It was my bi-annual trip to Malaysia and I was so looking forward to it. I woke up at 3.30 am to be at the airport by 5.30 am for the 8.15 am flight to Dubai. It was 0C when we left the casa and reached there at about 5.45 am. As usual, Babe dropped me off after a quick hug and kiss. It costs £1 every 10 minutes so we don’t want to stay too long. I dragged my suitcase and was chuffed to bits to find out that the counter was already opened.
After checking-in my suitcase and requesting an aisle seat, I made my way to the lounge area. A very long queue at Customs as travellers had to sort out their liquids into plain plastic bags which you’d to purchase at £1 for 3 bags from a dispenser. I’d already sorted mine out. I took off my boots and put it in the basket before stepping through the electronic gate. Everything went smoothly.
In the very busy lounge, I’d a 2 hour wait. I called Babe who was already tucked in bed. We chatted for half an hour before I switched off the mobile. I will Skype him when I am in Dubai. I checked out all the shops before buying a bottle of water from Boots. Then I sat down, people-watched, played Candy-Crush, did Sudoku and browsed the Internet. An hour before departing, I made another tour of the shops and freshened up.
I couldn’t sleep at all during the flight. I was already awake for 5 hours and it was a 6 hour flight to Dubai. I spent the time watching 4 movies!!! I hated watching movies and the only time I watched was when I am flying because there was nothing else to do. I was too tired and restless to read or do Sudoku. The first film I watched was The Ghostbuster : Answer the call which was so bad. In between films, I stretched my legs by going to the toilet. Another reason why I always requested an aisle seat.
Next was The Huntsman : winter’s tale which I kept on hoping for Snow White to appear. Then it was the all action Mechanic : Resurrection, a film that demonstrated what a modern action hero was about, few words and lots of action. Finally, on my list was Precious Cargo, an absolute waste of time and made me wonder what Bruce Willis saw in the script. It was a nightmare!!! Thankfully, after 4 films we arrived in Dubai.
The plane landed quite a distant from the main building that we’d to take a bus. It was 45C!!! when we stepped on the desert runaway to board the bus. I was melting. From the information board, I had 2 hours before I board the next flight to Kuala Lumpur. I took a quick shower to freshen up before purchasing a large bottle of water. I Skyped Babe and we’d another long chat. Oh how I love modern technology. Then it was another 6 hours flight. I still couldn’t sleep and had been awake for at least 14 hours. It was movie time again.
First on the list was X-Men: Apocalypse which left me very confused with the number of mutants running around. Maybe the lack of sleep made it difficult for me to grasp their roles in the film. It was very long too, running over 2 hours. Next was the action thriller Jason Bourne. Quite an exhausting film trying to follow the hero’s chase amid a protest in Athens, through darkness, crowds and exploding Molotov cocktails. Not a good film to watch in a tight space.Thankfully, I am only an hour away from my destination.
I arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 8.30 am. I was shattered. I freshened up as it was a very humid 30C. I whizzed through Immigration thanks to my biometric passport. But it took nearly 40 minutes for me to get my suitcase. I put it through the Customs conveyor belt and there was no hitch. And by the Arrivals entrance, I could see my darling sister waving her hands enthusiastically. It was good to be home.
After hugs and kisses, we went straight to the car where my brother-in-law was waiting. Then a call to my father, who was waiting in Port Dickson. After a brief chat, it was another 2 hours drive. I also called Babe, to say that I’d arrived in one piece. I was quite hungry and thankfully, my sister had bought me egg muffins which were still warm. Thanks, guys. We’d a wonderful time catching up.
We stopped at the florist to get a dozen red roses because I wanted to visit my Mother’s grave. But first, straight home to my parents house where my father was waiting with open arms. My father recited a prayer for my safe journey. After tea, we drove to my Mother’s grave where we recited more prayers for her and left the roses.
By this time, I was awake for more than 24 hours and needed some sleep badly. I went into my room, closed the curtains, switched on the air-conditioner and fell asleep straight away. 4 hours later, my sister woke me up. After a long bath, I was human again. The phone was also ringing non-stop when the clan heard that I’d arrived. The house was overflowing with stuff for Eriq’s, my eldest nephew, wedding. The ceremony was being held at the village hall which was situated by the sea.
