Monday, November 30, 2009

Ride into the New Millenium !

As you enter the arch where the grand old locomotives are on display at the National Museum , you will certainly see a fine display of the different models of vehicles through time.

Looking at these modes of transport, I couldn't help thinking wasn't it only a little more than 100 years ago, travel was mainly by waterways in our country. In the virgin jungles, elephants helped move man and machinery.

Speed is of the essence and the vehicles more refined in this day and age. Up in the skies, fly our national carrier , MAS (Malaysia Airlines) and our world recognised budget airline, AirAsia , of whom I'm rightly proud of both.

For this blog, let's stay on terra firma!

Trishaw - the model here is from Parit Jawa, Muar, Johore. Its colours are green, red, yellow and black all being popular colours of the era.The seat is filled with coconut husks and two adult passengers can seat i it with one /two children too. The hood is made of canvas and it can be opened or closed depending on the weather conditions.

How can I forget the free rides that I used to hitch from two friends who had trishaws to take them to school? At times, with my friends, I piled in front of them among the school wicker bags and merrily we were on our way , thanks to the hard working driver of theirs.

The Austin Seven was built by British carmaker, Sir Herbert Austin (1866-1941). It was manufactured in 1935 and the Seven set the standard for the European small car for more than a decade. It hit its high water mark in annual sales (27,280) 13 years after its introduction.

Proton Saga car, 1.3 litre was the first of 30 cars made during a test-run. It made history as the first Malaysian car on Thursday,18 April,1985, 2.30 pm. It was donated by PROTON. YBhg. Tan Sri Dato Jamal bin Jan, Chairman of PROTON (Perusahan Otomobil Nasional Bhd) handed the car to the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Datuk Dr Sulaiman bin Haji Daud on 15 Aug , 1985.

Kereta kuda/ Gharry of Malacca - It was owned by a local Chinese man in 1910 but was bought by Encik Awal bin Mat from Bukit Piatu in 1929. The gharry was used to ferry passengers for 0.05 sen per mile ( 1.6 km) until 1955.

Johore Horse Cart - the Chinese community in Maharani, Johore used it in the 1990s for their daily activities. It was drawn by a pony to transport passengers. Imagine, it cost a mere RM0.05 for a 1.6 km trip !!

Melaka Bullock cart - It has been in existence since the Sultanate days of Malacca in the 15th century AD. With trade, it was introduced by the traders from India. Today, it is the accepted traditional symbol of the state. The bullocks cover 8 km in half an hour.

Nowadays the bullock cart can be seen in parades or even in hotels, shopping complexes where they are reminiscent of the days of yore.

For some nostalgia, I couldn't help digging among old photo albums to share with my readers these pictures.

Pedal power on the tricycle . Only human energy to get him about!

The Morris Minor 1000 was a popular British - made car. It was the successor to the protototype known as the Morris Mosquito. Seen here is the 4 door Morris Minor 1000 in the porch of my husband's house in the 60s. My mum -in - law bought it from a British planter in 1960. It was cream in colour and later sprayed black. She used to drive it around town for her meetings and was recognised in this car! In the 1990s the Morris Minor was sold off.

A young ' hopeful' for an advertisement on the bonnet of the Alfa Romeo Veloce 1.6 GT , belonging to his elder brother.

Dear friends,

The first month entries (5 Oct - 5 Nov) have been judged and I'm one of the 5 winners under the public category for Blog for FT competition. I want to THANK YOU all for your votes and making it happen. Your visits, your comments help me to make my blog as best I can for all my readers.

Blog for FT is not only about the competition but it is about the unique opportunity we're given to share with bloggers everywhere our beautiful country, Malaysia.

Do log on and find out more of the results:

Thank you so much, once again and please continue to vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!

Have a good day :)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

1 MALAYSIA - we're getting married!

Malaysia's multi-ethnicity and multiculturism astounds even her own people. Yes, we're so colourful and so diverse , a melting pot that is heaven-sent.

I caught the different weddings of our people at the Central Market. It was themed Perkhawinan Seni Satu Malaysia (Weddings - One Malaysia). As a Malaysian, I'm proud of the diversity that is our life. Malaysians have always embraced and loved our plurality, which enriches our lives and understanding of each other whilst maintaining our own traditions to keep them alive and unique.

It was a big open air invitation to All weddings, calling on all to celebrate! Many locals and tourists were enthralled, some curious as the traditions are still alive and in our midst. Here is a sneak peep of the colours of Malaysia. Hey ! we're getting married!!

