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  • malaysia -unexpected

    A graceful. mosque-like structure perches just off the busiest intersection in Malaysia, with taxis screeching and blaring under its arched eaves. It would all be out of place if the building weren't actual ly a railway station.

    Malaysia, the visitor swiftly learns, will sur-prise you.

    Take the name, for example . "Malay" is clear enough , the ethnic term for the Muslim, tradition-abiding people of handsome features and regal past who make up about half the population. But the "sia" stands for an ad-ditional six million Chinese, Indians, tribesmen, aborigines, Eurasians, and others who settled generations if not centuries ago.

    Malaysia, the nation, is a federation of thir-teen states that fu sed into a political entity in 1963. Formerly, it was a collection of British colonies , and before then, the various realms of Malay Sultans whose powers crystallized in the 1 5th Century.

    Peninsular Malaysia is the original Malaya, the bottom 50,690 square miles of the long finger of land shared with Thailand and Burma that reaches down among the Indonesian islands. Sabah and Sarawak, two colorful but distinctive states on the giant island of Borneo, are separated from Peninsular Malaysia by 600 miles of the South China Sea .

    One mir·rors Malaysia with prisms ratherthan planes. No single image catches all. The federal capital , Kuala Lumpur, is a throbbing but re -laxed city of 500,000 that grew from a few tin miners' shacks in less than a century. " KL" rocks to electric guitars and ancient flutes . Neon signs in English push Japanese television sets and hand-lettered placards advertise a Punjabi newspaper. It's a·safe bet there's not a linguist in the Eastwho can understand all KL's street corner conversations or read all the writ-

    Who is watching who ? The audience of a top -spinning contest greets a curious visitor.


  • ing on its wa l ls. Malay barbers clip hair under , the trees by a muddy river near Ind ians who

    tell fortunes with greasy cards on a mat. A few pink-faced Englishmen still sip gin by the cric-ket pitch , reliving the " old days," three decades ago.

    As any city sidewalk immediately reveals, it is the Malaysians, ten and a half million Malay-sians, who are the key to the country 's vitality, diversity and character. Few other nationalities have such a knack for eluding the stereotype. The man on the street in Malaysia is a carefree Malay teenager shouting "Hello John '" from behind the handle bars of a hopped-up motor-bike. He is a wizened old Chinese chef boiling noodles below a row of defeathered ducks on hooks. Or an amiable Indian at a newsstand selling paperback palmistry books wrapped in cellophane.

    You can't even speak about the man on the street in Malaysia since there are aborigines living as nomads in deep jungle who haven't seen an inch of asphalt. much less roads.

    Each of Malaysia 's multiple ethnic groups adds a distinct heritage to its plural society Malays, early settlers of the land, retain a gentle continuity with a long past . Many pursue a rura l traditional life as farmers and fishermen . The ir caNed wooden dwellings on stilts lift above fruit trees and flower pot gardens throughout the country. Malay kampongs (villages) merge with golden fields of rice . Yet just as the indelible image of the padi farmer seems sealed , along comes a young Malay executive in chic low-collared shirt brought back from hi s six-year stint as a student in England .

    I n cities, Malay bankers, professionals and technicians find jobs at airport counters or the top floors of Parliament Building. Malays contribute largely to the country's inherent identity. Islam is the national religion: Malay the national language. Sultans, descendants of the original Malay royal families, remain cere-monial rulers in most states. They elect one of their number every five years to be King of Malaysia, to reign under a panoply of yellow umbrellas and court etiquette that survives from the earliest days.

    Malaysia's Chinese community adds a hard-driving , workaday spirit recalling the early 1800s when thousands of coolies arrived from China's southern provinces to hack down jun-gle trees and pan tin. Splashy red characters mark long lines on two-storey "shophouses" -stores on the bottom, bedrooms on top-in any town of any size.

    Today, Chinese control fortunes in rubber,

    Young Malay girl glances back.



  • import and export companies and industries. dominat ing the country's economy to a greater extent than the 42 per cent that they represent in numbers. Yet even their " Chineseness" has modern Malaysian fringes . You can stare into the thick-caked face paint of a. Ch inese opera star. exuding every mystery in the Orient. until the face takes a puff on a Lucky Strike and exhales w ith a giggle.

    Indians. a bright minority of 10 per cent whose ancestors came as rural laborers under British management. sprinkle flavors from the subcontinent in a myriad of trades. In corners of Malaysia 's towns that resemble Old Delhi . some Indians sell sugared peanuts and candied limes. Others sell rupees. francs and dollars. Tamils from South India. Sikhs. Bengalis and Ceylonese have all settled in Malaysia. attain-ing distingui~hed careers in the civil service. mann ing rubber estates and railways.

    Travelers out to meet the Malaysians can journey by steel-plated motorboat up Sara-wak's log-ridden rivers and chat with an Iban patriarch about the times when " white Rajahs" rUled. and war dances were common . Human skulls bound in raffia still hang from eaves in some long houses. but head -hunting is the pride of bygone generations. Most of Sabah's and Sarawak's one and a half million tribesmen have long since settled down to rustic lives, farming hill padi or pepper_ Still. some old customs remain to embellish the present with vivid contrasts. Kenyah chief in Sarawak startles visitors by wearing a shiny black busi-ness suit with brown shoes, no socks, and a boar's tusks through his ears.

    Malaysia's wide range of people now get along with remarkable harmony, though. some communal tensions and a scattering of com -munist guerillas do exist. The waves of im-migrants that flooded the Malaysian interior during British rule in the last century changed its social structure so rapid ly that the indi -genous population soon found themselves no longer an assured majority. Economic im -balances between races remain a sensitive is-sue . And though young Malaysians grow up aspiring to given national goals. elders con -tinue to carry on their vivid potpourri of widely divergent cultures and faiths.

    Amidst all the colorful confusion. travelers eventually d iscover that the basic unity about Malaysia-the one solid invariable-is the ground they stand on . It is Malaysia the country that links all the pieces together in a comfort- , able continuity like bright patches on quilt-work. The land drops from the peak of South -east Asia 's tallest mountain down to its most

    Hindu holy man tells fortunes on the spot.




    Cover PageTitle PageContentsPart One : A Step CloserMalaysia-UnexpectedA Key To The PastEver BeginningAs The Tides GoBasically GreenComing To TownExpressions

    Part Two : Exploring MalaysiaGetting AroundKuala LumpurMalaccaTo The SouthThe East CoastNorthern DiscoveriesPenang IslandThe Green HeartSabahBruneiSarawakNeighboring Countries

    Part Three : Traveler's Guide In BriefComing To MalaysiaExchanging FormalitiesGetting AcquaintedMixing With The MediaHotels And MotelsMoney Well SpentSpeedy CommunicationSpeaking MalayCelebrations

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