Monday, November 9, 2015

Mono-Culture to Clash of Cultures, Malaysia Nov 6-9, 2015

Less than a week and two countries ago, Trish and I parted from each other and also jettisoned from Japan, one of the most mono-cultural countries. She's back in Canada, and I've just left Malaysia, which was only supposed to be an acclimatization for Myanmar. But I spent the better part of three days glued to Ashraf, an opinionated, lefty with Muslim roots. Sorry buddy, I know you hate such labels. So while we never sat still, I didn't get anywhere near the gringo trail.

He's the son of a diplomat. We met in Venice, as his parents are posted  in Rome. So he's lived the world. Which might explain some of his world views, but also his displacement. Yet he's a modern Malay, going against the tide of conservatism and fragmentation in Malaysia.

In the west the image of diversity and multiculturalism has been fuelled by food, fun and festivals under a single dominant culture. But arguably it's assimilative in practice. Whereas Malaysia with a long established merchant class of Chinese and worker bees from South Asia (I'm of course generalizing) is more of a multicultural model if you listen to their PM.

However, imagine a country with multiple legal systems and institutionalized racialism. It's a secular country but dominated by Sharia law, which means Muslims must wed only Muslims. It is taboo but you can legally marry a non-Muslim, if they convert. Get caught stealing? Technically your hand can be cut off. Gots to be somewhat discreet if drinking alcohol. Ashraf can't drink at home and sometimes gets "the look" when purchasing it in stores. The conservative Muslims, who are a majority, clearly control the country's politics, media and judiciary. The other 40% are Chinese, South Asians, the forgotten indigenous and other pockets. They all live under different social and legal codes. 

Perhaps I'm being judgemental, but that sounds like a disaster in the making. And though the PM recently said it was a model society of multiculturalism, tension and divisions abound and even discussing them rattles their 'let it be' attitude.

Anyway Ash whisked me from the airport to Ipoh, a colonial town a few hours north of Kuala Lumpur where an art, history and culture fest was going on.

Also met Nine, a bud of Ashraf originally from Northern Ireland. She's a decent writer working in a small local publishing joint. But really she makes her moola as a professional cat sitter. She's been homeless for years as she bounces from long term cat sitting gigs to the next. Sometimes she does 2 cats, but as much as 9---many clients are repeat offenders and in Kuala Lumpur, New Zealand).
Really. There are people like that.

We also adopted Sato,a 23yr old Japanese teacher travelling without a phone or Internet. He simply can't manage technology and was amazed when I showed him what was.
Really, there people like that.

 Like most Japanese, he's travelling with limited language skills, but loads of courage. After the generosity of Japan, I'll always take in a stray Japanese. Might even meet him in India.

Found the only Sinahalese bar in the country, managed by a wonderful couple who know the most minute subtleties of Sri Lankan cooking, like this fish curry made with the right kind of tuna with the right kind of fins and the right kind of barks of cinnamon.
Really. There are people like that.

Ok I did some wandering in Kuala Lumpur, which does have interesting architecture and a crazy ass downtown and Chinatown which was a knock-off heaven.

It's no secret Chinese restaurants the world over are gold medallist in, indifferent service and gross toilets. But this toilet is world class disgusting, heck even Ash was aghast. 

Meal of the trip was Nasi Lemba:
(I couldn't end with that toilet shot)
Ashraf and I had a classic Malay Breakfast in Ipoh which even local boy, Ash, said rocked:

Nasi Lemba:
Perfectly balanced coconut rice
Fried egg
Peanuts n dried anchovies 
Shrimp chips

$2.75 if you have it with shrimp swimming in sambal sauce like I did 


For Wayne Ng's latest travel adventures and book " Finding the Way: A Novel of Lao Tzu ," please go to his website and blog at...