'They are not said to be husband and wife, who merely sit together. Rather they alone are called husband and wife, who have one soul in two bodies' (Guru Amar Das Pauri, Pg.788)

A Sikh wedding can take place in a home or a gurdwara ('guru's door) as long as the Sri Guru Granth Sahib has been respectfully installed. Anand Karaj is the prescribed form of Sikh wedding and it means 'Blissful Union', whereby two individuals are joined in equal partnership. A Sikh wedding is usually arranged but the ultimate choice is between the boy and the girl.

Prior to a Chinese wedding, is the bethrothal which is always chosen on an auspicious day. Before the wedding ceremony, double wedding cakes and invitations are sent out. On the wedding day, the families perform the 'hair dressing' and 'capping' rituals. The groom goes to the bride's home and he is blocked by her friends at the door. The bridesmaids play a door game with the groom and attendants. Later they leave for the groom's home for the tea ceremony. It ends with an elaborate wedding feast.

The Tok Batin (chieftain) officiates an Orang Asli wedding. The highlight of an Orang Asli's life is to be wedded. When a wedding takes place, it is a village affair . People collect and prepare food for the grandest banquet ever in anticipation of the auspicious occasion. Tuak, wine made from sugar cane/banana juice is drunk during the wedding ceremony among the young and old. The chieftain takes puffs of a cigarette and passes it to the bride who in turn does the same. It is then passed to the chieftain. The marriage is sealed when the wali (Semelai version of priest) says 'saaaah!' to confirm the legitimacy .

Weddings are important religious ceremonies in Hindu religion. Different rituals have different meanings. A priest conducts the ceremony in Sanskrit . The thaali wearing is the highlight of the ceremony for it signifies the couple are now in union.

A Kadazan (from Sabah) wedding day starts early in the groom's house. When the groom and his congregation of friends and relatives approach the bride's house, the joyous Sumazau beats will sound on the ancient gongs. Everyone is served rice and drinks before the bride is taken to his parents' house.Before the couple can enter the groom's house, they must put their feet on a round stone at the bottom of the staircase. While standing siung, conical hats are held above their heads, symbolic of their union They can then enter the house. Rice is served to the couple. Before nightfall, the couple spend their first wedding night in the bride's house. Weddings usually last for 2 days.

There are two parts to a Malay traditional wedding. One is the akad nikah (contract) which is legal and religious before a religious officer and prayers are offered. Mas khawin is also given. At the bersanding (enthronement), the groom's procession of relatives, friends and bunga manggar ( palm blossom) bearing entourage will meet the bride. During the main bersanding ceremony, the couple sit on a dais .Family, relatives and friends sprinkle yellow rice and scented water to bless them. Guests receive the bunga telur (decorated eggs) to symbolize fertility. On that day, the couple has a royal treatment as it is their special day.

Central Market/Pasar Seni
Jalan Hang Kasturi
50050 Kuala Lumpur

Friday, November 27, 2009

Put your best foot forward - Dance!

Two visits to the the National Arts Culture and Heritage Academy ( ASWARA : Malay acronym for Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan) and how do I begin to talk about dance? At best, the waltz doesn't glide well when I'm on the floor!

However after meeting a friendly bunch of teachers and students, it was not difficult to get into the pysche of these dancers and their dance world. I could feel their energy pulsating as they talked about their daily love. Granted, dance is work and work can be tiring.

Joseph Gonzales, Head of the Dance Dept and his colleague, En Ngadap, lecturer and administrator at ASWARA

Joseph Gonzales,head of the Dance department, was at a ballet class with the Diploma dance students, putting them through their paces, correcting their hand and body postures. I signalled to him that I would like to take some pictures and he gestured to snap away!! Visitors are not infrequent at ASWARA.

Later, when I caught him at lunch with his colleague, lecturer and administrator, Encik Ngadap, he did not mince his words that at ASWARA, ' It's not only about learning art forms. It is about understanding and bridging cultures among the races. It's about promoting deeper understanding.'

His emphatic message reminds me of a Malay proverb' Tak kenal maka tak cinta'. Translated, it means ' one is able to appreciate and value other people's ways, beliefs and cultures when one knows about them'. Yes, understanding, learning, infusing, all come together to bridge differences.

