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.


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

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.

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.

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
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)

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