Malaysia

Good bye Malaysia...

After our 1-day rest in Cherating, we carried on up the east coast of Malaysia - 4 more days before we hit the Thailand border.

4 more days on a perfect road: nice seal, wide enough so that vehicles have room to pass us, flat, and a tad monotonous. 4 more days where we keep discovering a country that lives in us a strange feeling. Nothing openly wrong or closed about it - trucks and motorbikes keep honking their horn at us, and waving at us, people keep waving at us... But we notice more and more that it can be difficult for the people to come and talk to us.

The men - which Mike in the end qualified as "I am not sure I like the men's attitude in this country" are either cute and full of life as boys, or become sure of themselves as they grow older, not making us feel that comfortable. The women keep smiling, and their eyes and faces tell us how much we are welcome, but still, it seems they almost do not dare talking to us. One of them, a young lady working in a roadside eating place, waited until all her customers were gone to come and talk to us, asking us first whether we would allow her to talk to us. Lovely lady who wanted to learn a bit more about where we came from, and about us, but who suddenly in the middle of the conversation stood and left. Mike and I turned around and realised a couple of men had just arrived. Noticeably different is the very open and nice conversation we had with an Indian man over dinner one night...

We cannot point out what it is, and probably are not able to do so only having spent 10 days in Malaysia - everyone has been rather welcoming, and certainly intrigued by our traveling, but we cannot help but sense that something - like a certain "social code" or else? - is in the air. Certainly entering Thailand a few days later puts Malaysia under a totally different light - although physically close from one another, these 2 countries' personalities are miles apart!

We spent our last night in Malaysia by the border, in Kota Bahru. We dumped our bikes in a small guest house and went exploring town, which gave us the opportunity to follow the evening ritual - the call to prayer, which draws every man towards the central mosque. Under the song of "Allah Akhbar!', men of all ages, backgrounds, looks, shape or form slowly congregate towards the mosque, leaving their sandals outside, cleaning their feet, and walking up the stairs that take them to the praying room. The atmosphere is warm, and strangely spiritual. The call to prayer sees the close-by market stop their constant noises of cutting, talking, dropping, shuffling - to a small whisper, that seems further muffled by the heat of the day. As the day draws to a close, this time of prayer is like a break before the night activities (which are usually numerous, almost more happening at night than during the day in Malaysia!), a time to stop, before moving on to the next thing. It keeps the city still for a few moments, and I cannot help but admire the fact that these people are taking this time, daily, even several times a day, stopping whatever they are doing. Beyond beliefs and religion, those 45 minutes are a time when, no matter what is happening, life stops and men get to pray, reflect, think, or dream...

As soon as the last "Allah Akhbar!" ends up resounding in the warm city, everything comes back to life, like if a theatre show had frozen still for a while, and at the agreed signal, started playing again: the motorbikes make themselves heard, and the men come out of the mosque chatting and dragging their feet, picking their sandals and spreading in all directions. The women come out another door, spreading towards their next task. The market comes back to life, chopping, frying, boiling, shuffling, exchanging, paying, cleaning, cutting and more cooking... Kota Bahru is ready for the night's activities, that will carry on, strongly, until past midnight. We are going to bed, to get a few hours' sleep before our early start, that will see us ride the last 25km to the Malaysian/Thai border.

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