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Gail and Rick

Monday, November 1, 2010

Apa Khabar from Malaysia

September 25th was the last day of the third term of school, with the fourth and final term of school scheduled to commence October 11. Our much anticipated leisure time was spent holidaying in Malaysia with three other couples. Two of Gail’s teaching colleagues in Kadina - Dawn and Jane - as well as their respective husbands - Doug and Andrew - accompanied us on a most delightful trip. Rounding out the foursome and adding to the mirth and merriment was another Canadian couple, Gay and Greig, who reside in Cold Lake. Gay and Greig are currently on teacher exchange in Keith, South Australia, which is approximately a four and one half hour drive from Kadina. We have gotten to know Gay and Greig during our time in Australia; have enjoyed each others company and know that we will be seeing more of each other once we return to Canada.

It has been our experience that when a group of friends travel together there are plenty of experiences that are shared, and you can be guaranteed that someone will have a story to tell. For example as an illustration, while we were in Langkawi, Doug unfortunately came up with a case of “Montezuma’s Revenge” or as it is referred to in Australia as “Bombay Bum” or “Bali Belly”. Doug was enjoying himself poolside when nature’s urge beckoned him to hurry. With head down, he sped off via the patio entrance to his room with only seconds to spare. After Doug was able to pause and focus, he discovered that he had made a bee line to his neighbour’s room rather than his own. Needless to say there was plenty of teasing and chuckling once everyone discovered what Doug had done.

Malaysia is a beautiful tropical country only a few degrees north of the Equator. It was our first visit in a Muslim country. We found the experience to be both fascinating and eye-opening. Certain facets of the holiday were helpful in breaking down some of our western prejudicial intolerant biases; while other aspects confirmed what many of us already know in that the truth generally lies below a shallow surficial fa├žade. In other words, what you see is not always what you get. We find it difficult to explain and recognize that perhaps our impressions may be skewed as we only spent a couple of weeks in Malaysia. Nevertheless, a few of our observations are provided below which serve to provide the rationale for our feelings:

  • On the way into Kuala Lumpar from the airport, our driver was most pleased to tell us that Malaysia, with a population of approximately 28 million people, is a multi-racial and multi-religious country. It is a blend of a variety of cultures. Approximately 50% of the population is Malay, who are considered to be Muslim under the Malaysian constitution. They practice Islam. Roughly another 25% of the people are of Chinese origin with the majority being Buddhists; although Confucianism and Taoism are also practiced. South Asians comprise the next largest sector of the population and practise Hindu. Around 9% of the population base is Christian.

    The taxi driver’s comments initially left us with an opinion that there is a multi-cultural harmony amongst the people. However our observations concluded quite the opposite. During our travels we saw little evidence of any holy buildings with the exception of Islamic temples. It was strange, yet fascinating and mesmerizing to hear the temple’s loud speakers calling out at various times of the day to remind people of prayer time. Given the diverse origins of the population, we were also surprised to discover that approximately 95% of government positions are held by Muslims. In addition, we were advised that most stores require their female clerks to wear a hijab so that Muslims would be comfortable frequenting their shops.

  • We noticed a number of young ladies in full black dress wearing burqas. We were curious as to why we never saw a middle age or elderly lady wearing a burqa. When asked, we were told that the young ladies were predominantly from Saudi Arabia and were either on holidays or on a honeymoon with their husbands. No explanation was provided to us as to why people practicing Islam from Saudi Arab wore burqas, whereas those people from Malaysia practicing Islam did not. One shop keeper of South Asian origin, who was quite outspoken, went so far as to tell us that he felt most Muslims were hypocrites who did not follow their own beliefs.

  • One of the strangest moments of the holiday took place on a very hot and muggy sunny day pool side at our hotel. The father of a Muslim family from Saudi Arabia was enjoying himself swimming while his wife, fully covered with a burqa, and their two young daughters sat poolside. The mother watched her husband frolic and splash in the water; while their toddler children, upset and crying, could not comprehend why they couldn’t swim in the pool with their father. To make matters only worst, the children noticed other kids of equal age playfully swimming and enjoying the holiday moment with their parents. As we watched the performance unfold, we did not and still cannot understand the father’s and mother’s rationale for allowing this kind of behaviour.

In summary we left Malaysia knowing that travel is a good education that makes one mindful that one should be receptive to and aware of other cultures and customs. One needs to understand the rationale for the cultural or religious behaviour before becoming critical of same. Perhaps much of our western society is too quick to make judgement and try to instil their own set of values on other cultures. As one person aptly told us, travel makes you learn to appreciate the good things that you have at home. Enough arm-chair philosophy!

Our trip started in Kuala Lumpur, or “KL” as it is commonly called in the Land Down Under. KL is home to the Petronas Towers, once the tallest building in the world. It is now surpassed by a few other structures including the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is now the tallest. While in KL, we spent four jam-packed days traveling many miles either by foot, subway, monorail or taxi visiting China Town, Little India, or other shopping meccas within the Golden Triangle. Sometime in between it all, we managed to visit an elephant sanctuary as well as a Hindu Temple at the Batu Caves. We also had to take a brief daily rest stop from the heat and humidity as we waited out the torrential rainfall that everyone associates with tropical countries. Experiencing it is exhilarating! Don’t even think about trying to stay dry if you are caught in the deluge. No question we would go back to KL in a heart beat. Interestingly, its airport is a hub center for many destinations within Asia…so who knows, perhaps future travels may take us there again.

Day and Night Photos of the Petronas Tower

Day at the Elephant Sanctuary

Doug and Dawn at the Batu Caves

Notice the Monkeys (not Rick!)

The Monkeys are cheeky like our squirrels and chipmunks

Everyone stops while its raining

After our stay in KL we said our good-byes to Andrew and Jane. Andrew and Jane had planned to spend the rest of their vacation time in Penang while the rest of us had made arrangement to rest and relax on the island of Langkawi. Langkawi is Malaysia’s answer to Bali. It is very much one of the resort destination areas for amongst others, Australian visitors. While on the island, we certainly did rest and relax. Our biggest concern was wondering where we were going to eat that night or where did we want to go shopping since the island is a “Duty Free” shopping area. The meals were excellent. We filled our bellies with Singapore noodles, curried chicken, beef rendang and other local delights. Walking the night market and browsing at the food stalls was divine! We also did the usual tourist excursions such as taking a boat to island hop, or ride the gondola up the mountain for a breath taking view of the island. In summary, the holiday was a 10 out 10.

Island Hopping at Langkawi

Cooking up a storm at the night market

Satay Anyone?

Sweets Anyone?

How about fruits and vegetables?

OK – maybe some seafood?

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