Lose the map

Welcome to LoseTheMap, former diary of travels around Asia, then account of everyday life in Moscow, and now with my family in Berlin - VERSIONE ITALIANA

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Malaysia - Brunei - Singapore

Shots: http://picasaweb.com/lostconversation/Malaysia

Eventually, and with the right ease, I came upon the final tip of Eurasian continent: Malllayyysia!

This world ranges from wild and pure jungle to hi-tech cybercity; once was the centre of gravity of world sea trade between East and West: traders and shipmen were sailing the Melaka strait, merging India with China, introducing (together with Indians and Chinese) both Islamic culture from Middle East and well-tested logistic and strategy of British colonials (together with lots of Chinese, say it again), building a society historically among the most multicultural in the whole world: maybe globalization started here 500 years ago!

It took a while to overcome the shock shifting from hot pants and wet t-shirts in Thailand to Muslim veils that cover local visages, for Islam is official religion.
After a while this heterogeneous but cohesive mix of Muslim Malay + Buddhist and Christian Chinese + spicy Indians + Headhunters from Borneo actually striked me and I felt home speaking Chinese, eating Malay and laughing Indian!

Everybody speaks great English, and hitchhikes switched from deaf-mute dialogues in other countries to brilliant cultural symposiums: on an average day I got lifts from cultured Muslim Malay that enhanced my knowledge about Islam, from Indians to whom I asked about Shiva, Vishnu, Kali and Ganesh, and finally from some Chinese to whom I gave him pearls of mandarin: NiHaoMa? Haaaao!

I always have to say that I’m Christian, but even though I practice intellectual atheism I’m constantly charmed by different religions and beliefs that fill the lifes of loads of people; in the end the concept is the same, but told with different slangs.
As I lose myself in observing different religious rituals in worship places and clownish pagan interactions in the asiaticly messed markets my mind flies away, and I feel at home.

In 6 weeks I travelled from rich peninsula Malaysia to wild Malay Borneo, stepping in Brunei and Singapore, two countries now independent but strongly linked from culture and history to Malay life.
Due to weird country boundaries during these weeks I ended up with 16 stamps on my passport, drastically reducing free pages for my next visas: will I do fake papers in Kathmandu?

Anyway, wandering across west peninsula under equatorial burning sun I came to Melaka and Penang, two historic city-port from colonial time now filled with people, cars and malls.
Nice and interesting study history of commerce from old times, but nowadays trade get me bored then quick like a sabertooth tiger I jump on my local partner AirAsia to Borneo.
Let’s get wild, again!

Last century’s Borneo was impenetrable jungle and tribal life, headhunters and odd animist rituals, but alas this island among the biggest and exotic of the world has been conquered by global modernity; still there is jungle, but massive logging, palm oil and rubber plantations are slowly killing the wild Borneo.
Indonesian Borneo, Kalimantan, is less developed and more tribal (and less easy to explore), and Malay side is more civilized: tribal headhunters time is gone, and their offspring enjoy modern working life, just like us.
Legend says, however, that during construction of bridges, streets and buildings, in the end among workers (especially filipinos and indonesians) some head get missing for real! The spirits of forest take these offerings and protect humans from calamity, secular tradition continue and peaceful life goes on, downhere!

I need Borneo, I need it to test my thirst for adventures: have I enough or I’m still thirsty?
I had fast and deep experience: 12 hours upriver Rajang where roads still are missing, then a dive in gigantic Niah Caves, where billions of bats are waiting for the night in their royal upsidedown position.

