Monday, October 11, 2010

Day One: Jahor Bahru

The man in the minaret has done his job. At 5.36 am, the cry goes out to the faithful and the five minutes of rhythmic, doleful sung prayer commences. In my hotel room there is a subtle arrow on the ceiling pointing towards Mecca. Melbourne time its three hours later so by rights I should be walking to work, so there is no drama in this.

But as this is downtown Jahor Bahru, the man in the minaret will be singing five times a day, and as Evaline has explained, after a while you don’t really notice it. Christians, Muslims and Hindus all go about their business mindful of each other’s beliefs but also giving them room to get on with things. Evaline, Chee and their children live in a Muslim area of JB, but she was telling me of how they had a ground breaking for their new church a few kilometres away, her husband, Chee, an architect, is designing the place.

No drama, no council refusals, they just get on with it peacefully and quietly.

I’m rather enamoured with this place. I love that there are four new stamps in my passport. The nice lady in immigration at Melbourne let me have an exit stamp. You only get one if you ask nicely these days. Then one for coming into Singapore, one for leaving Singapore received before heading onto the bridge that spans the Strait of Jahor, then one as we hit the Malaysian mainland. There will be two more stamps in it as Evaline and I make our way back to Singapore this evening.

The last time I was in Malaysia was nineteen years ago, which I related in my last blog. Maybe I’ve grown up and travelled the world and also, Malaysia sees so many more tourists now, but there is no more the sense of being a pimple on a pumpkin. No stares, no car horns, tourists are regulars around here. Like everybody else here, you’re allowed to get on with your business.

Evaline has changed little in this time. She’s still has the most amazing smile from within – something I’m so pleased she hasn’t lost.

After a day on the plane and the short trip back to JB, we had dinner at a local Hawkers Market – amazing food – satays tender and sweet that melt in your mouth, fried oysters, which is a mix of egg and oyster – divine, the eponymous Hokkien Mee, barbecued pork dumplings and some sugar cane juice to wash it all down with. Evaline and Chee come here once a week with the children for dinner. There is no real decor to speak of, plastic stools, formica card tables, plastic plates and chop sticks. None of that matters, the food is honest and good and the eating communal.

Evaline explains that this is what her life, and her family’s life is about. Communal living, sharing, family. They like being together, talking with each other, caring for each other, it’s what families over here do.

Certainly given me a lot to think about.

We had a look around town. That everything is written in Malay, Chinese and English, though often flawed English adds to the charm. We might visit the Fizzio for a foot massage later today. Chee said that an English friend always laughs when he passes How Ars Fook Street in the centre of town. I was amazed that at ten ‘o’ clock in the evening, so many people were out and about – but then again, it’s hot and sticky all day – you can be more productive in the cool of the evening.

Another anomaly of the tropics – at home sunrise and sunset go on for an hour. Here it appears to get light and dark very quickly. Or maybe I’m just noticing things differently now I’m away.

Right, I’d better get up and showered, Evaline will be here soon to pick me up with the promise of breakfast in a traditional Malay coffee shop, with noodles and sambal among the skinny cats that haunt your legs while you eat.

A little bit of simple bliss before hitting the very different country of Singapore tonight.


Kath Lockett said...

Thanks for sharing - it's nice that we're allowed to join you on your holiday and I hope that you never need the services of a Fizzio!

River said...

It all sounds wonderful!
I like the idea of community living, everyone knowing everyone else, all in together, but still living their own lives, not sure I could do it myself.