Before the wedding day, it was my father’s 83rd birthday. I brought a Panettone back with me as his birthday cake. The phone was ringing non-stop as one by one of his 6 grandchildren called to wish him happy birthday. My relatives too started arriving to help us with the wedding preparations. There was still quite a lot to do such as filling up the goodie bags and wedding favours for the guests. In Malaysia, all the neighbours and relatives were invited to the wedding. In total, my sister catered for 1000 guests. Gulp!!!
We went to the village hall where the tents had already being erected. The wedding planner was busy in the hall decorating the dais, the hall and re-arranging the tables and chairs. Guests were either seated in the hall or under the tents. Food was being catered by our usual caterer. So far, everything was beginning to take shape. It was going to be the wedding of the year, fingers-crossed.
On the day of the wedding, we got up early and dressed in identical traditional costumes, the baju melayu for the men and baju kurung for the ladies. All elegantly in brown so that the guests were able to identify the hosts. My sister also gave my niece, Emil, and I a beautiful Sabahan pearl bracelet as a momento. Thank you for the wonderful gesture. Then all of us headed to the village hall which looked stunning decorated with fresh flowers and buntings.
The relatives had started arriving and all of us had an early lunch. This might be our only meal for the day. The groom and bride were getting ready in a nearby chalet. A band was playing adding a very festive atmosphere as guests started trickling in from 12 pm. My duty was to see that there was someone to welcome the guests and directed them straight into the hall for a meal and to give them a wedding favour/goodie bag. Before the guests leave, they met the parents of the groom to offer their congratulations and discretely gave a sealed envelope containing cash. The envelopes were then handed to me for safe-keeping.
The guests, if they wanted to stay, then took their seats under one of the tents to wait for the arrival of the groom and bride. At 2 pm, we could hear the beatings of the kompang which meant that the wedding entourage was on its way. The bride’s family accompanied them into the compound where a silat demonstration was being held. My father requested the kompang and the silat because he wanted a traditional wedding ceremony. Then the bride and groom were led into the hall and sat on the dias.
Prayers and blessings were said by one of my uncles. It was getting crowded in the hall as guests went in to see the wedding couple in their traditional blue songket wedding costume. We also had another surprise when we mentioned to all the guests that my father had just celebrated his birthday and asked everyone to sing happy birthday. We were so happy that they obliged. My father was so moved and tearful which made everyone tearful too.
By 4 pm, the guests and relatives started to leave. It was lovely seeing everyone again as some of them I’d not seen for at least 20 years!!! We’d to clear the hall as there was another function the next day. The wedding planner and caterers were very professional that by 7 pm, everything was back to normal. 12 hours ago, this place was pulsating with activities. I am so thankful to God that everything went smoothly.
Every time our eyes meet
This feeling inside me
Is almost more than I can take
Baby, when you touch me
I can feel how much you love me
And it just blows me away
After such an eventful day, the next day we made our way to attend my cousin’s engagement party in Rembau, about an hour’s drive away. A tent was erected in the compound and we arrived just in time for lunch. A few relatives arrived and joined us for lunch. We didn’t stay long because the new in-laws had invited us for a picnic in Malacca the next day and my brother-in-law wanted to do a barbecue.
On the drive back, the heavens opened and I had my first monsoon downpour. It was very heavy but brief. When we drove past an oil palm plantation, I shouted to my brother-in-law to stop and reversed the car. I had spotted a flock of Cattle Egret following a herd of cattle. Unfortunately, the rain made it difficult to get a good photograph.
Further down the trip, we stopped at my favourite place to feed the monkeys. At this rate, we will never reach home. Quite a few cars were already parked by the road. As soon as these monkeys saw a car stopping, they would come close and waited in anticipation. They were so cute. We threw bananas from the safety of the car.
We went to Malacca quite early in the morning and stopped at a small town called Sungai Udang for breakfast. Eating outdoors seemed to be the norm while I was here. While eating, my father mentioned that one of his old friends lived around here. He’d not seen him for over 20 years. And guess what? Someone was standing close to where he was sitting asking if anyone was sitting on the chair and when my father looked up, it was his old friend. They hugged and tears flowed again. Allah was great. They chatted for an hour and exchanged phone numbers.