After these introduction it came the time to experience the real jungle (still there’s a lot of it!): I rented a Malay guy and with his machete we made our way trough the thousand-year-old forest, jumping like Tarzan from tree to log, crossing neck-level rivers and meeting various kind of genetically modified insects.
After climbing Batu Punggul with bare hands like Manolo and enjoied beautiful sunset over rainforest me and my buddy realized that it’s a bit late, and darkness is shading over us…
Glooms came and I’m in the middle of the jungle, animal and insect sounds grow up in this loud concert of live wild junglish music.
The atmosphere is filled with tribality.
It’s amazing to be part of this orchestra and scream all my primitive impetous but there’s no time to lose, every minute it gets darker and the risk of spending the night with screaming monkeys eating insects grub become too much realistic!
An easy day trip shift to a night run speeding away from jungles’ tentacles…
In the end we make it, and this “Night Jungle Parade” get me mudded, completely sweaty (yeah rainforest is a bit wet), some scratches and wounds, a bump in my forehead (crashed against a baobab), insects all over my body, my right shoe dashed (remember the one bought in China?) and a bloodsucking leech hanged to my sock!

Sounds like good Karma is still with me, but I hope I haven’t left my soul entangled to some branches!

After today any touristic trek is nothing, but I join an expedition upriver Kinabatangan, close to Sandakan (home of Sandokan, the real tiger of Malaysia, comeing by an Italian writer) in a wildlife spotting trip.
Sadly, or luckily, I haven’t met any tiger, but I spotted orang utan (in Malay language Oran = man Tang = forest), macaque, proboscis monkey, crocodiles, big lizards, big spiders, big rats, hornbills, owls, and coloured birds leisurely sat on a touristy boat together with Sunday’s tourists fully equipped; they were a bit repulsed when I told them I ate insects in Thailand!

To refresh myself from unbearable humidity and over-burning sun I hitch from jungle to the coast, till Semporna and Sipadan Island, gifting me with another scuba dive, the last one, the ultimate: I might be boring in descriptions but I honestly wish you, sooner or later in your life, to have a chance of swimming with small sharks and huge turtles, with schools of thousands of barracudas spinning and twisting at three meters from your fins, shaping all together now a cloud, now a submarine, now a whale.
Diving it’s just like a drug: it’s stunning, addictive and hell expensive: then I decide to stick my fins to the wall and, by the way I couldn’t take pictures, I’ll leave the frames of these underwater moments fluctuate between my temples, waiting for the siren’s echo to call me back there, where paradise is. Yo!

Back inshore: sadly I haven’t spotted tigers and neither tribes of indigenous Dayak people with blowpipes and pikes, and instead of climbing Mt. Kinabalu I got an invitation to a Bugis Malay/Indonesian Muslim ceremony in honour of a newborn baby.
Islamic atmosphere here is a far cry from Khmer Buddhist wedding in Cambodia: no alcohol and no music.
Men are passing time chatting, smoking and eating delicious cakes cooked by their faithful wives, whom wear coloured long dresses and fix their veils with pied pins.
As a guest I’m over-respected and served of food, sweets, fruits and water, sat on Arabic carpets.
To not make any inmity I always try to face Mecca, but this thin methapor is not taken by the nice, but shy and sober, convivials.

Eventually it comes the climax of the ceremony, and the Imam after focused prayers get ready to make the sacrifice of a male cow, in the honour of the baby.
Everyone is curious and carefully looking at the throat-cutting and slaughtering of the beast, and some child is a bit shocked by watching the head coming inside the house while the body is still lay on the field.
The ritual last one hour, and when everything seems over suddenly the Imam catches a rooster and sacrifice it in honour of the cow.
What? What’s the matter with the rooster? And who’s gonna die in honour of the rooster? Me? Ah, that’s why you gave me food! You want me to get fat!

My friend Ismail reassure me that I will not be throat-cutted, rather I’ll have a royal treatment and in the end the initial shyness will led to wide smiles and Hello and good pictures; somebody asks me one of the best questions ever, in broken english: “In your country… do you have jungle?” After a laugh my answer is diplomatic: “No sorry no jungle, but we have lots of monkeys in our government!”

In between these wild and social adventures I spent few days in Brunei: the goal was say “What’s up man!” to the sultan, but the royal guards forbitted me to enter palace…
Weird country Brunei, thought to see sheiks and rolls-royce in arab- millionaire style, but it sucks!
Once Brunei was as large as Borneo island, then Dutch and British colonies bought lands over lands, leaving the poor but rich sultan with a small country, but rich in petrol.
Hence thanks to these gifts and black gold the royal family is among the richest in the world, and preserve the longest long-lived dictatorsh…ehm monarchy of history.

