smooth, cool & soothing on the bare feet. Marble floors are very practical in a tropical climate, where most residences are not routinely air-conditioned--we don’t wear shoes inside the house. [Our hosts do have air-conditioning in the bedrooms at night, which is much appreciated.]
Another interesting feature is that the kitchen and bathroom floors are slightly recessed, each with one or more drains in the floor. The floors are washed regularly and the typical method of doing so involves tipping a whole bucket of soapy water over the floor, then washing and rinsing down the drain. This apparently is typical not just for residences . . . in the Chinese restaurant where we had dim sum yesterday, the men’s ‘powder room’ was being cleaned when I used it . . . I tiptoed, in my rubber-soled shoes, through abundant flowing waters that had just been spilled.
Maria, our host’s maid (who is from Indonesia on a two-year contract) washes the clothes, first by soaking them in a tub of soapy water for a couple of hours, then removing and scrubbing with a brush, if necessary. After the wash and scrub, the clothes are soaked in the tub (clean water), several successive tubfuls, until rinsed clean, with each tub of water being poured out on the washroom floor to flow down the drain after its use. The shower in the bathroom is much the same . . . there is no shower curtain, though there is a raised lip delimiting what might be considered the ‘stall area.’ Still, a goodly amount of water gets on the floor outside the ‘stall,’ to flow down the floor’s separate drain . . . after a shower, a squeegee would come in handy to push excess water toward the drain, but I’ve not seen one in the bathroom here. A pair of dry shower slippers are kept by the entrance to the bathroom for use by anyone who wants to keep his or her feet dry when using the bathroom.
Thursday, January 1, 2004
Today we visited Melaka:
Melaka (formerly Malacca) has a rich history. After the arrival of Hindu Prince Parameswara, in the early 1400s, Melaka developed as a strategically located trading port, midway between China and India on the straights of Melaka, through which much of the Indonesian spice trade passed. Bi-annual monsoon winds, one easterly and one westerly, greatly facilitated trade between Melaka and the east coast of India, as well as other trade in the region.
China, perhaps the preeminent seafaring nation at that time, established relations with Prince Parameswara, offering protection against Siamese attack and securing a port to serve trade between China and India. With China’s protection and influence came a substantial number of Chinese settlers, the first Chinese to arrive in what is now Malaysia. Many of the Chinese merchants took Malay wives, with a resulting fusion of cultures, their descendants becoming known as ‘Straits Chinese’ or, alternatively, as Peranakan or as Baba (male) and Nyonya (female).
The Melaka-India trade brought Muslim traders to Melaka from the west. The third ruler of Melaka, Maharaja Mohammad Shaw converted to Islam, and his son made Islam the state religion, taking the title of Sultan. Under the Melaka sultans in the latter half of the 1400s, Melaka became the premier entrepôt (trading center) of Southeast Asia, attracting many Muslim-Indian merchants, and becoming the major agent for the spread of Islam throughout the Indonesian Archipelago. This era of major influence was relatively short-lived, however, rapidly declining under the Portuguese occupation that began early in the 1500s, as the Islamic traders found friendlier ports of call elsewhere.
Portuguese influence was minimized by the growing Dutch presence and strength in the Indonesian region, with outright control of Melaka passing to the Dutch in 1643. The Dutch controlled Melaka for 150 years or so, until the British took over in a territorial swap in which Holland received the Sumatran port of Bencoolen. The region remained in British hands (except for a brief, unwelcome intrusion by the Japanese during WWII) until Malaysian independence in 1957. Melakaan history serves as a ready example of the manner in which Malaysia came to encompass diverse cultural elements.
I was not in a good mood the day we visited Melaka, which may color my perceptions, but I found Melaka’s present day incarnation not to live up to Melaka’s rich history. I did, however, take a keen interest in the part of town reflecting Peranakan culture, taking some pictures of a few of the traditional Peranakan shopfronts.
Being as we were out and about on our feet quite a bit on a typically hot & humid, sunny day, I was generally miserable . . . getting tired and hungry as the day stretched on . . . dreaming of getting back home to a nice shower. Yet, having come to Melaka, I didn’t want to miss whatever there might be to see. Nor did I want to make a fuss, as our hosts had changed their plans in order to show us Melaka.
Continue to Part2: Penang.
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