At ASWARA , the students have a wholesome curriculum pursuing the Diploma ( 2 years) and Bachelor degree of Performing Arts ( 3 years). It is the only higher institute of learning in Malaysia that provides formal training courses in arts/culture and heritage to Malaysians.

Students obliging me with a pose as they wait for their turns at the exam. Doing the tari asyik, a Kelantan royal court dance

I was delighted to witness so much youth energy , all directed towards the different dance forms there. Obviously, a new generation of talents is being groomed for the performing arts scene. When I spoke to some of the Diploma students, they were happy in this chosen path ( at least for now) They want to take it to another level , the tougher Bachelor degree to commit themselves to the arts. After that, time alone will tell or rather passion will help then decide.

Affectionately nicknamed 'Boy' as his name is not easy to pronounce, filling me on the types of dances the students perform.

'Boy' from Labuan, was heading a ballet practice. I could see that he's heart and soul into dancing and he was glad to have been in different overseas destinations like London and New York, promoting traditional Malay dances, contemporary and Mongolian dances.

Going through the strict paces of the Bharatnatyam, a traditional classical Indian dance with guru, Sharmala.

Two teachers from the Temple of Fine Arts were holding court with some students in the Bharatnytam, an Indian classical dance. Strict timing and the handling of body postures were pointed out by Shamala , the teacher who was totally in control of her class. Her keen eyes spotted every minor inaccuracies and they were corrected there and then as she drummed the floor with a stick to keep rhythm.The students were practising word for word , line expression of the Dance of Joy by Lord Shiva.

I enjoyed myself at ASWARA. Everyone was so friendly and willing to talk about what they do. Thanks! I did not go away not having a taste of dance. The students at the joget class taught me how to to do the joget. I didn't do so well - I did all the wrong things - flailed my arms, twisted my wrists into ugly knots. But they were forgiving. Yes, learning an art takes time. But first, comes LOVE for it.

Doing the joget, a quick, rhythmic Malay folk dance by couples.

Keep it up, ASWARA! Hold fast to your motto,' 'Moving forward with tradition'.

464, Jalan Tun Ismail
50480 Kuala Lumpur
tel: + 603 2697 1777

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Traditional wear - Baju Melayu / Songkok

Getting to Wisma Yakin, in Masjid India I had to wend through the busy crowds. It was noon when I made a beeline there to seek out the tailors of the Baju Melayu, a traditional Malay outfit for men and the songkok, headdress for men too. Wisma Yakin, by repute, is the popular place to get these clothings, especially during the month of Ramadhan.

It was a pleasant visit as I strolled into the shops. The shopkeepers gladly satisfied my curiosity as I asked questions pertaining to the Baju Melayu and the songkok.

I popped into Omar Ali shop, a family run business since 1948. Today, the business is in the capable hands of Omar Ali's daughter. There, Encik Abdul Rahman was busy cutting material for a Baju Melayu outfit. I found out he started as an apprentice at Omar Ali but today after 20 years of loyal service, he's done well.In fact, he's now the chief cutter. He says he only takes clients' measurements and cuts the materials. The sewing is passed on to another person. At a leisurely pace, he completes 7 -8 orders per day. Come big occasions like Hari Raya or Awal Muharram, the orders rocket to over 1000 and more !! I commented that business is good and he smiled in agreement.

The Baju Melayu is a Malay shirt with long sleeves, a standing collar and a pair of matching trousers. The samping (skirt) of the kain songket is worn at the waist to complete the dressing.

I learned there are 3 types of collars : teluk belanga, cheong sam and cekak musang. 'It was our Tunku who popularised the 'cheong sam' collar which has 3 button holes,'said Encik Abdul Rahman. However, the cekak musang collar, with 5 button holes is the most popular. The teluk belanga is collarless and it does not need any buttons. Customers can choose from a big variety of buttons - plain gold stubs, gem -like stones of various colours too.

In the shop are samples of the Baju Melayu shirts which are paired with different colours of the kain songket. This is to help the customer make their choices.Indeed, when the men stride out in their outfits, they look handsomely dressed.

There is a wide range of kain songket ( brocaded cloth) to choose from for the samping(' skirt'). Encik Abdul Rahman showed me the richly woven kain songket and he picked the most expensive. It costs a bomb! Did I hear RM 9,000.00? Well, it's hand woven and the gold threads make the intricate design so dazzingly beautiful. Hence the price.

He assured me the artisans from Trengganu, on the East coast of Malaysia make the best kain songket. Other kain songket are imported from Pakistan and India. Prices of course vary according to the materials and the intricacy of pattern of the gold threads.