Common people are in fact under a blackmail from their beloved king (in turn puppet of the army): peace, enough wealth, almost no taxes, free education, sanity etc, an infallible social system assured on condition that people accept the non-freedom of expression, non-democracy, iron Islam and especially absolute prohibition in drinking alcohol!
Yep, in Brunei you can’t find a beer dear my friend, but petrol is less than 20 cents!

Capital city Bandar Seri Begawan has two amazing mosques, some good museums (a bit propagandist though), a stilt village and less more, two days are enough for this bizarre Brunei Darussalam, who though gave me noteworthy considerations about the dichotomy dictatorship/freedom; this tiny country is a good case study for some social and politic mechanisms.
Some compare this sultanate to the military junta in Burma but in a “Nice” way, nobody complains ‘cause everybody has a medium-hi wealth, even though in the end of the day I’m sure they will die for boredom…

Another world is Singapore, where I landed after wild Borneo: a city-state rich, clean and prompt, global market of cheap technology and advanced business; where air-con winds cross the gates of the thousands malls and reach the urban streets, giving some second of pleasure under the everlasting equatorial sauna.

Theoretically Singapore (from Sanskrit Lion City) is a prototype of modern perfect city, and the slogan “produce consume die” is literally enforced, everything works perfectly and sometimes you don’t even feel you’re in Asia…

Well if what we want is “produce consume die” I reckon here we are, but honestly I believe we can do better, we can have bit more royal goals; often I ask myself “Where are we going?” No answer, everybody here seems to go his own way, but to me it sounds the same fried rice warmed-up again and again!

Anyway, positive social life, especially at electro concert of DjKentaro (Japan keep on calling me) and some other meetings Chinese, Filipinos and Indians, melted in some street action photography.

Singaporean Chinese (large majority) are way different from Chinese in China, no pushing, no spitting, they rather are extremely hypochondriacs and ever more westerner than me!
Loads of people move down here for business/shopping/city life, but thousands of restrictions for the sake of your safety, constant psychological terrorism, salty fines and this “slightly” consumerism attitude make, to me, a bit boring, grey and android this future.

After a week I escaped from Singa to preserve my wallet from useless expenses, throwing shopping mania in the garbage, just like it was plastic. And no recycle.

From Singapore I watch south with a binocular and I see Indonesia, it attract me with its islands, culture and dark skin, I hear drums and tropical bells calling me…
I meditate for a while, and with an Uran on my shoulder I decide to turn back: Indonesia deserve time and dediton, by the way I got at least 16 plans running through my head I postpone the archipelago exploration to the future, if Buddha and Allah will want.
Don’t worry, the dream is not over!

Back in Malllayyysia, in a short stop in east coast (much similar to Borneo than to west coast), I risked to become prince of a sultanate (!) and after escaping from royal troubles I got, finally, to Kuala Lumpur, capital city.
Nice city, if it wouldn’t because of the striking heat I’d make a thought…
The impressive Petronas Towers, glass buildings, Arabic-style skyscrapers, classics Little India and Chinatown, amazing Islamic Art Museum, breakfasts with Roti Canai, Nasi Lemak and Nasi Goreng, a welcomed re-meeting dated Mongolia and puff… time’s up!

And here I am sitting on a sofa, fan fasted to my face, catching breath for a while.
6 moons ploughed my South-East Asian skies, 6 months spent in slippers and shorts enjoying tropical delicacy, my mind goes back with a smile to Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Thai and, accomplished like somebody who just got driving license, I tell myself it’s time to change.

Tomorrow I sail off, let’s shake some dust capitain!
But where?
Ho Chi Min?
Haaa.. a bit predictably I drop my clinch to Hong Kong, Yo!

Yong Kong!

Suggestions and especially economic contributions are welcome for my next stages, unless like King Kong I get stuck to a skyscraper in Kowloon )


Shots: http://picasaweb.com/lostconversation/Malaysia

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