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Tour du monde en autostop - Jeremy Marie

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 Travel Diary : Asia in Malaysia

When I got down the ferry that brought me from Indonesia to Malaysia, I could see a difference... I had a little cultural shock that was quite unexpected. Malaysia is currently in a successful economic situation, which is why it has the appearance of a developed country.

Malaysia is a country socially interesting. It is a mix of different civilizations that met up in this land of Malaysia to develop their businesses. Indians, Chinese and Malays are mainly sharing the Malaysian peninsula (I didn't visit Borneo). The population of this country live by the way at 75% on the peninsula.
 
Let's go to discover a bit more about this country.
 
 
Chinese, Indian and Malay
 
Malaysia is dominated by three different civilizations: Chinese, Indian and Malay. Basically, the ethnic composition of this country would look like 50% Malay, 25% Chinese and 10% Indians. The rest is a mix between expatriates from different country and the native population.
As I didn't go neither in China, neither in India, I could discover new environments that I will surely meet on my way in a near future.
 
The Chinese culture
An entire dragon opens his arms to me in the Chinatown of Melaka... Let's simply say that I felt  welcome into the Chinese community in this city! There are indeed many Chinatown in the urban areas in Malaysia and often, the Chinese population is gathering in this community, creating in a way the same environment than in their country of origin.
 
An entire dragon at the entrance of the Chinatown of Melaka
 
 
By wandering around in those communities, all my senses were wide open. I could discover, at each street corners, things that I didn't know or even never heard about.
In a little street of Georgetown, on the island of Penang, I discover the Khoo Kongsi. A “Kongsi” is in fact a gathering place for Chinese of the same clan.
 
Khoo Kongsi in Penang
 
 
A sight inside of Khoo Kongsi
 
 
After Indonesia and most of the population being Muslim, I was surprised to rediscover the street vendors selling pork.
 
The Chinese cuisine indeed contains pork, and it is known that everything is eatable on this animal... 
 
 
The smells also surprise, sometimes excellent, sometimes less, like this seller of small dried fishes in a street of Kuala Lumpur
 
 
However, I found this cuisine excellent. The asset to live in such a diverse society is that every cuisine is available. I have seen many times an Indian eating Chinese food, or a Malay eating Indian food...
 
Here, a Chinese vendor in Melaka, preparing me a good meal of fried noodles
 
 
It was not always easy to speak with the Chinese population because just few of them can actually understand English. For a Chinese people, I had the feeling that being in the incapacity to understand was something dishonorable. This way, many Chinese people were just stopping my attempts to communicate in a way that was a bit rude, by just walking away. To know a bit of “Bahasa Malaysia” has totally changed their attitude. I will come back to that later.
 
In Melaka, I was asking for my way in English to a Malaysian or Chinese origine (or “Han”). This one offered me to drive me there, at one condition however... That I accept to take a picture with his son.
 
A picture with the son of a Han driver.
 
 
As in many situations, all is matter of communication. 
 
The Malay culture
The Malay culture is very similar to the Indonesian culture. By the way, the Malay civilization doesn't come from Malaysia, but from the Sumatra Island in Indonesia. There are even Indonesian ethnic groups that speak Malay... Are you following me?
 
When I was talking about« Bahasa Malaysia», I was in fact relating to the Malaysian official language. This language is very close to the « Bahasa Indonesia », that I started to learn when I was in Indonesia. This has help a lot in my interactions with the local population, even if English is widely spoken in Malaysia.
 
I discover that « Bahasa Malaysia » and « Bahasa Indonesia » are very similar while an interaction that I had with this driver that gave me a ride near Johor Bahru
 
 
Most of Malay population of Malaysian is Muslim. Islam is by the way the state religion. On the Malaysian flag, we can see the crescent and the star, symbols of the Muslim religion. 
 
The flag of Malaysia
 
 
Islam was brought from the VII century to Malaysia, via the commerce with the Arab Civilization. Ports like Georgetown or Melaka were also, in the past, strategic places to establish commercial exchanges. Today, it is still possible to see some beautiful mosques. 
 
The Kampong Kling mosque in Melaka, built from 1748
 
 
Indeed, the Muslim faith in Malaysia is connected to the Arab Civilization, because they were the first to bring it. Also, the Koran is written in this language and this is the only one recognized by this faith. The Islam faithful study the Koran in Arabic. The connection is indeed very strong between the Muslim faith in Malaysia and the Arab. 
 
In Johor Bahru, home of the Malay culture, the signs are written in Malay but also in Arabic
 
 
Islam in Malaysia seemed to me that it was more rigorous than in Indonesia.
 
Once again, the culture is very close between Malay and Indonesian. There is a similar language, physical appearance or even a similar food. I can't forget the national dish of the Malay cuisine in Malaysia. The Nasi Lemak, that is white rice cooked with coconut milk, with egg, dried fish, “sambal” (spiced condiment) or others.
 
The Nasi Lemak, national dish in Malaysia
 
 
The Nasi Lemak « deluxe »
 
 
The Malay People also like a lot the “durian”. The durian is a very smelly fruit that has as well a very strong taste.
I tried this fruit and I was to say that it is far to be my cup of tea. And I am not difficult with food. Maybe that if I take the habit, I could become addicted, who knows?
 