We arrived at the picnic site quite late. The in-laws was there hours earlier but then they lived closer. After the introductions, we settled down and enjoyed their food. My nephews were busy with the barbecues. While waiting, I read a book and enjoyed the sea breeze. The beach was deserted as it wasn’t the weekend. Later, while the youngsters enjoyed a splash in the sea, I’d a short siesta. By 3 pm, it was getting quite warm and we said our goodbyes and made our way home.
We spotted a camping site on the way up and decided to check it out. But it was on private land and when we made a u-turn to get back onto the main road, we came across a group of monkeys chilling by the roadside. I was delighted to have seen a different family of monkeys. We spent sometime here feeding them, from inside the car. No matter how cute, they were still wild animals.
My brother-in-law was feeling peckish and we stopped at one of the roadside stalls. The first stall had an interesting menu but unfortunately they ran out of ingredients. What??? We drove on and stopped at a very simple shack and the waitress rattled a list of impressive dishes. Wow!!! I’d a plate of freshly cooked fried rice with seafood and fresh coconut juice to drink. The waitress even demonstrated her skills at cutting the husks off the young coconuts. Food-stalls like these were scattered all over in Malaysia and trying them out was trial and error. And, I wouldn’t eat here again.
I followed my sister when she went back to Pucong. I wanted to meet a few friends but things didn’t turned out as planned. But, I still had a wonderful time with my nephews and only niece, Emil, who treated me to a lovely Thai dinner at the hotel where she worked. But first we checked out the Xmas decorations at one of the shopping malls. Although Islam was the main religion in Malaysia, other religious festivals were celebrated too.
We headed back to the stunning Aroi Dee Thai restaurant on the 8th floor of the Palm Garden Resort, IOI Resort City. When we stepped into the restaurant, tasteful wooden furnishings and exotic ornaments greeted us. If it wasn’t so windy, I would have liked to eat at the seating area on the balcony. It had stunning views of the surroundings which was flickering in the dark. Emil ordered the food and a scrumptious banquet was laid in front of us. We’d the seafood tomyam for starters, a perfect dish capturing the essence of Thai cuisine.
Then the main dishes came out. The centre piece was the steamed sea bass, perfectly steamed with a light and tangy lime, chopped garlic, coriander root and garnished with coriander leaves and spring onions. The side dishes included deep fried prawns with golden salted eggs, beef green curry and mixed vegetables. We’d them with steaming fragrant jasmine rice. It was delicious.
The next morning, we were getting ready to get back to Port Dickson when my sister received a call that the godfather to one of her sons had suddenly died. Innalillawa innalilla hirajiun. I called my father saying that we will be going back a day later because my sister and family wanted to attend the funeral. Muslims were required to be buried within 24 hours of their death. The body was brought back to their hometown which was about 2 hours drive away. We arrived in time and after the final prayers, accompanied the body to the burial grounds. After offering our condolences to the family, we made our way back to Pucong.
On the way home, we drove past a fruit plantation and stopped at a stall selling durians. My brother-in-law enquired about the price and since it was late in the evening, we got a brilliant deal. The stall-holder opened the thorny fruits and all of us tucked into the creamy fruit. Regarded by many Malaysians as ‘the king of fruits’, the durian was distinctive for its formidable thorn covered skin and strong odour.
When we were in Port Dickson, my Auntie invited us to attend the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebration at my grandmother’s house. The celebration was commemorated by Muslims around the world during the month of Rabi’al-awwal, the third month of the Muslim calendar. Known as Maulud Nabi in Malaysia, the day was marked by religious lectures and readings of the Koran. We then popped over to another aunt who had just returned from performing the Umrah in Mecca with her husband. We were served dates and drank ‘zam-zam’ holy water from a well located within the Masjid as-Haram.
We were still busy putting things away weeks after the wedding. Carpets were vacuumed and stored. Furniture were arranged back to their place. While we were busy in the house, we heard the sound of something running on the roof. We rushed out and saw these cheeky guys scattering off and jumping across to my neighbour’s roof. These monkeys came to the village searching for food. I found them adorable but the villagers found them a nuisance which was a shame. Thankfully, they were never harmed.
We made another trip to Malacca and this time as tourists. Malacca was listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 7th July 2008 and I wanted to visit the plethora of historic sites that made up this heritage site. On the way, I was thrilled to have seen again, a flock of Cattle Egrets following a herd of buffaloes in the padi fields. We’d to find a safe place to park the car before I could take photographs to my heart content.
