I see that my last report was from Kota Bharu on the East coast of Malaysia. Before I left the old wooden Malay house, in which I felt so at home, I had
three more cultural experiences.
On Fridays, weather permiting, people bring their song birds to a park where they are hung out in lines in their cages and then judged by four men, mainly on their singing ability but
also on their looks and presentation. The day I was there about 100 birds were on display and so the whole event took about 3 hours. Unforunately I had to leave before the end to meet someone but I saw the big trophies
to be won. The birds are Malaysian, sorry I can't remember their names but they are bigger than budgies and have straight beaks. Mainly grey they have some pink bits around their head. I'm sure some ornotholigist
amongst you will enlighten me.
Later I cycled down to catch a ferry up river, not really being sure where it went but hoping it was somewhere interesting, and, lo and behold, I landed in the village where the local
shadow puppet maker lived. He kindly gave me a demo on how he made them and how they operated. They are flat, made from goat skin, the shapes tapped out with a sharp instrument and then coloured with inks. Ticks are
attached to arms and legs for the movements. The shows only usually have one puppeteer but several musicians. Unfortunately the next show was not for another few days so I did n't see it but I got the gist of how it all
After a lengthy trip by road back to town I went again to see the music competition that was being held in the evening. The type if music from this state, of Kalantan is called Diki Barat and is something I
have never seen anywhere else so I must describe it for the musicians amongst you.
Each village (Kampung) has a group. There are two singers and about 10 chorus men. Then there are about 4 or 5 musicians. One plays a
big gong, two on different types of drums, one bongo and the other shaped like a bohran, and another with a tamborine style instrument. Most groups wear a type of uniform and this can be very showy. The traditional
material woven in Kalentan is brightly cloured but has a weft thread of gold so the garments shimmer. The two singers are very richly dressed and the chorus have a more subdued outfit, but all matching. When they
come on stage the musicians take their place first and then start a beat going when the chorus comes on and sits crosed legged in two lines. Then the singers come and sit at the front.
When the song starts there is
first the beat which then stops, then one of the singers starts a slow song while rising to his feet, then at a certain point the chorus singers repeat some of his lines, and this is where the fun starts because as they
sing they move from the waist up, twisting and turning and making elaborate arm and hand movements and clapping and singing ,all in unison. Then the singer does another bit and then they are off again. Its amazing and
must be quite exhausting. I was gobsmacked. Interesting to note that only men can perform in public in this Islamic state so there were no womens groups.
I asked one of the local men what the songs were about and was
told that some are traditional such as the one I heard several times which was about kite flying, and some are recent topical compositions. The main topics they covered semed to be how great Malaysia is with its
tolerant atitude to all races and religions One style of song was giving advice to the young like to be diligent at studies and repect your elders and not to take drugs and alcohol etc.
The rendition was
completely different but it reminded me of the local village Spanish groups who make up topical songs and also have competions with them.
I would have loved to stay the whole week to see all the competitors. Some
where truly astounding. The men running the show saw my interest and got some CD's for me which I hope to hear sometime but I think that the visual spectacle is more impresive than just hearing the music.
dragging myself away from that nice little niche I rode south down the coast for a couple of days passing the ferry ports where tourists who like diving and snorkling go out the islands. Clean sandy beaches and not so
busy as the west coast of Malaysia.
I decided to go inland to see a large man made lake, which wasn't that interesting unless you went out on a boat trip , so then made for some waterfalls where I was hoping to camp
for the night. About 10kms short it started to rain so I stopped to put on the wet weather gear. I left the bike and stood under someones verandah to tog up as the skys opened in a big way. Soon water was gushing down
the gutters and I watched in horror as Suzy overbalanced in the flood and lay with her pannier submerged. I rushed out and tried to flag someone down but, as you could hardly see in the downpour, most just drove by.
Finally a kind man stopped and waded out, shoeless, to help me.
Being soaked i carried on riding, got to the falls and, when it finally stopped raining, put up the tent.
Next morning, after a short jungle
walk while the tent dried out I went back to the coast as I had read that there was a place where the turtles came in to the beach to lay their eggs. The iformation centre told me that at that point the turtles no
longer came as their numbers were so depleted but that there was a hatching centre further down the coast. The Wildlife rangers have to monitor the turtles, watch them lay the eggs and then dig them up before the egg
theives do and put them in a special guarded area for them to hatch and then make sure that they are released when no one else is around.
