This Christmas I find myself in Malaysia, an invitation from my cycle friend Don brought me to this part of the world and I love being here. I like the heat, the rain in the afternoons, the mix of people from different cultures, the Malay people who have been living here for a long time naturally and then people from China and India who came here mostly during the last 200 years. The cultural mix also makes for a great variety of food. I have grown fond of the spicy Malaysian food and some interesting Chinese dishes and for a change sometimes an Indian curry mixed in.
While in Kuala Lumpur where Don lives, we go for early morning, pre-breakfast walks in the Botanical Gardens. Lovely to start the day, to actually walk into the day and listen to the birds and insects and admire the tropical plants on the way. A good place and time for my walking practice.
Don took me to some interesting places in Malaysia, we went on a trip recently to Penang in the Northeast of Malaysia, a place full of history. And although only 25% of the population of Malaysia are Chinese, in George Town on the island of Penang, most places seemed to have a Chinese feel to it. The Chinese came here in the late 18th century to work in spice trading as Penang was one of the main trading ports in the Malacca Strait besides Malakka and Singapore. Some families still live in Jetty houses on stilts and inside the town we visited the Khoo Kongsi clan house, a impressive sign of the dominant presence of Chinese in Penang. The Clan house entails a beautifully decorated temple, a theatre and the houses in which the clan members used to live.
On the way back from Penang we took a detour through the Cameron Highlands, where soon after leaving the coast line, the hills get very high and steep. The climate is different here. People have come to the highlands for centuries for a break from the heat at the coast and my first impulse was to wear a fleece jacket with the temperature here only going up to 18 degrees, not the usual 32. I was impressed to see the rolling hills of the tea plantations up here in the highlands, the plants seem to like the combination of steep hills, hot sun and plenty of rain.
Another highlight was a four day trip to the National Park, Taman Negara, in the North of Malaysia. I read, that the rainforest, or parts of it, are more than 130 million years old. It feels good to know that this part of the forest is protected. Visitors can explore certains areas on board walks or on the fairly muddy paths. At least this time of year, during monsoon season, most of the paths are muddy and some of them were closed due to flooding. To get to the forest we booked a combined trip, first in a mini van with a few other travellers for a few hours up to Jerantut, and then by boat with yet more travellers, a meditative 2.5 hours up against the stream of the river. During the ride we got to see some water buffalos and heard new bird sounds and songs.
While being in the National Park transport by boat was common, this is the way to travel when paths are narrow and difficult to walk. We joined a trip to an Orang Asli settlement. On the way to the settlement the boat had to pass through some rapids and to make it more fun to everbody our captain rocked the boat so that by the time we arrived everybody was completely drenched. I wonder if we needed to be drenched to meet the Orang Asli in their home to somehow prepare us? Orang Asli means First People, they are the original people of Malaysia and have been living in the forests for thousands of years. And they continue living in the same way they have for many generations. Small communities find a place, build simple huts as a shelter from the weather and eat the animals that they hunt with poisonous arrows blown through a long pipe. The women choose the man they want to live with and when somebody of the family dies they leave the body behind in the trees, as an exchange and gratitude for the animals they killed. Then they leave everything behind and move to a new place. There are different groups of Orang Asli and some live closer to the towns, most prefer to live in the forest. But there is not so much forest left in Malaysia, most of the forest has been destroyed to create palm oil and rubber plantations. On the way back to KL from the park for the first time I got an impression of the immensity of forest that has been destroyed when we drove past miles and miles of palm oil plantations.
And I am thankful that I had a little taste of the rain forest, although we really only touched the frinches of the forest. One beautiful evening we took our flashlights to a hideout. While it was getting darker and darker the sound of the insects and birds envelopped us, a sound mix, getting louder the darker it was, something I had never experienced before, with some very high pitches mixed in that felt uncomfortable at first and then gradually I liked to get used to them.
The following photos are of a beach we visited on a half day trek through a rainforest on the island of Penang and the view from a restaurant in Georgetown.