Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Books I Love: The Tao of Travel

The Tao of Travel; Enlightenments from Lives on the Road is a book I acquired in 2011 and I dip into it often, for the inspiring words and 'stories' about a subject close to my heart - travel. Written by Paul Theroux in 2011 (so I bought it fresh from the printing press!), this book is the 44th from this prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction. I have yet to read any of his 28 novels but I have read five of his travel books*.

The blurb at the back of the book reads: Paul Theroux celebrates fifty years of wandering the globe by collecting the best writing on travel from the books that shaped him, as a reader and traveller. Part philosophical guide, part miscellany, part reminiscence, The Tao of Travel enumerates 'The Contents of Some Travellers' Bags' and exposes 'Writers Who Wrote about Places They Never Visited'; it tracks extreme journeys in 'Travel as an Ordeal' and highlights some of 'Travellers' Favourite Places'. Excerpts from the best of Theroux's own work are interspersed with selections from travellers both familiar and unexpected, including: Vladimir Nabokov, ... Freya Stark, ... and more.

USA Today says, this book is 'A portal into a world of timeless travel literature curated by one of the greatest travel writers of our day'.

My own favourite parts of this book are the sections on 'The Pleasures of Railways', 'Classics of a Sense of Place' and the 'Travel Wisdom' of the various travellers including Sir Francis Galton.

Theroux ends his book with 'The Essential Tao of Travel':
1. Leave home  2. Go alone  3. Travel light  4. Bring a map  5. Go by land
6. Walk across a national frontier  7. Keep a journal
8. Read a novel that has no relation to the place you are in
9. If you must bring a cell phone, avoid using it  10. Make a friend
For me, only 2, 6, & 8 are hard to do. I salute solo travellers because I'm too much of a coward to travel alone. I have yet to walk across any frontier, but you never know ... Whenever I do travel, I do not read novels, full stop.

The Tao of Travel / Paul Theroux. Hamish Hamilton, 2011. Ex Libris CNB 1899

Note: Tao (in Chinese philosophy) is the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behaviour, that is in harmony with natural order.... literally '(right) way' (Google)

*1. The Great Railway Bazaar; by Train through Asia. Penguin Books, 1977Ex Libris CNB 53
*2. The Old Patagonian Express; by Train through the Americas. Penguin Books, 1980. Ex Libris CNB 1645
*3. The Kingdom by the Sea; a Journey around the Coast of Great Britain. Penguin Books, 1984. Ex Libris CNB 54
*4. Riding the Iron Rooster; by Train through China. Penguin Books, 1989. Ex Libris CNB 52
*5. Train to the Eastern Star; on the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar. Penguin Books, 2009. Ex Libris CNB 1854

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Unique Orang Seletar

I have been ignorant of the Orang Laut Seletar of Johor, although I had known of the orang laut or sea gypsies of Semporna (Sabah), having had the opportunity to meet them during the Regatta Lepa in 2011 and 2012. It was certainly a privilege to get to meet the Orang Seletar recently. These unique and proud people were brought all the way from their village of Kampung Sungai Temun to the KLGCC for the launch of a book about them. Although it was a very short meeting, yet their charm and friendliness was most obvious. I hope I will have the chance to meet them again in their kampung in Johor.

The Orang Seletar performing at a book (about them) launch

Perusing through the newly launched book* about the Orang Seletar, I find information and facts that I need to set down (verbatim) in this blog entry to remind me about their history and origins, and make me much more aware of their current social conditions; of their "fragile and vulnerable position ... in their quest for survival and livelihood amidst a wider region of rapid progress and economic prosperity ... " (of Iskandar Malaysia).

"History reveals that they had a glorious past as an important societal component of the Malay sea world, patroned by the powerful Malay Sultanate in the Riau-Lingga area. These sea gypsies originated within Nusantara, the Malay ethnic territory that encompasses a vast geographical region that includes what is now Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, parts of Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Southern Thailand and other countries of the Asia-Pacific."

"Early historical records prove that the Orang Seletar were originally from Singapura (which since the late 16th century had belonged to Johor), from an area called Seletar, where they served the Johor royal family as hunters, trackers and able seamen. Pulau Seletar was their 'docking' grounds whenever they needed to come ashore. But in the 1960s, due to various restrictions imposed on them by the Singapore authorities - especially with regard to their movements in the territorial waters - they were invited by the then Johor Sultan, HRH the late Sultan Ismail, to migrate to Johor. They have called the Straits of Tebrau their home ever since."

"However, looking at these peace loving aborigine communities existing as they do in the present day, with their placid, indolent way of life, living under primitive and very poor conditions, marginalised and underprivileged characterised by poverty, low-levels of education and health, we would indeed find it very difficult to identify them with their dynamic historical past and civilisation. They are together with other Orang Asli in Malaysia, the poorest and the most marginalised and underprivileged group in Malaysian society."

