I’ve uploaded new photos of the beautiful Kek Lok Si Temple, a Buddhist temple located on Air Itam near Penang Hill in Penang, Malaysia. Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Photos of the temple include the large assembly hall, hundreds of lanterns and flowers and the view from hill upon which the temple is situated.
I’ve uploaded new photos from my motorbike drive up in the Cameron Highlands where tea is grown on the mountain slopes. The air was cool and the roads wind around these mountains and up and down the hills. Driving the motorbike is the best way to experience the Cameron Highlands.
I’ve uploaded new photos from a driving tour of Putrajaya, Malaysia’s new administrative center which includes the Prime Minister’s home, his office, the Justice Department, a mosque and large boulevards and bridges over a man-made lake.
Malaysia is a country that is jam-packed with diversity including many cultures, environments, foods, terrain and foreign influences throughout its rich history. With all of those great things going for it the question arises as to why Tamar didn’t join me on this visit to Malaysia since we all know she loves these things as much as I do. Well, unfortunately Israel citizens are not permitted to enter Malaysia and Malaysians are not allowed to visit Israel, in fact it even says so in their passports! That’s really too bad for everyone since I’m sure Israelis would have a blast adding Malaysia to their Southeast Asia itineraries and, from some of the young Malaysians I spoke to, there seems to be a fair amount of interest and curiosity about visiting Israel as well.
I started to dig a bit deeper into the current state of Israeli-Malaysian relations and I came across an interesting article written by an Israel professor for whom an exception may have been made (or he holds another passport) since he recently spoke at a conference in Kuala Lumpur. You can read about his impressions of Malaysia and its cultural diversity as well as his experiences with colleagues and conference attendees.
As with anything related to Internet research one thing led to another and I found myself looking into whether there is or ever was a Jewish community in Malaysia. After all, there are thousands of Jews in Iran and nobody from Israel is hopping on a plane to vacation in Iran these days or vice-versa. It turns out that there is a very small Jewish community in Malaysia although it was larger in the past. That past is now represented by the Jewish cemetery that still exists today in the middle of Georgetown on the island of Penang. There were a couple of articles written about this cemetery and they gave me the idea that I could just rent a motorbike and drive around looking for it myself.
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In my three weeks of travel now that Tamar has returned to the US I planned to visit Malaysia, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City. When I told my Malaysian friend, Vannitha, that I was in the process of making plans she told me about the Hindu Thaipusam Festival that was to happen in and around Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, the weekend of February 8th this year. She described it as an “unforgettable experience” and “a very out of this world sort of thing”. That certainly sounded interesting enough for me so I planned to arrive on February 7, the day before.
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrating the deity, Murugan, and is marked largely by Tamils in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and Mauritius. Malaysian Tamils created the shrines at the Batu Caves just 13km north of Kuala Lumpur in the late 19th century and, although Thaipusam is celebrated in many states in Malaysia, these caves are the primary location for the festival in the country. Devotees take part in a procession originating in Kuala Lumpur and ending up in the Batu Caves. They shave their heads and carry out acts of kavadi, or burdens, ranging from carrying a pot of milk to piercing of the body flesh, tongue and cheeks with metal hooks or skewers.
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I haven’t posted anything to the bog other than photos over the past week because I’ve been so busy during my time in Malaysia and Singapore (over the last three days). Both countries were the two new destinations for me on this trip and I really loved what I saw of both. I had wide-ranging experiences in Malaysia such as attending the Thaipusam Festival at the Batu Caves, exploring the sites in Georgetown and motorbiking to see monkeys, tea plantations and scenic views in Penang and the Cameron Highlands. I also got to hang out with friends, old and new, as well as their family, co-workers and other friends, getting a more authentic taste of life in Malaysia.
In Singapore I saw sites and ate great food but I also met some very cool people along the way, all of whom were interesting and friendly. I got to see some examples of a really clean, organized and well run city including advanced urban features we don’t even have going on in New York yet. Last night I spent time near the river eating a huge crab, listening to live jazz and taking photos of the city at night. In addition to the photos I’ve posted, I have much more to say about my time in Malaysia and Singapore but I’ll have to play catch up while in Vietnam over the next week. For now, enjoy the photos and I’ll try to post more soon!
I went to the Kapitan Keling Mosque yesterday and spent quite a long time there. After getting a nice tour of the mosque I sat with my guide in his air conditioned office along with two of his friends, one visiting from Egypt and the other from Mexico. The three of them explained many aspects of Islam to me. It was interesting to hear about Islam from the perspective of Muslims in Asia (in this case, Tamil) but also to know that, at least within the Sunni Muslim Community, as represented by these particular men, there seemed to be complete agreement and unity regarding the religion and how to practice it.
I’ve studied about Islam in the past and it was nice to see that some of the things they talked about were familiar to me, for example, the five pillars of Islam. In discussing these I was particularly moved when they talked about the need to give to charity. They said that they have no need for personal wealth and that their primary concern is having no want for “food and drink for themselves, their families and their neighbor”. Instead of throwing out food or an older piece of clothing it is the duty of a Muslim to give it to a poor person to “help them and to lift them up to your level of living.”
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Today was my first day in Penang, Malaysia. I actually started my visit to Malaysia over the weekend but I’ll have to write more about that exciting weekend in another post.
I woke up much later than I usually do in Asia because the guesthouse I’m staying in has no windows. It turns out that windows in guesthouses in the center of Georgetown, in Penang, are somewhat of a rarity. I’m staying at the Banana guesthouse and besides the windows situation it’s very clean and conveniently located in the middle of the backpacker strip, complete with a travel agency, cafe and free WIFI.
For breakfast I picked up a steamed bun with vegetables in the middle. I’m not sure what they call them here but they’re called bun bao in Vietnam. I was still hungry but I didn’t want to delay my walk around Georgetown since the day was already hot and was rapidly getting even hotter. I walked down a small street called Love Lane which leads into Chinatown and I passed several other guesthouses and homes. My first stop was to the Hainan Cultural Center where I was the only soul to be found. Even the person tending the desk at the entrance was off on a break somewhere. It’s always nice when you can wander into a place, snap some photos and hear the sound of silence around you.
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