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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Malaysia tour diary V

This is the last of the tour diary pieces. Links to earlier ones and two related pieces:

* Malaysia, Truly Asia - Read here
* Shoppers head for Malaysia - Read here
* Malaysia tour diary I - Read here
* Malaysia tour diary II - Read here
* Malaysia tour diary III - Read here
* Malaysia tour diary IV - Read here


Devotees offer prayers inside the St Paul's church, Malacca.



Most police stations typically have blue roof.

BABAS AND NYONYAS

Immigration of Chinese to Malaysia goes back to the visits of Ming dynasty’s Admiral Cheng Ho to Malacca. His fist visit was in 1405-07 when he also came up to Kerala, India. One of the Ming dynasty rulers of China, eager to expand ties, is said to have sent his daughter Hang Li Po (Hang Libao) to Malacca. There is no clarity as to which emperor’s daughter was Li Po. One view that she is the daughter of Yongle is disputed. But it is known that she was married to the Malaysian sultan Mansur Shah, the great grandson of Parameswara.

This girl and about 500 others who also got married to Malay officials are considered to be the first Chinese immigrants in Malaysia. They later married among the same group and gave rise to a mixed Chinese-Malay breed called Peranakan, the male called Baba and female Nyonya. They adopted local customs like dresses and language, but largely kept their style of marriage.

A Nyonya in her typical dress

Given their ability to adapt easily, during British rule they learnt English and occupied many administrative positions. They are quite western and most of them affluent businessmen. While many nyonyas have taken to typical Malaysian dresses, their marriage customs are typically Chinese. Their language, Baba Malay, is now getting slowly extinct with only some elderly people speaking.

A Baba-Nyonya restaurant.

BABA FOOD

The Baba-Nyonya restaurants are immaculately decorated inside, food is yummy and the hosts are courteous and affable. The food is very close to the Indian style while retaining the Chinese flavour. It is, I am told, a fusion of typical Malay and Chinese cuisine. It is spicy.

STADTHUYS

This was the official residence of the Dutch governor and his officers. A typical example of Dutch architecture, it was built in 1650. The Stadthuys in Malacca was the state town hall, official functions used to be held during Dutch rule. Today it is a museum that showcases the entire Malaysian history, customs and traditions. It’s very exhaustive and takes at least two
to three hours to go around it completely and appreciate the full extent of the exhibition.

One of them (pictured above) caught my eye. In the wedding and family section, there is a replica of the bedroom where typically a Baba and Nyonya spent their night, possibly nuptial night. What struck me was beside the double bed, there is another one. Why three? No one seemed to have a clear answer, though one tourist said it could be in symbolic anticipation of the first child.


FOUNDING OF MALACCA

At the Stadthuys museum, there is a painting (pictured above) that shows the widely held origin of Malacca. The popular legend has it that Malacca was founded by Parameswaran, a prince who had fled Sumatra in 1377. He reached the port of Malacca around 1400. He was apparently taking rest under a tree. He noticed that one of his hunter dogs was chasing a deer. But
what he found amazing was that the deer had in fact managed to push the dog into the river. The triumph of the weak was taken by Parameswara as a good omen and decided to stay on. He later changed his name to Megat Iskandar Shah.

A prayer in progress at the Cheng Hoon temple

CHENG HOON TEMPLE

You thought the Chinese are all Communists and there is no religion. Wrong. Founded in mid-1600s, this is Malaysia’s oldest Chinese temple (pictured above), located at Jalan Tokong and covers 4,600 sq metres. It propagates San Chiao or the Three Doctrinal System of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. There are a number of traditional Chinese rituals. The carvings and figurines are stunningly beautiful. All the materials used in the construction were brought from China. Unlike Indian temples photography is allowed here and many tourists were seen happily clicking away. The temple has won a Unesco award for outstanding architectural restoration.

The typical house of Chinese tribesman


SUNWAY LAGOON PARK

This water theme park (pictured above), spread over 30 acres, was once a mine! It was set up in 1993 and is a big tourist attraction in KL. There are three parts to it: Waters of Africa, Wild Wild West and World of Adventure. The last section has the world's longest suspension pedestrian bridge of 428 m and offers a beautiful view of of the whole lagoon. Today, in celebration of tomorrow's Independence day, a 'My Nation' Merdeka Countdown Party at Sunway Lagoon Theme Park.

