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Beautiful Patterns, Common Threads


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Melaka is the personification of the " where winds meet..." description of Malaysia. The famous Straits of Melaka are here, through which ships pass on their way between India and China. As such, Melaka for a time in its past became one of the great trade centers, and indeed one of the great cities, of the world. Seeing the vestiges of that past is one of the thrills of visiting this city in the southern part of the peninsula.


After my visit to SMKBBS in Kuala Lumpur, I thought this would be a fun photo to include.

Here's a spectacular becak (and its equally spectacular driver) in front of the Christ Church in Melaka. While there are very few Christians in Peninsular Malaysia, many of the older structures in Melaka remain as testaments to the religious beliefs of those who stayed here as colonists and tried (unsuccessfully) to convert the local people from their Islamic faith.


Again, this photo suggests the religious diversity of Malaysia. This is a Sikh temple, and it also reflects the far reach of the Sikh people's migrations throughout Southeast Asia.

So why do I have so few pictures of Malaysia? It all started with a terrible incident I had with the spirits on my visit to Melaka. I think it all began with a beautiful moment at Bukit Cina, a hill in the middle of the city where a Chinese cemetery is located. I was walking among the stones on the top of the hill at sunset, and it was really lovely, especially with the sound of several mosques coming from every direction calling people to prayer. (I don't particularly like the calls in the middle of the night, but the one at sunset is wonderful.) Anyway, I decided to take a photo with my digital camera of one of the more stunning headstones, which was a perfect miniature replica of a home I assume the deceased lived in -- but, I forgot to ask the spirits for permission before taking the photo.

Now, mind you, I asked some Chinese Malaysians later if you have to ask for such permission, and they said no. But I'm not sure. On the other hand, maybe that wasn't the problem. Maybe it was when I took the shots of a goat being slaughtered in a cemetery next to a mosque. I'm just not sure.

Whatever it was, I was preparing to leave Malaysia to go to Myanmar when I had the photos from my 35-mm camera developed and discovered that the meter wasn't working properly. "Just great", I thought -- "here I am going into a place where I'm gonna want to take lots of photos, and my camera is on the fritz. Should I stay here or just go?" Fortunately, I was in a good camera shop at the time, and a professional photographer came in who told me there was a repair shop that could work on my camera while I waited. Unbelievable, I thought; that would NEVER happen in the U.S. Then I called the airline and found out that to switch my flight I'd have to delay my departure for three days. I struggled with that, but decided I'd stay and get the thing fixed.

That night, with spare time on my hands, I decided to upload the photos from my digital camera onto my computer. Clearly, if I were going to Myanmar the next day, I would have been packing instead, and saved this task until I got to Yangon. But I wasn't, so I didn't. Everything was going fine -- then, suddenly, the camera gave an "error" message. "What's THIS?", I thought to myself -- no, screamed to myself, really. Without this camera, all the website work I'd been doing would be lost for whatever places I'd later travel to. I went frantic trying to find out what the error message meant: I tried to call the camera manufacturer in the U.S., called my brother to ask him to find out, etc. It became clear pretty quickly that the digital card in the camera was somehow defective, and all the pictures on it were lost. Some GREAT pictures, I might add, LOST. I looked at my list more carefully -- and then it struck me: the camera shut down RIGHT as it was about to upload the photo of the tombstone from Bukit Cina!

Immediately, I figured that the spirit associated with the tombstone was punishing me for taking that photo. But then I thought about it some more. If it REALLY wanted to punish me, it would have let me go to Myanmar, where I could NEVER find a way to fix the camera. At least in KL, I could buy a replacement card. So why wasn't I in Myanmar? Only because the 35-mm camera had broken down. I understood. The spirit was only trying to WARN me: don't mess around with us! It mucked up my camera so I wouldn't get too severely punished, but sent this very clear message not to do it again. And, of course, wiped out all the pictures I took after it, just to make me realize the consequences would be dire if I didn't heed the warning.

I've been very careful about what pictures I take ever since. At least, I THINK I have been...I got a jaywalking ticket in KL the next day, so maybe I hadn't yet learned my lesson...

All this I relate to explain just WHY there are so few photos of Malaysia. Some of them were really wonderful: one, of Villa Sentosa, a living kampung (village-like community inside the city); another, of Leja, one of only four women among the three hundred taxi drivers in Melaka (and quite a jokester); yet another, of a chair I sat in at a mall restaurant that just fell apart (the second I've had that happen to on this trip -- Southeast Asians are SMALL!). And country scenes: a rice padi, boats on the straits of Melaka...You get the idea. What I can say is that, when I get back to the U.S., I'll find as many as I can from my 35-mm shots and scan them in to fill this site out. In the meantime, you'll just have to sit tight!

On leaving Malaysia, besides the shots I missed, I found myself having missed seeing several things I really wanted to see and share with you. I made one REALLY big mistake in my itinerary by not traveling to the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia. (I would love to go to Borneo, too, but that wouldn't have been very easy to do on this trip.) The problem with not going to the east is that I missed out on showing areas with pure Malay culture, where you could see the arts and crafts and houses and daily life characteristic of the Malay people. Without those, I think this part of the site (even WITH the Melaka photos replaced) is way out of balance. Malaysia, despite its level of development, is still primarily rural, and that doesn't come across AT ALL in this site. And, without those, I don't think you get as much of an idea of how the culture of southern Thailand merges with that of northern Malaysia in the farms and the fishing villages and the fruit tree orchards...

That leaves me with two solutions: to come back again, or to ask YOU for any photos you have that you could contribute to the site or suggestions you have of good links to other websites that would balance out this "presentation." I'd love to do the former (and maybe someday I will), but that's likely to take a while, so the latter seems a more fruitful avenue to pursue. So PLEASE, if you can help, let me know!

Of course, in a nation as diverse as Malaysia, there will always be so much I would have missed no matter what -- yet so much I DID see, too, and that's what I prefer to focus on. There's so much more, and I hope some of you are interested enough to check out some books or browse the web to find out more. (If you find good sites, please tell me and I'll put links into the site to get to them.)

If you've found this interesting, I think you'll find the next leg of my journey just as fun to follow. So, join me as I go to the westernmost part of Southeast Asia and the mystical country of MYANMAR--coming soon!

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