Although tourists are not allowed at this place I managed to find it and talk
my way in to see the hatchery. The old guard had obviously been around breeding programs too long as he seemed to think that I might like to try and make babies too - with him- but I manged to disuade him and carried on
down to a once popular hippy type tourist village called Cherating where I stayed in a lovely wooden hut where I was able to unpack properly again. Just as well as I discovered that my pannier had several inches of
water in it and all my papers were wet. The verandah was covered with diaries, carnets, visiting cards etc, etc all drying in the sun. Once again I was lucky not to lose anything although there is more smudged ink.
Cherating has a nice sheltered beach and a litle river estuary where you can take a boat ride amongst the mangroves. Saw some black and yellow snakes in the trees, monitor lizard, kingfisher and hornbill on
the trip. It reminded me of being in the bayous around the Mississippi region. The laid back atmosphere of Cherating made me want to stay again. There are a few foreigners around. One Englishman, David, has taken early
retirement in Malaysia and keeps himself fit on his mountain bike and giving windsurfing lessons. When I hired a local push bike we went on a 34km ride into the jungle and up the coast to check on where I could
see the turtles, as there was another hatchery close by.
That night at 11pm we , and about 50 others, held a baby turtle in out hands and gently set it on the beach to watch it scurrying by moonlight down to the
waters edge, to be washed away by the next wave. Good luck little turtle, I hope you dont get eaten before you have a chance to grow up.
Unfortunately, the leather back turtles, once prolific on this coast are now
practically extinct. Now it is mainly the Green turtle who comes on shore but fewer and fewer. Even this ranger program, where people are allowed to touch the babies, is not a good idea. Any human involvement is a
deterrent and of course the demand for turtle eggs on the black market means that only a small percentage of those laid get to hatch, no matter how hard the rangers try to keep watch.
I decided to stay an extra day
and try and get a suntan while watching David instructing a German couple in the art of falling off a windsurfboard. Pulling up those sails looks too much like hard work to me.
On the road again. I had let David ride
my bike up to the hatchery and he confirmed my opinion that the steering was awful again, so I realised that it needed to be looked at in KL and I was riding extra cautiously. Two easy days saw me back in Taman Negara
Nationasl park but this time at the more tourist orientated entrance where it is possible to go on a canopy walk. This entails walking on a series of suspension bridges tied to the tall trees 40 metres above ground. The
walk is approx. 500 metres long in 10 stages and only 4 people are allowed on each bridge at a time, 5 metres apart. It is pretty exciting. You are supposed to be looking at the vegetation but most people, me
included, are too busy clinging on the wires while rocking around the treetops. After that adrenalin buzz I took a walk in the jungle again to entertain the leeches. It really is amazing how enormous the trees are. Some
are so tall you just cant see the tops. They have huge buttress roots spreading out on the forest floor. Everytime I passed such display of roots it made me think of how our little Spanish houses need buttresses to stop
the walls falling out and how I haven't got any so my casa could be a pile of stones by now.
During my walk the following day I exploed a cave and, by chance, found an Orang Asli village. These people are the only
ones allowed to live in the National park as they live entirely from the jungle. I watched a woman making a shelter from palm leaves. Small branches are bent over to form a row of arches as the roof frame and then
the palms are tied on, just using the leaves to connect them. They hunt birds and animals and fish in the rivers.
Apart from when tour groups come to visit with a guide when the Orang Asli demonstrate their hunting
blow pipes and fire making, the people in the park do not mix with other Malays and they have their own language. However, other groups of this race have been "tamed" and live in villages on welfare provided
by the government.
The people are small and dark with tight curly hair and flat noses, somewhat similar to Australian aborigines.
After a guitar session with some of the Malay guides at a coffee bar
overlooking the river, I finished my jungle experience here by going on a boat ride at night spotlighting for birds or animals in the trees along the river bank. Didn't see anything but the longboat ride was lovely,
especially when they cut the motor and we drifted down stream.
Farewell to the bush and hello to the teaming metropolis of KL. I needed the 4 hour ride to psyche myself up for that. Watch this space for the
report coming soon.