Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hari Raya

On the 2nd to last night of Ramadan, I saw my sister and her boyfriend Dave off at the KL Sentral station. There, we said our goodbyes and I sent them on their way on the express train to the KUL airport. It was another hot and humid night in KL. I sweat through all my clothes as I wandered around the station with my huge Europe-backpacking bag. I was waiting for my friend Eena from work to pick me up, and from there we would drive 4 1/2 hours with her aunt Yati, (one of my supervisors at SIS) to Johor Bahru for the weeklong Raya celebration. I decided that it would definitely be wise to use the toilet before this long journey so I went to the public restroom, only to leave my cell in the stall. I went back 5 minutes later and it was gone. God dammit.

All was well once I got into the car. We arrived in the small village of Parit Raja at around 1 am. As we drove into a driveway of a huge, beautifully lit, Romanesque compound, I initially thought that we were just stopping by a hotel on the way. It turned out though, that that was just her house.

The next day was the last day of September, as well as the last day of Ramadan. I pretty much wandered around the house and cooked food all day. The village, or kampung, is all centered around one long street that comes off the larger highway. This is the road that runs through Paris Raja.

Daging Rendang, coconut curried beef. I will make it for you all someday.

Making ketupat, which are diamond shaped bamboo sacks filled with rice and boiled. It makes a solid square of rice that you eat with the various mind-blowing curries, vegetables and sauces.

Cuttin' open the ketupat. Ready to eat!

Wearing baju kurung, the traditional Malaysian dress.

There are actually two types of Hari Raya, Aidilfitri, the one which follows Ramadan, and the other one...which I forgot the name of, but is what is celebrated during Hajj or the time to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Hari Raya Aidilfitri pretty much consists of visiting everyone at their house. The holiday technically is a month long, but the first week is the most celebrated and sacred. This is when you visit all of your family and your neighbor's houses. In the kampung (or village), anyone can show up at your house at unannounced and you need to welcome them into your home, offer then drinks, snacks, or a meal (if its close to mealtime). All the village children will go from house to house to hang out, watch TV with you and chat it up, and when they leave you're required to give them a few bucks, err...ringgits, and have them kiss your hand.
Yati has 12 brothers and sisters between the ages of 38 and 60 so needless to say, there were A LOT of people to go visit. Every day I went to at least 5 different houses, where I was bombarded with home-cooked feasts at each and every one. Of course I had to eat everything they offered me...And no, I did not fit into my jeans by the end of that week.

Family house visits means lots of catching up/gossiping.

A beautiful traditional Malaysian kampung house next door.

Overload of cute children and babies.

The most important room in the house...

The living room where everyone talked, snacked, had photo shoots and watched Hari Raya TV specials.

This is the bigger city nearby called Batu Pahat.

More food.

Me eating with my hands.

As I mentioned earlier, one of Yati's brothers is an important politician in the village (as also evidenced by the huge photos of him plastered all over town) and for the purpose of tradition and politics, he has hosted a huge party in the garden of this house during Raya every year.

It was insanely crowded, with at least a thousand people coming and going all night. They had at least 7 whole roasted lambs over fire pits, with 20 different stalls giving away every Malaysian/Indian/Chinese dish you could imagine.
These kids really liked speaking english to me so they followed me around all night.

The entertainment for the night was a famous singer who was the Malaysian equivalent of Sting. He's the guy in the orange.

Then as all the guests had left by around 12, the Kaprawi's and I continued to dance outside til midnight to 80's Malaysian love song hits. It was an incredible night.

The next morning, Yati, Eena and I left for KL at 6 am to beat the holiday traffic, and by noon we were back in the city.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

And two months later...

Yea, it's been a while. I've finally given myself time to sit down and do this because I got another cold. Since my last entry, I've done waay too much to be able to describe everything in detail so I'm just going to summarize with some photos...

So a couple days after SIS held its press conference on the government's sudden ban of one of their publications in mid-August, I went to a small conference of international GLBTIQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, Intersex and Queer or Questioning) activist leaders from Islamic countries, where being anything other than straight could land you in prison, or worse. It was really insane to hear people's stories from Lebanon, Nigeria, Indonesia, and other countries in which they have to fight a government that actively works to arrest and prosecute them. All the participants were so friendly and it was great to meet even more inspiring, passionate people.

Then a couple days later around August 26th, my friend Femi the other SIS intern from America, left to go back to Delaware to start classes again. She was really awesome to have there with me the first couple months, as she pretty much kept me grounded throughout the transition to Malaysia. Anyways, I really miss her. This was our goodbye party for her:

Then the week before Ramadan (in September), we threw a potluck party at the office to live it up before the month of fasting. After dancing the pocho-pocho (Malaysian line dancing) to the Pussycat Dolls for a while we all commended to stuff our faces until we couldn't move and have a pretty unproductive rest of the day.

