Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Celebrate in Pyjamas

So it was National Day (for Malaysia), right at the end of the month of Ramadham.

Flags everywhere - even we got a sticky one to put on our car.

We noticed the men were all getting about in their national dress, even in the shops. (The women, of course, get around in their special Malaysian gear ALL of the time.)

So, what is the national dress?

Here is a very serious, important man. He is wearing something that looks very similar to silk pyjamas, with a special cloth wrapped around his waist. The wraparound cloth is usually very heavy material, often with inlaid (actual) gold designs ... apparently rather prickly and uncomfortable, hence needing the layer underneath.

The chaps wandering around the shops, though, were just wearing the 'pyjamas' part, mostly in pastel colours (favourite being pink) - looking very comfortable, if not relaxed. In some cases you see all the men in one family wearing matching sets. Very cool.

I did notice that some of the young cool guys have developed their own style. They wear their shirt out, over the top of the wraparound, with the sleeves rolled up.

This young chap serving in our favourite restaurant (Secret Recipe) typifies the modern style, with his shirt hanging out and his little black hat perched jauntily on his moussed hair! Cool!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cannon Hunting, and Crazy Hari Raya

Fireworks are forbidden, and so Chinese New Year was remarkably quiet. (Well, there were just a few here and there.)

But now it's Ramadhan, and Ramadhan is nearly over, and in the evenings there are fireworks all over the place.

Early in the month, the first few loud 'bangs' made us jump, as they shook the building. It sounded like a cannon being fired ... We gradually noticed a pattern, and we asked around among our work colleagues. Oddly, at first they denied the presence of a cannon, then one or two started saying, yes, there is a cannon!

The cannon is fired (without shooting a cannon ball!) at 5.30am - indicating the end of eating for the day. 'Mothers', apparently, rise at 4am to prepare food for their families, and then gently wake them at 5am to eat before the cannon is fired.

The second cannon firing is at 7.23pm, indicating the recommencement of eating activities .

So ... we wanted to see the cannon. We asked around, and got a variety of stories about where it is located. The area around Kuala Terengganu is really flat, with a few funny little bumpy hills, and most people figured the cannon was on top of one of those.

Well, we found "Bukit Kecil" - little hill - which kind of has two humps, and climbed the zigzag road (in the car) up each part ...

We found a hotel, a radio station, and this brand new, unfinished building (looks like a reception centre) with a tower next to it.

Climbed the tower, and looked out over the city - great views, especially now that we can recognise most of what we see.

That's the causeway we cross every day on our 20km drive to work.

BUT - no cannon that we can see.

We checked on the Internet, and, yes! it does mention cannon (plural) in Kuala Terengganu, left over from the war. They are located on "Bukit Puteri" (princess hill) right near the main markets - yes we had seen a hill, a tower, and some steps up there! So we headed over early one Saturday morning ... only to find that there is a gate at the bottom of the steps, and it is locked - it opens at 9am, for those who pay, closes at 5pm.

Well, by 9am it's already getting hot. We went into the tourist information centre right by the stairs, and they assured us that while there are cannon at the top of that hill - and a large warning bell - they are no longer used. They assured us that the cannon we hear is at the top of "Bukit Besar" (large hill) and showed us on a map.

Well, from what everyone else said and our own observations, we were pretty sure that's not where the cannon is. And besides, it's too hard to climb - a track but no road.

So we went and sat on 'our' balcony - inside our building, looking out towards the hills.

On the left with all the towers is "Bukit Besar", and "Bukit Kecil" is closer, to the right, just behind that blocky reddish building.

At 7.23pm we saw what looked like a sky-rocket firework go up from Bukit Kecil, and as it disappeared out of our sight, there was a loud explosion - not a cannon after all?!

Well, our colleagues at work assure us it is a cannon, and they point it skyward - hence it looks like a firework...

Ramadhan is all but over. Maybe we'll go find it next year!

Hari Raya - Great Day (the end of Ramadhan)

Excitement is building with everyone preparing for holidays and visiting family wherever they are. Schools are already on holiday, and so, it seems, are government workers and many others.

After another weekend on the island (Kapas) we thought we might take a trip to the shops this morning. We managed to get out of our building and into the 'flow' of traffic. And the flow stopped, everything ground to a halt, the whole area was pretty much gridlocked. Well, we can survive without shopping! It took us quite a while, sitting in traffic, but eventually we managed to go around the block and scurry back home. Shopping will need to be done in shops we can walk to for now.

I wonder if it will be this bad for the whole week?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Road Trip!

Everybody loves a road trip - even on Malaysian roads.

So we didn't have to go somewhere, we just wanted to explore a bit (a change from our Island home).

A while back we drove north to Kota Bahru looking for a better shopping experience (no shopping malls as such in Kuala Terengganu), so this time we went south to Kuantan.

Ramadhan - the Fasting / Feasting Month

August is Ramadhan here in Malaysia. During the day (at work) no one eats or drinks, right up until evening prayer at 7.23pm. However they start getting ready for their evening feasting anytime from midday or so. There are far more wayside stalls with food being prepared and sold than normal. Everyone buying buying buying ... but no one eating! When the time arrives everyone knows - not only because of the call from the mosque, but also because someone lets off a cannon.

The rules are very strict here. It is illegal for Muslims (all ethnic Malays) to eat or drink, and everyone else has to avoid eating or drinking (or smoking) in public. But there are allowances for the sick, the elderly, the very young, and travellers ...

Driving to Kuantan - a 3-hour drive - we were nevertheless careful not to be seen eating. But at one stage Peter was eating an apple, with the window open, and we stopped at traffic lights. "Makanah!" (eating!) we heard from the lady in the car nearby. There was no way to explain that (1) we are not Muslim, (2) we are not strictly speaking in public, and (3) we are travelling.

Anyway, we tried to be more careful. Even so, at one stage I was absolutely parched, and leaned forward to have a slurp of a drink through a straw. The window was open a little, but there was no vehicle next to us. However there was a truck to the left and slightly behind, and I heard the driver yell, "Makanah!".


We stayed in a hotel right on the river in Kuantan, lovely little spot.

Align Center
The hotel was very quiet, we were up on the 8th floor with views of the city and the river.

The mosque in the very centre of town dominates the view, and is architecturally beautiful.

The carpark and playing field next to the mosque are taken over with market stalls,

and, as the sun sets, people gathering for evening feasting.

We arrived at the market stalls as the prayer time finished ... and the food was all gone. Everybody seems to get so eager to eat that they buy up the food and get all ready ahead of time.

The shopping centres are lovely - meaning that they are shopping centres in the sense of "shopping centres" as we know, so a little taste (almost) of home. Some nice outlet stores, and even I managed to buy a few tops. That is something that can make a girl happy ... :)

There are other interesting things to see.

This lamppost seems to be growing. It is completely surrounded by this tree and its roots... Well, I just dunno...

We were a little surprised to see this graffiti - it's actually very unusual in these parts.

But lifting your eyes slightly you can see the name of the shop that triggered this.

Well, we did some shopping, and enjoyed our night in the hotel. We had breakfast in the hotel - being the only ones in the dining room because it was well after sun-up.

And then it was time to head home to Kuala Terengganu. Very tired, but happy with some new clothes!