For the young ones, there is the smaller version of the Baju Melayu and samping though the latter is already stitched like a skirt to make wearing easier.

There's no lack of songkok in Wisma Yakin. Shelves and table tops are stacked with songkoks, the traditional male headress. Black is the colour of songkoks worn, be it for weddings or funerals. The adult songkok size starts at 21 inches and the largest size measures 23inches ,the increment is one quarter of an inch for another size. It is made of cotton, velvet and some sport a satin border or varied colours of the kain songket.

The songkok is equally an important part of the dressing up for the men. Encik Abdul Rahman says business is brisk during the different important religious dates in the calendar year.

Skt. Ali Omar Ynus
17 Wisma Yakin
Jalan Masjid India, 50100 Kuala Lumpur

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Say it with Flowers

To me, Elizabeth Helikar's recent floral demonstration with the SFTGS (Selangor and Federal Territory Gardening Society) activity was more than just showing the how and telling the do's and don'ts at the YWCA ,Jalan Hang Jebat, Kuala Lumpur.

How often do we pause to think of the nature that surrounds us, the beauty that encompasses our lives in this hurried paced world ? I'm talking about FLOWERS.

Liz, as she is popularly known, is passionate about flowers ( and nature, in general). After all, it's a love affair with flowers as she's always on the move in Yorkshire, Cheshire, the Midlands, Northumberland as an Area demonstrator for NAFA ( National Assoc of Flower Arrangers) in the UK. By accident, she 'stumbled upon the SFTGS website and was thrilled'to be sharing her expertise with us while holidaying here. Liz was born in Kajang and she has made Sheffield, UK her home.

It was evident that she makes the world beautiful with her gift as a floral arranger. Wouldn't any bride shed a quiet tear to be holding her signature bunch of white gerberas and lilies which she so expertly put together as a hand tied bouquet.

Christmas being almost here, she gladly shared ideas on how to make a Christmas wreath. She cleverly incorporated local plants optimising on the colours and shapes to make other Christmassy bouquets too. Colour is fashion and Liz told us black is the 'in' colour , so expect to see black decorations incorporated in the floral arrangements. I think we still love our reds and black does not get our nods of approval!!

How jealous she is of the luxuriant ferns we have in the tropics that are 'life- savers' for many a floral bouquet. In the UK, a small bunch of only 20 leaves costs 3.50 pounds!! I paid special attention to the different varieties of local plants that she used to make the bouquets. So many new ways to use the plants.

Liz's liberal sharing of ideas and tips went down well. The talk attracted over 5o members and non- members. The rain could not keep us away for a nearly 'full house'!

I can't help but share some quotes on flowers with you, thanks to Liz, who got me loving flowers even more.

'The world is a rose - smell it and pass it on to your friends.'
- Persian proverb

My dear blogger friends, near and far, you're always there, popping in to lend your kind spirit of giving , supporting me in my posts.Over the seas and mountains, we link our hands in friendship. Thank you, ROSIDAH, Anya, Rosey Pollen, Emily, M. kate, Veronica lee, ~Covert_Operations'78~, Lucy, Turquoise Diaries, Indrani, Laura in Paris, medam, adrienne, and many, many more. I'll try and pass it on too.

In my garden, there is a place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thought and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as my flowers and the dreams are as beautiful -
Abram L. Urban

Do you, like me, as you work in the garden , have that quiet time to yourself ? It matters not if the lateritic earth is making it a little harder to dig. Time flies and and dreams take shape, fly away and another flies in! Before you know it, it's tea time!

Where flowers bloom so does hope
- Lady Bird Johnson.

Life is ever changing, ever growing. Hold a flower in your hand, smell it- do not despair! Let there be HOPE in your heart. Everything will feel lighter .

What a beautiful afternoon with Liz and the SFTGS ! JUST SAY IT WITH FLOWERS!

SFTGS ( Selangor and Federal Territory Gardening Society)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kuala Lumpur ICONS - our heritage

One of the earliest known photographs of Kuala Lumpur shows what the Selangor padang looked like in 1884. ( photo credit: Kuala Lumpur 100 years/published by th Kuala Lumpur Municipal Council)

In his message for the centenary publication of Kuala Lumpur 100 years 1859 - 1959, the late Sultan of Selangor, Hisamuddin Alam Shah, His Royal Highness wrote:

'... the original pioneers could not have known that they had established a trading centre which turned out to be ideally situated in relation to the country as whole and with reasonable access to a port. This is however , what they did and fortune smiled upon the growth of Kuala Lumpur from its first days'.