A majestic creation outside the park

HOP ON HOP OFF CITY TOUR BUSES
Introduced in the end of last year, these luxurious doubledecker buses (pictured above) go around 40 tourists attractions in KL. Tourists can take a ticket and use the bus to hop on and hop off at tourists spots.

BATU CAVES
This is an amazing place, a little over 10 km from KL. There are at least three caves big and small, which were discovered in 1892. The caves are of limestone 400m long and 100m high. You need to climb 272 steps to reach the caves. This comes alive in January during Thaipusam festival.
The entrance to Batu Caves complex, the steps can be seen behind the statue
Inside the first part of the cave. There is another set of steps to the second part.

A view of the entrance to the caves from inside.


NATIONAL MONUMENT
The National Monument, called the Tugu Negara (pictured above), commemorates war heroes who sacrificed their lives for the cause of Malaysian freedom. This is near the parliament building. Interestingly, in 1966, when this was constructed, there was no good Malaysian sculptor, and this was designed by the renowned American sculptor Felix de Weldon.
In the nearby building, on the roof are replicas of all regiments which took part in the wars and one is from the Jalalabad, India: seen in the photo above, the one on top right.


OLD RAILWAY STATION
This was once the hub of rail transport, till KL got its Metrorail and Monorail, and then the KL Sentral station came up. This one built in 1910 is a tourist spot now. Many trains do pass but not many stop. This has snack kiosks, money changing booths, souvenir shops, and rest houses.

MERDEKA SQUARE

It was here (pictured above) that exactly 50 years ago, on August 31, 1957, the Union Jack was lowered and Malaysian flag was hoisted. There is a 100m told flag post. Earlier, it was called Selangor Club field and for the British during those days this was a central point from where every important place could be accessed. Now, concerts, carnivals etc take place here.

On our way to Putrajaya, we looked for a place to have food. I had no doubts: I had already fallen in love with Baba-Nyonya food, and I suggested their restaurant, seen above.

PUTRAJAYA
This expansive capital city, around 25 km from Kuala Lumpur, spread over 4,931 hectares is still under construction, and when it is done in another 5 to 6 years, it's going to look majestic. Already it is! A good part of it is natural, comprising lush green landscape, and lots of water bodies and wetlands. The plan to have a capital city was first mooted in 1980 and in the next decade work began. It now houses government complexes, parks, eateries, shopping complexes.
This is one of the bridges that was photographed during a river cruise in Putrajaya.

On our drive back to the airport, at the end of the week-long tour, in one area of the Expressway, I counted 12 lanes, 6 on either side!
The landscape of Malaysia bears close resemblance to that of India. But what struck me most was the amazing amount of infrastructure work that is going on. And, secondly, the warmth of the local people. The society, that is predominantly Muslim, is so diverse, but the at the same time, is a model to the whole world for its inter-racial cordiality, tolerance and broadmindedness.
Malaysia, truly Asia. It was a memorable trip there. Would love to be back in Malaysia!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Malaysia tour diary IV

Read Part I here
Read Part II here
Read Part III here


EYE ON MALAYSIA

This is modelled on the London Eye. This giant wheel comprises 42 gondolas (cabins) and during the 15-minute ride at the maximum height of 60 metres one gets a beautiful overview of Kuala Lumpur.

The Eye on Malaysia from the entrance
The laser show at Eye on Malaysia
Avoid getting on the Eye on Malaysia wheel at night, because one can’t see anything other than dots of lights. This was inaugurated on January 6 this year as part of Malaysia’s 50th year of Independence celebrations. The park is a good place to spend some time, especially watching the laser show.
ROADSIDE EATERIES

There are plenty of them in Kuala Lumpur, and they come alive at night. One of them, on Doraiswamy Street in KL, is well-known for mutton soup. A very unique feature I found there was this: small plantain-leaf packets of rice and curry are kept on each table, and one can just unpack them and start eating before even ordering anything: a real blessing if one is too tired and hungry. At restaurants one is asked for “what drink?” before any dish is ordered. The practice seems to be linked to one ordering liquor before meals. So, even fruit juice or soft drinks or tea or coffee is served before ordering of meals.
A popular roadside eatery on Doraiswamy Street in KL.
The Indian restaurants, which are found in plenty, are locally called ‘Mama stalls’. Unlike Chinese, Japanese or Korean restaurants, Indian ones serve all varieties of food. One finds a mixture of all races among customers in an Indian restaurant.
JEBAT, THE MUSICIAN

