Saturday 25 December 2010

Ten Tales from Malaysia

This is now VERY belated since I was there a month ago! But, I finally feel rested enough to finish working on this only took a week of holiday.

1. Flag.

The Malaysian flag and the slogan, 1 Malaysia, is everywhere. I really like the flag and I was impressed by how proud they are of it, until somebody explained to me that there are some racial tensions in the country between the native Malay, who make up about 70% of the population, and the Indians and Chinese. Now the flag and the slogan seem like a propaganda exercise by the government to whitewash over any disunity. However, I won't tire of seeing it in a hurry.

2. Islamic Art.

Of necessity, a great deal of publicly displayed art is made up of repeating patterns and geometric shapes, since Islam does not permit portraits of the Prophet. This is right up my allet: I love patterns and shapes and find it absolutely fascinating. Even the drain covers have these kinds of intrcate curlicues and I could look at it for hours. This picture (above) is from the Islamic Museum in KL which I can definitely recommend visiting. The red pattern is simply to serve as a background to the items being displayed, but I found it more beautiful.
I was the kid who was addicted to her Spirograph, you know.

The other thing about this is that it makes me realise how much decoration is based on religion. Without saints and gargoyles and stained glass reliefs of Bible scenes, my world would look a lot different.

3. Pangkor Island.

Absolutely idyllic, and way off the beaten track. This would require an internal flight or several hours on a bus from KL, and it's not really set up for western tourists: they serve rice and curry for breakfast, for example (breakfast is usually a good example of who the hotel is aimed at, imo. They had eggs and a toaster but that was it for weaternised food. Fine with me!) But, for adventurers, this is the place. The first day we went to the beach and had a splash around by some rocks which turned out to be covered in razor sharp rocks. On the second day, we took little pink taxis to an old Dutch Fort and walked through some jungle for 20 minutes, whereupon we magically arrived at the beach above. It was deserted, and stunning.

Apparently this is where Pavarotti comes on holiday. I can see why.

Gratuitous extra picture of me from the Dutch Fort. One of our student mentors took it from the side without me knowing while I was posing for my own camera and I loooove it.

4. Monkeys.

When I went to Malaysia in the summer we visited Batu Caves, a Hindu holy place on the outskirts of KL, where there were lots of (very cheeky) monkeys who were delighting the tourists by drinking out of their water bottles and trying to steal their handbags and so on. This trip, we didn't see any until the last day, when we heard some rustling from the rubbish which had been unceremoniously dumped in a clearing behind the Fort. It turned out a family of monkeys were having a good rummage. They were very shy and it made me think of the foxes that come and forage round our garden, only far more exotic.

5. The Petronas Towers/KLCC

It wasn't until I saw some Formula 1 Mr Z was watching that I realised Petronas is a petrol company and suddenly it didn't sound as exotic anymore, but the Petronas Towers are still a sight to behold and a great place to go shopping, even if it can only be of the window variety. Most of the shops are Western designer types but there's a good Japanese department store there, and the food court is amazing. They also have dancing fountains outside.

This picture of them is part of a mosaic at the HSBC building, where we went for some leadership training.

To really appreciate the towers, you have to see them lit up at night. This isn't hard if you happened to be there early evening since Malaysia doesn't experience a long drawn out dusk, being so close to the equator; last year we went in and it was sunny, and came out an hour later to pitch dark. This meant I managed to get this video of them on the coach back:

6. The heat.

This picture doesn't really convey it, I know, but it is pretty - dawn from my room.
My room was the hottest of all the rooms, since the air conditioner didn't work. After a day or two I went and told someone, who came and partially fixed it, but even then it only worked for about 10 minutes; and it was trying to cool an apartment of four bedrooms so neither it nor I stood a chance. I got used to showering several times a day. The student accommodation we were in was clean but very basic and the showers only offered cold water, which was not such a problem due to the heat.
The humidity was unbearable at times, and even though we didn't have any rain for most of the week I found myself wishing for it just to clear the air a little.
We did see a couple of vivid thunder storms during the week over the hills.

7. Tea.

The Cameron Highlands are the main growing area for tea in Malaysia and the Boh Tea Plantation is the biggest. I made a whole post about how lovely it is up there so I won't go on about it too much, except to say that I brought loose leaf tea back with me, and I intend to drink it sitting at my little table in the back garden when it gets warm enough to breakfast outside, which will be perfect.

8. Impressive commitment.
This is my second visit to the College who hosted us, and I was again impressed with the tenacity and motivation shown by the college students. They work ridiculously hard and their aim is to do the best they possibly can. It's not like school here, where being bad at something is cool. This is mostly because the students we're working with are sponsored by companies through their A-levels and then onto British or American universities, and have to work hard to earn this sponsorship; but it is still refreshing to see it and I like that it rubs off on our pupils too. They really see education as their ticket to a better future.

I also find them to be extraordinarily respectful, though one of the teachers explained to me that Malaysia is not a meritocracy and instead older means better (I cannot, for the life of me, find the -ocracy for that). So, by dint of my advanced age, I automatically earned the respect of the students. Bonus! This didn't stop two of the college students mistaking me for a fellow sixth form student during my stay though - double bonus.

9. Diwali.

This year, Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, was on November 5th; the college had a tragedy in November though, and postponed their celebrations to the final week of term, which was great for us because it meant that we got to take part.

There was a LOT of dancing, in pairs and groups, culminating in a mass dance on the stage where my pupils rushed to join in, which was really pleasing - some of the girls surprised us by borrowing traditional outfits from their hosts and dressing the part. There were traditional Indian snacks and a drink that tasted of Turkish delight, and there were henna booths at the back so I had some beautiful hennaing done on my hand.

Some of the boys got hold of the henna after that and drew fake Mum tattoos on their arms, and they went a bit made with it, which was a kind of cultural clash! The girl who drew one of the boy's names in a heart on her arm seemed to regret it a little the next day when we visited HSBC and she was wearing short sleeves, though, I think.

10. Some positive to Empire, after all.
As a History teacher, and a Brit, I have a fairly low opinion of empire, and the British Empire in particular. I think there are a huge number of stories that can be told that cast the BE in a negative light and there are a great many places where our interference has led to decades of upheaval, unrest and strife. I know there are compelling pro-empire arguments and if it hadn't been us it would have been another country, but still: generally, I consider it to be A Bad Thing.

This is why going to Malaysia has been such a good experience for me. Though there are undoubtedly cases to make for both sides, from my experience the impact seems to have been largely positive. Little bits of English have slipped into their language: the Malay for taxi is "teksi" which, if you say it out loud, sounds a lot like a posh British lady saying the word taxi - "You! Man! Fetch me a taxi, and take my bag!" - the Malay for bag is beg.

So, visiting there makes me feel a little prouder of my country. We didn't mess everywhere up!

The rest of my pictures are here.


V said...

What a wonderful experience and lovely pictures of you!

Christine E-E said...

the henna picture is very artistic! so, I don't know much about Malaysia so I've find your pictures very intriguing. Can you recommend a book to teach me a bit more about this area?

Sally said...

Hi Christine,

I have been trying to find a good book for you but, since I haven't read one myself, I can't help! However, I do intend to read the Malayan Trilogy by Anthony Burgess, which is set in colonia Malaysia I think. It was recommended to me by the principal of the college we were staying at, but it's a trio of novels as opposed to a history.

Burhan Ali said...

Is "gerontocracy" the word you are looking for?