"The Orang Seletar of Johor are a small subgroup within the indigenous ethnic minority group in Malaysia, the Orang Asli. While most Orang Asli are known to be forest dwellers, the Orang Seletar are traditionally seafarers and have, for generations, lived on boats and thrived off the sea. They have always been fishermen and, to this day make a living from marine produce. The clean water of the sea (and the riverine mangrove swamps) provides not only their main source of livelihood but also forms a central basis for their sense of identity, 'sense of space and place' and culture."

The Orang Seletar and water cannot be parted

The Orang Seletar community inhabit eight villages in the Johor Bahru district within a 25 km radius of Johor Bahru city. According to the 2008 figures of the Department of Orang Asli Affairs, their population of slightly more than 1,700 people and about 370 heads of households live in eight kampungs (Kg); Kg Simpang Arang, Kg Bakar Batu, Kg Sungai Temun, Kg Teluk Jawa, Kg Pasir Putih, Kg Kuala Masai, Kg Teluk Kabung and Kg Pasir Pasir Salam.

Some Orang Seletar youth at the KLGCC

The culture of the Orang Seletar is steeped in animism, although there are among them who have converted to Islam, Christianity, or Buddhism. Their ties with the water and nature begins even at birth, when the placenta of a newborn is wrapped and hung among the mangroves (see the first picture in this blog post, taken from the same book mentioned above).

 JAKOA officer, Penel & me with the Orang Seletar after
the book launch at KLGCC

Note: The Orang Asli (Original or Indigenous Peoples) of Malaysia (JAKOA/Dept of OA Devt.)
1. Negrito/Semang (North): Kintak, Kinsiu, Jahai, Mendriq, Bateq, Lanoh
2. Senoi (Central): Temiar, Semai, Che Wong, Jahut, Semoq Beri, Mah Meri
3. Proto Malay: (South): Seletar, Kuala, Kanaq, Jakun, Semelai, Temuan

*Ref: My personal journey in observing the dynamic Iskandar Malaysia and its forgotten sea gypsies; economic development contradictions and cultural change/ Jamilah  Ariffin. iRESOLVE (International Research Institute for Economic Progress and Social Well-being), 2014.  Ex Libris CNB 2048

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

I Love Book Launches

I have been to many, many book launches and I would never tire of attending even more. The most recent was one held last Saturday 14 June 2014, at the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club (KLGCC) in Bukit Kiara. My long-time friend Penelope (or Penel, Penny) extended us the invitation to attend the book launch of her good friend (Puan Sri) Professor Jamilah Ariffin (JA). The book entitled 'My Personal Journey in Observing the Dynamic Iskandar Malaysia and its Forgotten Sea Gypsies; Economic Development Contradictions and Cultural Change' is the author's 15th.

In her speech explaining her book, the author made a plea to the authorities concerned to enable the Orang Asli Seletar (the sea gypsies) to continue their unique way of life although surrounded by the rapid development of Iskandar Malaysia. The Minister of Women, Family & Community Development Dato' Seri Rohani Abdul Karim officiated the book launch. She lauded JA's effort and the book which would serve as a reminder for society to ensure that indigenous peoples do not disappear altogether because of progress and economic development.

Other than the Orkes Yayasan Warisan Johor (?) and the talented blind singer Fadzli, JA also brought along the Orang Asli Seletar to perform their unique music and dances at her book launch event. I was mesmerised. (I will blog about these unique people from information gleaned from JA's book later.)

It was good to be able to meet up with Penel and her two children (KK & Sarah), also the author JA (and her very supportive husband, ex-MB of Johor, Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Othman). Penel's acquaintance with them go all the way back to their University of Queensland days.

I had attended the book launch with A, but she had to leave early for another appointment. Still, there was time enough for her to pose with Penel, KK & Sarah. We also got to meet with some KL librarians and Rohana, JA's sister whom we knew from our USM days. Book launches are a good opportunity to keep up with new books, and people from the book/publishing world.

Monday, 16 June 2014

SA Garden Catalogue: Marigold

Scientific name: Tagetes erecta
Common name: Marigold
Malay name: Bunga Tahi Ayam
Origin: Mexico

The Marigold is a foetid-smelling annual herb with yellow to orange flowers. They grow very well in full sun and propagation is by seeds. The flowers are rather 'showy' and so the plants are used in colourful garden displays. There are about 50 species and the plants are said to rid the soils of nematodes - microscopic worms.