We met Jebat, one of the local musicians, at a roadside eatery on Doraiswamy Street. He landed up there on a bike. And in dramatic staccato movements, took out his guitar to which a mouthorgan was attached. He pulled up a chair on which he kept a small bag for people to place their offerings, and he began playing a few very pleasant numbers with lilting rhythm.
Jebat
This 36-year self-taught musician has been playing on the streets like this for 19 years and gets an average of RM 40 (Approx Rs 450) a day. He works at an office during the day.
Heading to Malacca
MALACCA

If Kuala Lumpur is all concrete and congestion, Malacca is steeped in history and folklore. It’s 120 km southeast of KL and 250 north of Singapore, provides an amazing glimpse of the 600-year old history that saw waves of rulers starting with Malacca sultanate, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, the Japanese and the British again.

On the way, we got into a restaurant for breakfast. I found this cat there.

Strait of Malacca


PORTUGUESE SETTLEMENT

Malacca has a separate enclave for people of Portuguese descent. Only such people can own land there. It’s a government initiative to recognise the Portuguese connection and ensure that they are not left out in Malaysia. The Portuguese were among the first foreign occupiers having defeated the Malacca sultanate in 1511.
A typical old house in the Portuguese settlement of Malacca.

Aloysius De Mello and his wife at their renovated house.
Aloysius De Mello and his family live in this settlement. He is about 70 years old and is a retired veterinarian. They don’t even remember from which generation they have been in Malacca, and have totally lost all contacts with their country of origin. They speak Kristang (a combination of Malay-Portuguese), English and Malay. He says the number of settlers has increased over the years and the government has built more apartments for them. Many of the traditional Portuguese-style houses have been rebuilt in modern style. The whole place was getting decked up for the St Pedro festival from June 21 to 30.
A'Famosa
A'FAMOSA
This is perhaps the most photographed monument in Malacca. Why not? A small arch is all that remains of a huge fortress that Alfonso de Albuquerque built after conquering Malacca in 1511. It’s atop a hill that overlooks the sea.
Ben
BEN, THE ARTIST
He has been atop this hill, he says, for the past 30 years sketching the history of Malacca and selling them. He has been to an art college and has seen the growth of this tourist destination. He says in the '90s there was lot of demand for sketches, but now it has declined due to availability of photos-postcards.
(To be concluded tomorrow)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Malaysia tour diary III

Read Part I here
Read Part II here

KUANTAN RIVER CRUISE

It’s a good get-away from the roads in Kuantan, which is the capital city of Pahang state. It is on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, about 170 miles east of Kuala Lumpur and 215 miles north of Singapore. The cruise takes you along the lush 500-year-old mangrove forest, a swampy area of 339 hectares. There is a long walkway into the lush enclave of greenery. It’s a great feeling to there.

At the entrance to the Kuantan Esplanade


A view of the city during the river cruise


The mangrove forest

During the cruise one can see lot of boats and a fishing village. From a 40-meter tall tower one can get a good overview of the forest. There is a tourist guide who will assist the visitor during the cruise.

TELUK CEMPADAK

Perhaps the most popular beach in Kuantan, 5 km from the town. Pristine and expansive, there are many good restaurants and plenty of places to just sit or walk around and enjoy the steady breeze from the South China Sea. One can see people flying attractively designed kites. The beach is said to be a good one for surfing, sailing and jet-skiing. Nearby is a forest reserve, through which one can reach Pelindung beach.
The beach at Teluk Cempadak on the South China Sea
SALTED FISH

This is one of the specialties of Kuantan. We saw one, which was locally called Moiheong, or something to that effect. Apparently it is available only in Kuantan. One can get fried fish crackers called keropok. They are like our potato chips, both salty and non-salty and available in ready-to-eat format in packets of various sizes.

Various varieties of ready-to-eat fish-based products like crackers
The Berjaya Megamall in the heart of Kuantan.

Heading out of Kuantan on east coast back to Kuala Lumpur on west coast.


On the highway there are a number of rest houses where one can take a break.


The roads are unbeatable and the natural beauty breathtaking.


DOWNTOWN KL

Imposing highrises, flyovers, vehicles and people: one could get claustrophobic in KL. But that’s the way all big cities are. The Petronas Towers is the world’s largest twin towers at 453 metres. Interestingly, its architecture is a mixture of Malay, Chinese, and Indian styles: quite representative of the society.
The Petronas Towers, the most famous landmark in KL.