I decided to go to Penang that weekend and visit my friend Damina who was entering the Malaysian bar that Friday. I got to spend my weekend with her and her friends from India and Iraq, both of whom were really sweet and extremely patient when it came down to my prodding questions about the meaning of the "Islamic state"...a concept I'm still trying to understand.

Anyways, Penang is about 4 hours north of Kuala Lumpur and is old colonial town from the times when the British were occupying Malaysia. It's said to have the best food in the country (which I can attest to) as well as the best architecture. Therefore, my whole weekend was pretty much spent sightseeing and eating the best curry puffs, shaved ice dessert and curries. It was amazing.

I also went parasailing~

Then when I got back to work on Tuesday, Ramadan had begun. It really wasn't that difficult or stressful for me to be here during the fasting month...except that I did feel inclined not to eat or drink in front of my coworkers who were all fasting. One thing I did learn however, is that women don't need to fast during their period. I was lucky to have at least one person with me to enjoy lunch with for 3 weeks of the month. After work, I would go break fast with some of the coworkers I've become closest to. We would wait just at the moment when the loud speakers would play the evening prayer and dig in. It was definitely more fun to stuff my face when I partly joined their fast by skipping my lunch too.

My housemate, Leonard threw a "buka puasa" (fast break) party at my house. This is a picture of my housemates and I.

Then midway through September, I took a trip to Singapore. I went to Singapore on a couple days' notice when I realized that my Malaysian visa was one week away from expiring. I guess I was a little bit too relaxed about it until someone told me that if I overextended my 90-day-automatic welcome in this country, I would not only be "removed" but also blacklisted so that I would never be able to come back here again. The next morning, I reserved a hostel and a one-way bus ticket to Singapore.

Singapore is only about 4 1/2 hours away from KL by bus. I got to the hostel at 1 am and, as quietly as I could, climbed onto one of the bunk beds in the room I shared with 12 Australian men. Waking up and getting ready in the gigantic, industrial co-ed bathrooms made me remember the good ol' days of living in the co-ed dorms, but overall it was a really nice hostel. It was a really clean place with free internet, free breakfast and a dozen free activities you could sign up for around the area. While these day activities were one of the main reasons I chose that hostel, I decided that all I wanted to do was walk around alone and get lost.

Photo of the hostel:

A Hindu temple, which was next to a mosque, next to a synagogue next to a Buddhist temple, next to a Church. God should throw a block party here!

Through the wisdom of my tattered, borrowed copy of the Lonely Planet Singapore, I was able to visit two great museums, see the Mid-Autumn festival, walk through the central shopping district where I saw the first sex shop I've seen in months (I'm pretty sure dildos aren't too halal) and generally get a good feel about the town.

View of Lower Clark Quay with all the fancy Western restaurants lining the river.

Here, I had a rest and a nice cold glass of beer and then continued onto the Asian Cilization Museum slightly buzzed.

Then I ate a durian ice cream sandwich (mm~) and later had an amazing vegetarian Indian lunch served on banana leaf.

After walking for about 7 hours that day, I was about ready to pass out to get ready to go back to KL the next morning. But when I was heading upstairs I decided I needed one more drink at the hostel bar to help me achieve comatose sleep. There, I met a brother and sister from northern Arizona on their Southeast Asia trip. After talking to them for a while they invited me to go out with them and their friend.

We ended up sharing a pitcher of Tiger beer at dinner (the local Malaysian beer which boasts that it won the "coolest" beer award in 2005) and heading to one of the biggest electronica clubs on Clark Quay, the Ministry of Sound.

The night as a whole was pretty good, though I think hanging out with this gang was a bit of a reverse culture shock. They kept telling me that they had heard all these bad things about Malaysia and how teeming it is with crime and rape cases, so that they were thinking of flying right over my third homeland and into Thailand. I tried to reassure them that I felt as safe here as I do anywhere else but for some reason they couldn't be convinced otherwise. I was little offended by the fact that they were saying to me that none of this place was worth visiting. Oh well. I guess it's their loss.

More buka puasa outings...

Then the last week of September, my parents, sister and my sister's boyfriend, Dave came to visit me. It was chaotic, busy, and really fun. I had no idea how much I'd learned about Malaysia or how well I've come to know my way around this place. For the most part, we walked around KL, ate good food, and stayed at my place. My family kept getting stomach sicknesses from the food or water here so we ended up not doing as much as I planned, but it was really nice to see them nonetheless. You can never plan for everything.

My family and I at the Batu Caves, a Hindu holy site.

This baby monkey's face is amazing.

My mom makes friends easily...

On the bus back home to KL.

Then we went to Redang Island, which lies on the northern east coast of Malaysia. We snorkeled, kayaked, karaoke'd, hammocked and ate. It was 3 days of heaven.

My parents exploring the low tides.

Leaving paradise...

Hanami and I, the day everyone flew home.

I'm just going to stop there for now. At least I caught up to October... woohoo~!!

I'll be posting on Hari Raya in the next couple days so check up again soon...