Two plants in my tiny garden had bursts of yellow flowers, and had been 'grown' by A. Actually she threw some seeds from a packet (bought at a Tesco supermarket) into the container on the pedestal in the middle of the garden, and before you know it, we had  a few seedlings growing. Unfortunately, only two survived to grow quite awkwardly in the container housing Plumbago plants. But thrive they did and produced quite a few stunning blooms like the one above. Being an annual, after the flowering there is nothing else to do but discard them and grow a new batch.

It is the month of June and the effects of El Nino is already being felt from early in the month. And it is supposed to get hotter and hit 40 degrees Celsius right up till September and may be beyond till the new year. Daily watering is a must because the soil in the containers dry up quickly and the plants in them start wilting away.      1.15am

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Snapshots: Insignia, Emblems, Logos & Such

These are snapshots of insignia, emblems, logos & such that I took during the recent visit to the Royal Automobile Gallery in Klang.

Friday, 13 June 2014

A Peek into the Istana Alam Shah

Recently we had the privilege of joining a small group which were given a tour of  Istana Alam Shah, the Selangor royal palace in Klang.

Before going into the Palace proper, we were given a tour of the Royal Automobile Gallery housing the Sultan of Selangor's official and private cars. These include Rolls Royces, Ferraris, Jaguars, etc. and the vintage car used to complete the Peking-to-Paris Motor Challenge in 1997 to promote Malaysia.

A stone's throw away from the Gallery is the Selangor Football Museum, small but very interesting. The history of the Selangor team is traced here and one of the displays is Mokhtar Dahari's jersey worn at his last game.

At the Palace there was a welcome briefing by palace officials who then showed us around the various rooms and spaces. Among others, we were shown the Balai Santapan Diraja (Royal Banquet Room) that can seat a thousand guests.

We were also shown around the Balai Dewan Diraja (Council of the Royal Court Chamber), the Balairong Seri (Throne Room), the Royal Guest Bedroom, etc. All over there are paintings, photographs and artifacts that document and exhibit the important moments of the Sultan of Selangor and his family.

The afternoon visit ended with a high tea in fine dining style prepared by the palace chef. It was a memorable outing that gave us an insight into the life of the Selangor royal family.

5.55 pm

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Semenyih, Hulu Langat, Selangor

We went to Semenyih for the first time today. I have always been fascinated by this rather odd name for a place but never thought I would ever really need to go there. (Though I have harboured thoughts of hiking the Broga Hills/Bukit Lalang which I know is in the vicinity). But then a relative kindly invited us to his housewarming party in a new Taman (housing estate) in ... Semenyih, so how could we refuse? We had been thinking before, "Who lives in Semenyih"? Even if the controversial 1.5 billion ringgit incinerator project there had been scrapped.

Of course we had to use the GPS to get to our relative's place in Semenyih, but then we still got lost because the Taman is very new (and not yet under the radar?). Then again we were lucky to be lost in Taman Semenyih and a local gentleman there kindly led the way to our destination (Taman Pelangi Semenyih 2) because it was on his way (to golf). So happily we got to meet our relative and his family, admired his big, new house and ate a very sumptuous lunch spread right there in Semenyih.

About Semenyih - it is a small town (about 8 km southeast of Kajang) in Hulu Langat, Selangor near the border with Negri Sembilan. Small it may be, but we noticed that there's definitely a lot of development going on there. Many new housing estates are coming up. We also spotted the signage for the way to the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus. A branch of an English university way out Semenyih? Why? We thought the young students must be restless and 'mati kutu' (bored) here. But I suppose there are some places nearby they can go for R & R rest & relaxation, not rock & roll or Ritalin & Redbull. I checked online and found that apart from the Broga Hills to hike, there are waterfalls (Batangsi, and Tekala near the Semenyih Dam) to frolic in. And there are also the usual fast food outlets (KFC, McDonald's) and other local eateries in town.

Note: 'Semenyih' may mean 'sembunyi' or 'hide/hidden' in a Negri Sembilan dialect. Indeed this place has been hidden from our my knowledge for a long time. Its history is fascinating if not blur. It was during the reign of Sultan Abdul Samad of Selangor that Lukut was was given over to Negri Sembilan in exchange for Semenyih.

P.S. Of all the #@%$*, I forgot to take pictures of this first time visit to Semenyih!  I must have been in a stupour or something. Or did we really go there at all? 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Retro: Bukit Bendera, Pulau Pinang

Aah ... Bukit Bendera, or Penang Hill as you might know it by. A hill resort to escape from the urban hustle bustle of Pulau Pinang. Even getting up there was a romantic adventure by the narrow gauge / funicular railway. I remember it as a favourite place for the family, especially during the weekends. If  'overnighting', we usually stayed at the Bellevue. These pictures were taken in 1982 early 1983.

Note on the (not so) trivia: I made B's red and green corduroy dresses in Iran, using a Frister & Rossman sewing machine I bought with my first pay in England.