In Malacca, our first destination was Jonker Street in Chinatown, once renowned for its antique shops but now a very busy shopping district. We managed to park at one of the side streets and I wandered with my niece checking out the opulent merchant old houses that dated to the 17th century. The rich Baba Nyonyas, who were descendants of the 15-16th century Chinese immigrants and married to the local Malay women, used to live here.
I was delighted to come across one of Malacca’s oldest mosque, Kampung Kling Mosque built in 1748. Like many Malaccan mosques built around that period, it displayed strong Javanese and Oriental influences in its architecture. The mosque was named based on the place where Indian Muslims traders who hailed from South India dwelled. Today, Keling was the politically incorrect term for Indians. The mosque was reconstructed and renovated in 1872 and 1908 to replace the original wooden structure.
Instead of a conventional spherical dome, a triple-tiered meru roof (a stacked form familiar to that in Balinese Hindu architecture) sat on top of the main building. A pagoda-like structure formed its watchtower minaret and combined with Moorish elements, was typical of early mosques in Sumatra. The mosque’s interior featured English and Portuguese glazed tiles. Corinthian columns and arches, a Victorian chandelier and a mixture of Hindu, Chinese and Malay decorative elements. What an exquisite blend of East and West.
We had driven past a lot of these mosques with multiple styles that attested to the syncretic building traditions that flourished in Malacca at that time, as it was a major trading port from the 14th through the 18th century. These harmonious blend of styles and design elements from different cultures resulted in an aesthetically-pleasing whole that reflected the multicultural state of Malaysia itself. We stopped at some of these mosques with these unique characteristics. I wished I’d come prepared and had plenty of time to pray in each of them. Insyallah, next time.
I love you when you bow in the mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church.
For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.
From here, we drove to the picturesque Dutch Square, also known as the Red Square because all the surrounding buildings were painted red and was situated next to the Melaka River. These Dutch buildings used to be painted white until a British governor ordered it to be painted red. These terracotta-red colonial Dutch buildings were built between 1660 and 1700 with louvered windows and chunky doors with wrought iron hinges.
One of the most prominent building here was The Stadhuys, built in 1650 and was the oldest remaining Dutch building in Asia. In old Dutch spelling ‘Stadthuys’ was literally translated as ‘town hall ‘ and pronounced as ‘stat-highs’. It originally served as the official residence of the Dutch governors and was used as a town hall throughout the British administration. It now housed a collection of museums which due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to visit.
A central fountain dominated the area and it was an ornate Victorian addition, erected in 1901 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. Although more than a hundred years old, it was still working and was probably the only working colonial water fountains in Malaysia. It was a famous backdrop for visitors and I can’t remember the number of times my photographs were photo-bombed.
Flanking the fountain was the Christ Church built in 1753 to commemorate the centenary of Dutch occupation in Malacca and to replace an earlier Portuguese church, which was by then in ruins. It was the oldest Protestant church in Malaysia. The interior had a 200 year old handmade pews, decorative fanlights and plaques that honoured Dutch soldiers and locals.We didn’t go in as there was a private function on.
The Red Square was also the starting point for the very vibrant colourful rickshaw rides with their blaring hit songs from boom-boxes. These trishaws were all adorned in colourful plastic flowers and flashing lights, to vie for the attention of the passing tourist trade. They also competed in who can play their terrible music the loudest, with often hilarious results. It was the first time I’d ever heard dangdut and Sean Paul on the same playlist!!!Taking a ride in one of these lewd vehicles seemed to be a veritable rite of passage but I was too horrified to be seen in one. They were very popular with the tourists though.
Then we climbed St. Paul’s Hill via a steep flight of stairs to check out the ruins of St. Paul’s Church, one of the five churches in the fortress complex A Famosa. It was built by the Portuguese in 1521, making it the oldest church building in South East Asia. Built on the site of the last Malaccan sultan’s palace, it was constructed by a Portuguese fidalgo (nobleman) captain, Duarte Coelho, in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for saving his life during a storm at sea. It was originally called the Nossa Senhora da annunciada (Our Lady of the Annunciation).
When the Dutch invaded Malacca in 1641, it was badly damaged but was repaired and renamed St. Paul’s Church. It was primarily used as a Protestant Church until Christ Church was completed. After that, it fell into disuse. Under the British administration, a lighthouse was built and eventually ended as a storehouse for gunpowder.