It's difficult to get a good pix of the twin towers in one frame on an ordinary camera.

The Kuala Lumpur City (Convention) Centre which once was a golf course. The twin towers is on one part of the KLCC.
While the twin towers are very visible, some 10-minute walk from there is a must-see underwater aquatic park could easily be missed. It is below the Suria mall at the KL Convention Centre. The park, that has anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 animals, has simulations of misty mountains, rivers, rainforests and mangroves.

But what stops you in your tracks is the 90-metre long underwater tunnel. The breathtaking encounter with some amazing water animals is otherwise possible only for underwater divers. One can see baby sharks and stingrays glide over the head. Because of lighting and lot of glass, you will need a good camera to avoid reflections and glare. There is a turtle conservation programme and one can adopt a turtle.

Jalan Petaling or the Petaling Street, commonly called the Chinese market. Everything is available but bargain well.

Just a little away is a Hindu temple, one of the oldest in KL.
(To be continued tomorrow)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Malaysian tour diary II

On August 31, Malaysia celebrates its golden jubilee of Independence. In the run-up to that momentous occasion, I will be posting the remaining parts of my tour diary. Though I visited this nation -- that is well known for its impressive infrastructure, cultural tolerance and tourism -- in mid-June, I delayed publication of the remainder of the tour account, so that I could time it with the Golden Jubilee of Independence. Read Part I of the diary here.

GENTING TUNNEL

During our drive from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan -- from west coast to east coast of the island nation -- we passed through the Genting Sempah Tunnel.

A view of the Genting tunnel

It is Malaysia’s first ever highway tunnel. It’s about 900 metres long and is on the Karak Expressway. It connects Gombak in Selangor to Genting Sempah, Pahang. This tunnel was constructed between 1977 and 1979. The landscape on either sides of the highway is breathtakingly beautiful.


Driving into Kuantan town

CHERATING MONKEY
After reaching Kuantan town we went to Cherating, about 50 km from Kuantan. It is a quiet holiday destination especially for those who love surfing. It has lot of pubs, restaurants, beach resorts and paying guest accommodation for tourists.
At Cherating, we visited a recreation and training centre run by the tourism ministry. There we saw Cherating monkeys that are unique to the area. They are of aggressive breed but are tamed by separating them from parents at an early stage. These smart short-tailed macaques are trained to spot and pluck coconuts.

On a command from the owner it climbs the coconut tree, identifies the ripe ones for plucking and drops them on to the ground.

The monkeys are rewarded with coconut water. An owner of the monkey collects on an average 50 to 100 coconuts a day and they are sold.

GASING URI
At the centre, we were shown this game played with gasing uri, which is nothing but spinning a top. But it’s no child’s play. A traditional folk sport of Kelantan state, it was once played by farmers after harvest.
A rope is tied around the top that is of the size of a plate and weighs at least 3 kg.

After tying the rope around the top, Ali hurls it forward as Mat is ready to scoop it up.

It is hurled forwards and as it lands on the ground, another person scoops it up with a wooden bat and transfers it on to a metal plate mounted on a wooden post.

The top keeps spinning sometimes for as long as 3 hours, depending upon how well they are carved and polished. The team that has its top spin the longest wins the game. The government is trying its best to popularise this game.

BAMBOO HANDICRAFT
Mats made of bamboo are very common. Bamboo is first softened by scrubbing with a knife, then it is dexterously weaved into different shapes and then painted. Very simple but attractive creations they are.
Zainun Abdullah making different articles with bamboo
BATIK ART
This is nothing new to an Indian. In fact, the art form is today global. Indonesia is considered the cradle of Batik that is over a millennium old, though some people say it came there from India. It is a relatively new entrant to Malaysia though having been popularised by Chuah Thean Teng, one of the renowned painters of Malaysia.
It’s a very intricate art work done in various ways, one of which is this: first, a rough art work is done with a pencil. Wax is then applied over it using a pen. Dye is applied. At places where the wax has seeped into the fabric, the dye does not take effect.
The wax is then removed. What gives the painting the effect is the contrast between the waxed and dyed areas. The quality of the fabric that determines how well the wax penetrates it is crucial.
Ahmea Yazid, affectionately called Ayam, displays the end product. He teaches this art in the institute.
(To be continued)