Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Malaysia - The Essence of Asia

So its time for a story. But first some back ground. Malaysia is a diverse product of the East-West spice trade and British colonial labor schemes. Chinese and Indian populations have imigrated to the penninsula to take part of the trade here in Melaka (brit. Malacca) since the town was founded in 1400 A.D., and during periods of social discontent in China (espicially during the decline of the Qing dynasty) droves of Cantonese Chinese migrated to Pinang, Singapore and Melaka. The native malay culture developted out of a certain sect of semi-agrarian indiginous tribal culture of the southern penninsula and adopted Islam during the period when Moslem traders ruled the Indian ocean, though this dominent ethnic group constittues less than 60 percent of the population, and in parts of pinang and melaka, they are less than 50 percent.

But still Malaysia is most assuredly an Islamic country. Most provinces are rules by Sultans, not governers, and the Sultans rotate taking on the position of a national Islamic president every five years, (giving Malaysia not one, but 9 royal families). Even though young chinese women might wear shorts and tank tops and other articles of clothing of a revealing nature - the dominent custom is clearly that of conservatism and modesty.

Which brings me to public swimming pools.

Malaysia is hot, an equatorial climate that doesn't expereince the mild seasons and monsoons of the tropics, it experience constant steady state humidity and hotness january to july. Swimming on the other hand, is fun. Hotel pools are usually the bare minimum of what an american would expect from a tropical resort. I do not know if we are staying in the slightly more budget end of the spectrem, or if swimming as a popular recreation never really caught on in Malaysia, or if its because until recently the infrastructure of the land was unable to support the maintenence of large, fun pools, but - for whatever reason - we havn't had a good pool in the places we've been staying. Trust me that this is not our first concern. We're world warey travelers, we've stayed in felt gers in the near Siberian forest of northern Mongolia, we've cramped into the Japanese filing cabinet apartments, we've spent a month with ten people sleeping in one 14 x 25 foot room. We enjoy it. We feel more authentic and more rustic. We feel like we've conquered the country incliment weather and all. The point is, despite the relative luxery we're living in, we could use a good chance to cool down.

I tried the ocean a week ago on the north coast of Pinang, there was only about 4-6 inches of visability in the water, due to (as I've heard) lingering affects of the tsunami, dredging and land recalimation on the western coast near george town, or stired up water coming in from the fall monsoons. Combined with the fact that waste water drains into the ocean in various locations around pinang, I was not tottally enthraled with swimming in the sea. So, yesterday, when we finished a tour of historic and colonial Melaka near a public park and pool, I was ready to be the first off the high dive.

Only I forgot to bring my victorian one whole body swimsuit.

I had my own swimsuit with me, and considering it conforms to the young American prohibition on male's showing any part of their body between their knees and waist, I thought I would be fine with that. After all, I often seen Malay men wearing speedo styles in the small and shallow hotel pools. I was, in my mind, good to go.

So it make it five steps towards the pool before I hear the shrill squeal of a the wistle of the first life guard; he's point at my shorts. I walk over thinking that he might have mistaken my trunks for street shorts, and hope to obtain a quick and easy permission. I talk to him and life guard number two and they togther tell me that my shorts are too lose, I need something closed. Okay, their culture, their rules, a simple request to rent my their style of shorts from the store next to the pool is hassle, but doable. I change into what they have deemed to be my size of swim suit, and notice it's a lot smaller than what I am used to wearing even for rowing crew. I decide to wear my swimming shorts over it just to fully embrace whatever culture's modesty I could possibly offend. I walk over to life guard number one and two, 'am I wearing the shorts, yeah, awesome' - they give me the okay. On the way to the pool I pass lifequards number three and number four, they point at my shorts and ask me if I'm wearing a swimsuit. I pull up a pant leg and ask if it's okay that I wear both shorts, he says okay and I give him a thumbs up and a smile, he responds with a thumbs up, and what might be a smile.

I dip my legs in the pool and talk to Nicole and Jess, who are with me and are wondering why it is taking me 20 minutes to get into the pool when lifeguard Number Five whistles at me and starts making weird gestures. I'm not sure he's talking to me, didn't he see me already talking to lifeguards one through four? And what's one single pool doing with five lifeguards? He points directly at me and starts rubbing his belly. I do not understand all of this gesture, maybe he finds white bellies offensive, but I do get the point he's talking to me. Maybe I should've put on a shirt as well. I go over the same process with him as I did with the previous four life guards, am I wearing the tight shorts? Is this a swimsuit? Can I were both? Lifeguard number five's english, however, isn't as great as some of the others, however, and we run into some snags, He keeps pointing at my waist and saying open. Open my swimsuit? This is getting akward. Does he want me to take off the outer suit and wear only the rent-a-suit? I ask him this, and he says "open" and then points to my leg and says "closed." He likes the closed or tight swimsuit, and I get the picture that I'm only allowed to wear one swimsuit at a time. So to confrim this I ask him if I can wear both? He says yes. Thankfully, lifeguard number six makes it over and translates for lifeguard number five. What on earth is one pool doing with 6, lifeguards? I am compelled to wear only the tight swimsuit, which, in absolutely no way, is more conservative than the larger swimsuit I was wearing earlier, something I found out after my first dive into the pool.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Numa Numa

Welcome to Malaysia.

Welcome to first true former colony. Welcome to equatorial climate and a mix of people where the dominate ethnicity, Malay Muslims, constitute less than 60% of the population. A country with full infrastructure on the western coast, electricity, internet, gas and plumbing, and little development in other areas, Malaysia is only recently been able to lift itself far along the path of development. It might have one of the tallest structures in the world and a significant high tech sector, but the sewers are still open and chickens still roam free in some areas.

I've almost got acclimated to the heat, which is nice since it never, ever stops. Currently its 88 degrees, which isn't at all bad. Sometimes it gets to the mid nineties, which felt absolutely draining the first days here.