From Bangkok to Bali
About Us (2)
Random Musings (2)
* Dragon hunt
* Malaysia Recap
* A long way to go for a beer
* Jungle living
* Surviving Sipadan
* Village Life
* A walk on the wild side
* Getting some culture
* People of the forest
* The Doctor's Visit
* Borneo or bust
* Real divers like Water
* In Over Our Heads in Tioman
* Concrete Jungle Continued
* Concrete Jungle
* The World's Tallest Towers
* Duty Free Zone
* Heading South
June 09, 2005
Religion & Races
Malaysia is a polyglot, multiracial multireligious society. The majority of Malaysians are ethnic Malays but there are sizeable minorities of Chinese and Indians and of course, the many indigenous tribes of Borneo. During our first three weeks in Malaysia we stayed in Chinatown and ate in Little India wherever we went so if you had asked us what ethnicity most Malaysians were, we would have answered Chinese. For many years, especially under British rule, the Chinese merchants held the economic and educational power in the region but in recent years programs of affirmative action have been put into place for Malays and indigenous tribes of Borneo in education and job placement. This quota system is not popular with the Chinese and Indians but Malaysia’s current economic boom has allowed them to prosper so for the time being racial tensions are not boiling over.
All of our travels in Asia up until we entered Malaysia were to predominately Buddhist countries, although some were technically communist but the underlying culture was based in Buddhism. Malaysia is different; it is overwhelmingly a Muslim country. I was fascinated to get a chance to see Islam in Asia since I’ve previously only seen it at work in the US and West Africa. Islam is not the only religion in the country although 90% of Malays are Muslim. The majority of Chinese are either Christian or practice the “Chinese religion” which I think is mostly Buddhism. The vast majority of Indians who came to Malaysia in the past 2 centuries were ethnic Tamils and although there are some elaborate Hindu temples in the country, from the absence of beer at Indian restaurants, I’m guessing most of them are Muslim as well.
Religion is most visible in the way women dress in Malaysia. I’d guess that about 70% of Malay women wear a headscarf covering their hair, back and chest completely Many also wear a traditional ankle length skirt, usually in a floral pattern with a long sleeved ¾ length tunic in a matching or contrasting color in addition to the scarf. Some women, mostly younger ones, will wear just the headscarf with jeans and a long sleeved T-shirt. Some completely miss the spirit of the whole covering yourself thing and wear the headscarf with tight low rider jeans and cleavage spilling short shirts. Indian women rarely wear saris or traditional clothes but also dress conservatively. Chinese women feel free to wear shorts and I’ve seen some wearing short shorts that would make a Los Angelese beach bunny blush along with platform shoes and sequined tank tops. In a mall in Melaka we once saw a group of teenaged friends, one from each of the aforementioned groups who were all busy doing what all teens do at a mall – shopping and checking out the opposite sex. There is one thing that all Malaysian women share, however, and that is a love of beautiful shoes. No matter how conservative a woman’s dress is, you can be sure that her feet are shod in a pair of exquisite sandals that put me and my Tevas to shame.
With growing entrenchment and revival of all religions in these times, it’s going to be interesting to see how Malaysia weathers the storm. Some states in peninsular Malaysia currently have Sharia law with an Islamic court system that runs parallel to the civil state and handles cases related solely to Muslims. Outside the duty-free shop in Tioman we read a sign saying that selling alcohol to a Muslim and consumption of alcohol by a Muslim were both illegal in the state and punishable by three lashings of the whip. No Malay person we ever spoke to ever admitted that they drank alcohol probably because of the lashing thing. Some members of parliament have been calling for “morality laws” to be enacted country-wide, which would in fact mean extending Sharia to non-Muslims. That idea is not going over well with the Chinese people we talked to. Malaysia has some interesting challenges ahead but there are some heartening signs for those who are hoping for racial harmony. Most of the younger people we met referred to themselves as Malaysian first and then Chinese or Malay and in Borneo the distinctions are even less.
One of the things we were most looking forward to in Malaysia and Singapore was the food. We had heard it was amazing and that in places like Penang and Kuala Lumpur you could not go wrong and that first class dining was on every corner. We also knew that Malaysia is a top vacation spot for people from the Middle East because of the Islamic culture, beautiful scenery and relatively low cost. Somehow we put all those thoughts together and came up with “Lebanese food!” Indian and Lebanese are probably our two favorite cuisines and we naively thought that we would be living it up in Malaysia.
Those who live in Malaysia or have visited it are probably laughing at us right now because there are no, literally no, Middle Eastern restaurants in Malaysia and Singapore with the exception of Little Lebanon in Kuching. We even went to Arab Street in Singapore thinking surely we’d find an Arab who set up a small kebab shop but we only found a Russian restaurant, a few Indian tailors; no falafel. I do feel slightly less silly about all this since I recently read in the Sabah Times that KL is expecting 200,000 Arab tourists to descend on the city during their summer holidays in June and the city is urging hotels to add Arab food to their menus. It’s all about timing.
We had some great Indian food in Malaysia and learned to love roti, satay and tolerate nasi lemak but overall we weren’t wowed by Malaysian cuisine. It could be that we played it too safe or that we just didn’t eat in the right places, but I’m still searching for an Asian cuisine I can love.
Best hotel: Traveller’s Lodge in Melaka, $13.33 for a/c double and the best atmosphere we’ve ever seen in a hostel.
Worst hotel: Wheeler’s Inn in Kuala Lumpur ($13.33) tops the list, although we stayed in a lot of dumps in Malaysia.
Favorite meal: All of the Indian food we had in Penang and KL was delicious.
Least favorite meal: The Hong Kong style clay pot in KL.
Top 5 experiences: Learning to dive in Tioman; walking around Melaka; discovering Cadbury’s chocolate dipped ice cream cones at McDonalds; duty free cheep beer (Pearse)/the Cheong Fatt Tze museum in Penang (Amie); seeing the Petronas towers in KL.
Least favorite experiences: The rats in Georgetown (Penang) and the mosquitoes in Tioman.
Best hotel: Holiday Inn Resort Damai Beech (free); best non-free hotel was the Tempurung Lodge $58.66 for room and board for 2.
Worst hotel: Bako National Park hostel ($11.20).
Favorite meal: Every lunch and dinner at the Tempurung Lodge (Amie)/Little Lebanon in Kuching (Pearse).
Least favorite meal: None stood out although quite a few were just OK.
Top 5 experiences: Diving Sipadan; seeing the orangutans in Semmengoh; hiking in Bako (Pearse)/river cruises (Amie); the singing contest in Tempurung Village; seeing Star Wars III (with snacks and assigned seats all for less than $5).
Least favorite experiences: Ear infections/the doctor’s visit; leeches in the room at Kinabalu Rose Cabins on Mt. Kinabalu; rats in Semporna
Posted by Amie on June 9, 2005 12:53 AM
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