Pulled In Many Directions

Not-so-daily rambings about my life and my thoughts

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

M is For Malaysia.

And for Motorbike -- about a billion seem to exist on the streets of Penang.

And for Murtabak -- a kind of egg type pancake with chicken or some other kind of meat in it. Pretty tasty.

And for Muslim -- you know you're not anywhere near your home anymore the minute you get out of the plane and see the health clinic sign in the airport is designated with not a red cross sign but a red crescent.

Malaysia is probably going to be the only country heavily influenced by Islamic teachings that I will visit in my lifetime. It was a real interesting experience, to be surrounded by women wearing head scarves and to be in a place where there seemed to be a mosque on every street corner. Some of the mosques were quite beautiful on the outside. I would have liked to have gone inside a few as well, but was afraid someone would take my request as treating a mosque like it was Disneyland. Probably not a very good idea, really.

Also in the same vein, I have never seen somany women dressed in these Big Black Burqas before. (From here, knows as a BBB.) Malaysia apparently is very very popular at this time of the year for people who live in the Middle East. It's definitely a much cooler place, to be sure! I'm not at all trying to make a political point here, if that is what they choose to believe in then, all the power to them. Still, it was really hot in Malaysia when I was there (and it didn't rain heavily at all, thank God.) and my only thought whenever I saw a woman in one of those coverups was, "My God you must be really hot wearing that!" I felt bad for them for only that reason.

I also have to admit when I was in Starbucks one day there a Muslim couple was sitting at the table next to me, and I couldn't help wondering how the woman was going to drink her coffee -- was she going to use a straw? Was she going to put the coffee under her veil? Apparently that is what she did, but I think she made sure she stayed covered up on her husband's side.

Islam came to the country centuries ago, but it was not the product of any won holy war. The government allows women who practice Islam the freedom to choose whether to wear a head scarf or not.

Apparently Malaysia is this great melting pot culture. It's really something to see this great mix f people, even more pronounced than what I saw in Singapore, certainly more pronounced than here in Hong Kong. The Malaysians are well known for knowing a number of different languages (usually being fluent in Chinese, Malay and English, at least, not taking into account the different Chinese and Indian dialects that exist as well.)

Ali, the limousine taxi driver who picked me up from the airport, seemed especially proud of his country for being a very welcoming country, home to many different kinds of people. He also proceeded to talk my ear off about Malaysia's many accomplishments and their strong resources in rubber and palm oil. I really enjoyed talking to him.

All of the Malaysians I met were really open, warm and friendly. The ladies who ran the hostel I first stayed in were very helpful and good to hang out with. They let me have my first taste of durian fruit as well.

Now, durian is a fruit, but it is so far removed from anything anyone would ever think of when they hear the word fruit. This ain't no strawberry! One of the women who was staying there said it reminded her of a cross between a banana and a potato. I think that is true about the consistency of the fruit, but as for taste, it's very strong and sharp. It's garlicky, but has an alcoholic aftertaste, and there is also something very spicy about it, like anise seed or fennel or something. So I guess if you ate garlic mashed potatoes (more garlic than potato) and then chased that with a shot of sambuca, that is probably as close as you would get to having durian.

Penang was also nice to stay at, though a bit more quiet, obviously. One of the things I saw that really impressed me is called the "Khoo Association House," a kind of house for the Khoo clan of Penang. It's where they go to meet up with each other and strengthen their family bond.

This house was built in the 1800s, and the people building it just went all out. It dwarfed every past congsi (association house) built before it. And on the night it was finally completed, the roof caught fire. The Khoos then took that to mean the ancestors weren't too happy with the grand scale and thought that they should scale back their idea a bit. Still, even after all that, the place is mother-huge, and on the way to the Khoo Congsi, you have to pass by the Yap Congsi, which looks like a kiddie clubhouse in comparison.

And (before I forget) M is also for mosquito. I didn't technically come home with any souvenirs, but sure have a whole mess of bug bites on my legs from staying in the hostel in Penang.

I'm going to end this here but may make a Malaysia Part Two entry as I feel I still have a lot to say. And once I reformat the pictures I took, I will add those in here also.