We wandered inside the roofless ruins which was basically a decaying stone interior. Lining the walls were hefty, intricately engraved tombstones belonging to Dutch nobility that were buried here, including that of Pedro Martins (the second Bishop of Funay, Japan).There were also the tombstone of five members of the Velge family that died within 20 days of each other during the diphtheria epidemic of 1756. I wanted to see the last remaining gate of this A Famosa fortress complex but it was situated at the bottom of the hill at the opposite end to where we were parked. Grrr….
We left the hustle and bustle of the area, full of tourists and locals, posing and snapping photographs with souvenir shops crowded with souvenirs hunters. Not to be left out, I bought the obligatory fridge magnet and a couple of tee-shirts for Babe. We’d lunch at one of the most popular restaurant in town and had to wait 30 minutes to be seated. I wouldn’t mind eating at a different restaurant but my brother-in-law was adamant that we’d lunch here. Was it worth? Yesss
We also stopped at the mausoleum of a legendary warrior, Hang Tuah, who lived during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah in the 15th century. He was held in the highest regard, and was arguably the most well-known and illustrious warrior figure in Malay history and literature. In contemporary Malaysia, Hang Tuah was quoted as saying ‘Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia’ meaning ‘Never the Malays vanish from the earth’. This quote was a famous rallying cry for Malay nationalism.
Then it was time to return to the UK. 3 weeks flew so fast. There were still many things to do, friends to see and food to eat. My father invited close neighbours, his prayer group from the mosque and relatives for a gathering to say prayers for my safe trip back to the UK, for my late Mother and also for the wedding that went smoothly. It was supposed to be a small affair but turned out to be quite big. Thankfully, our relatives brought plenty of food and these were added to the ones that we catered for. Thank you to everyone who attended and may Allah blessed all of us. Amin.
Before I left for the airport, I went to say good-bye to my beloved Mother. We said prayers and laid flowers on her grave. I kissed her gravestone and had a few private minutes on my own. Then we headed for the airport. For the first time, my father came along. My flight was at 19.10 pm. At 17.00pm, it was time to make my way through Customs. There were the obligatory hugs, kisses and tears. It was very hard to leave my elderly father but cie la vie.
From the main terminal, I took the monorail towards the 2nd terminal where my flight was waiting. I Skyped Babe and we chatted for half an hour. Then, I boarded the largest aeroplane in the world, the double-decker A380, and it was so huge that I’d the whole middle row seats to myself. After a scrumptious dinner, I pulled all the seats rest up and stretched my body. For the first time, I fell asleep for 4 solid hours. Bliss.
When I arrived in Dubai, I searched for the praying room. I had made it a ritual to donate a praying mat for anyone to use. Then, it was a very long walk to my check-in counter. I think I walked at least a kilometre. It was very warm too that I’d to purchase the most expensive bottle of water in the world. When you made a purchase here, the change given was in dirham which made you purchase something else to use up the money. Clever marketing eh!!! I ended buying 2 packets of biscuits and deposited any remaining coins in a charity box that were were scattered all over the airport.
I also Skyped Babe while waiting for the counter to open. Then it was time for my last leg of the journey. After the long nap, I was wide awake and spent the time watching only 2 movies. One was Bastille Day which was quite good. It was also uncomfortable to watch a terror-themed movie filmed in Paris that so recently dealt with real terrorism and terrorists. The other was one of my favourite feel-good movie, Mama Mia. I arrived in freezing, wet Birmingham at 6.25 am. As usual, I only called Babe after I’d gone through Immigration which went smoothly.
After getting my suitcase, I walked through a very empty Customs area. I then waited by M&S for Babe and bought another bottle of water. Heavily-armed policemen were patrolling the lobby which was quite an intimidating sight. 45 minutes later, Babe called and I met him at the car-park. My teeth was chattering because it was soo cold. In 24 hours, I’d experienced temperatures from 35C to 45C to 0C!!! After a big, bear hug, we made our way home. It was good to be back in Coventry.
Home for the holidays,
I believe I've missed each and every face,
Come on and play my music,
Let's turn on every love light in the place
It's time I found myself,
~Kenny Loggins ‘Celebrate Me Home~