Fast forward to 1972. Kuala Lumpur was conferred city status on 1 Feb, 1972. Two years later, on 1 Feb 1974, an agreement was reached between the State of Selangor and the Federal Government creating the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.

I'd like to give a loud 'shoutout' about some notable buildings that define Kuala Lumpur. So, in my trusty Toyota of 14 years, let's tour Kuala Lumpur. Hopefully, you'll want to discover more as there are many more gems that make up my city.

Masjid Jame is a fitting start to a KL tour as it was at this site, the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers where the early tin pioneers came ashore in 1857 and found tin overland.

Masjid Jame, 1909, is a replica of a north Indian mosque and was built on the site of the first Malay cemetery. The prayer hall is surmounted by 3 domes and opens out on to a walled 'sahn' or courtyard. Two minarets flank the composition while numerous smaller towers complete the look. It was designed by British architect, A.B. Hubbock. Masjid Jame was the main Friday mosque until 1967 when the National Mosque was built.

The first permanent railway station was built in 1892 by Governor Sir Cecil Clementi Smith. The present station along Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin , on approximately the same site, was opened in August, 1910. It is one of the most architectually interesting railway stations in the world. Surmounted by minarets and cupolas and decorated with keyhole arches and scalloped eaves, the Moorish architecture is a popular image of Kuala Lumpur. The architect A B Hubbock worked for the PWD in India prior to being appointed acting architect for the FMS (Federation of Malay States).

The Royal Selangor Club, the mock Tudor style club house was built to serve the recreational needs of the large influx of westerners into KL. It faces the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. The club became known as the' Spotted Dog' apparently because the wife of one of the members used to tie her two dalmatians at the club steps to sip her gin slings.

The Abdul Samad Building, the sprawling 'Moorish' style building was originally the State Secretariat. In 1894 the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Charles Mitchell, placed a yen note, several Straits coins, a hunk of tin and a copy of the Selangor Journal under the foundation stone. It was generally acknowledged that its design ws 'too far ahead of it's time' with the 140 feet Central Clock Tower, curving archways and the bulbous copper domes. The architect was A.G. Norman and C.E.Spooner was the State Engineer. It now houses the Supreme Court.

Muzium Negara, Jalan Damansara was built in 1963 by architect Ho Kok Hoe. The design was inspired by the Malay palaces and vernacular Malay architecture. On both sides of the entrance are two immense murals in Italian glass mosaic depicting history and culture.It replaced the earlier Selangor Museum which was destroyed during World war Two. Our first Prime Minister, Tunku mooted the idea for a National Museum to house the nation's historical and cultural treasure as well as specimens of flora and fauna.

Tugu Negara, National Monument , 1966 was built to commemorate Malaysian national heroes.. The bronze sculpture by American sculptor,Felix de Weldon, depicts the victory of the armed forces over the communists during the 12- year Emergency. The Cenotaph commemorates the war dead of WW1 and WW2.

Masjid Negara , located along Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, was built in 1965 by Jabatan Kerja Raya (PWD). It is the centre of Islamic activities in Malaysia. Its 73 metre -high minaret looms into view towering over the 13 acre complex which comprises the Grand Hall, library, meeting hall, ceremonial rooms and a mausoleum. It was built to accommodate 8,000 worshippers. The marble mosque is surrounded by verandas screened by white grilles in traditional Islamic style.

Kuala Lumpur boasts of more architectural heritage. This quick tour for this blog serves to show the uniqueness of the buildings that also define our city. People over the world now realize that conservation of heritage reaps manifold - preserving for posterity, keeping historic values and as one of the tools of promoting tourism.

Likewise, Kuala Lumpur with its rich blend of architecture and history must do all it can to preserve its treasures to retain an awareness of our history and give continuity to our lifestyle.It is said that a city without visible heritage is like a man without a memory. Hence, it is our responsibility to balance development and conservation for our children, for the future .

So, come on - arm yourself with a camera. Be prepared to be surprised... there's more to discover in KL !

reference: Kuala Lumpur -100 years
Published by The Kuala Lumpur Municipal Council

Guide to Kuala Lumpur Notable Buildings
Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia
on the occasion of The Centenary Celebrations, June, 1959.