Some durians sold in a street of Penang
 
 
The Indian culture
Near the “Chinatown” of the Malaysian cities, I often found the “Little India”. Every single one of my senses were once again very aware each time I was going through those neighborhood. 
I discover for example one of the many meals of the Indian cuisine. As I sit down in one of the restaurant of Little India in Kuala Lumpur, I eat for example a “roti” (fried bread) coming with his “dahl” (mash lentils).
 
A roti filled with egg, that will come with a dahl
 
 
In Malaysia, it is also easy to find many Indian stores, often selling clothes. 
In Georgetown, here is an Indian store selling clothes, where the Ladies can buy a “Sari”.
 
 
Most of the Indian population of Malaysia is Hindu (around 85% of them). If I generalize, I can say that we find in Malaysia Chinese temple, Malay Mosque and Indian Hindu temple. 
 
The front of the Sri Mahamariamman temple in Kuala Lumpur
 
 
Another interesting place to discover the Hindu religion is the site of the Batu caves near Kuala Lumpur. The place is absolutely impressive with its huge statue at the entrance;
 
The statue of Murugan, in front of the stairs leading to the Batu caves
 
 
It has been quite easy for me to communicate with the Indian population of Malaysia because they speak indeed a very good English. Also, I liked a lot the very natural social approach (when it wasn't commercial of course) of the Indians in this country. 
 
An Indian man who gave me a ride from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth. He saw me walking along the road and stopped for me, in case I needed help.
 
 
 
Hitchhiking in Malaysia
 
I had the chance to have been picked up by Malaysian of Chinese, Malay and Indian origin in this country. This way, I had the possibility to understand the ethnic composition of Malaysia. The essence of hitchhiking is still the same, I could understand the country from the point of view of the local people. In Malaysia, I have been exposed to different point of view, each time interesting.
 
On the back of a car, on the highway towards Johor Bahru
 
 
Hitchhiking in Malaysia is, let's say it, very easy. The roads are excellent, the drivers stop... What else can I want? Malaysia is surely one of the best place in the world to travel this way.
 
A toll in the North-South highway in Malaysia. This is a good strategical place to stop a vehicle
 
 
Though, I think that the best place to find vehicles were the rest areas. Often built in the middle of oil palm tree plantations (Malaysia produces a huge quantity of palm oil , in consequence we can find a lot of palm trees). It is possible to find there everything you need and even more. Restaurant, petrol station, toilets or free showers! Sometimes, the coffee is even offered for free. I never waited more than five minutes when I was hitchhiking at the exit of those rest areas.
 
The showers are even available for free in Malaysia
 
 
I could even beat my speed record of this world tour by hitchhiking a Superbike. 204km/h and I was  wearing flip flops. 
 
Hitchhiking a Superbike in Melaka
 
 
It is very simple if you want to stop a vehicle on the side of the road: you can do as you want, it works. You can use the thumb in the western style, or waving the hand like in Indonesia, the Malaysian people will understand what you want. I could even hitchhike directly on the hard shoulder of the highway.
Just to say it simply, Malaysia is a little paradise for hitchhikers.
 
 
Some attractive infrastructures
 
It is sure that after having visited the Indonesian cities, and especially Jakarta, I was quite surprised to see the Malaysian urban organization.
To see the skytrain in Kuala Lumpur was certainly a good point as I could move fast while having a beautiful panorama of the city.
 
The skytrain line of Kuala Lumpur
 
 
As you know now, the Malaysian road network is very good. The highways can take you from one point of the city to another as any highways of the “developed countries”. 
 
The world famous Malaysian public company “Petronas” is prospering in the oil industry. In 1998, the oil company inaugurated the Petronas Twin Towers , that then became the symbol of the whole country. I have to say that they are indeed quite impressive. 
 
The Petronas Towers
 
 
Malaysia seems to step quickly towards modernity, with a dynamism quite similar to the one in Singapore. It is also true that some of the projects made to develop the territory were sometimes too close for me to the “Dubai mentality”.
Putrajaya, for example, that is the administrative capital of Malaysia. This city that now welcome the offices of the government has been aimed to be controlled by computer. I went to visit this city and I discover another of those planed city that I already encountered on my way: Canberra, Palmas or Brasilia. It is organized, it is easy to understand, it is clean, for sure... But there is no soul. Millions of dollars can't buy culture and tradition. For example in Putrajaya, they built a copy of the city center of Colmar, a town located in the east of France...
 
Pertana Putra in Putrajaya, where lives the Prime Minister
 
 
I prefer, and by far, some places like the Sultan Abdul Samal building, in front of the Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur. The lights on the front of it are beautiful, the colors passing from the blue to the yellow, then from the orange to the purple...
 
The Sultan Abdul Samad building in Kuala Lumpur
 
 
 
 
At the end, I really liked Malaysia. Once again, the local population helped me to fully appreciate the country and its culture. Malaysian people seem to me to be open and easy to meet. They will surely be very happy to help you or to answer your questions.
 
The country is developed enough to make it nice to live in and to travel into. If you want to discover a bit of China and Indian in the same time, it is surely one of the best place to do so.
 
And of course, there is hitchhiking...
 
See you soon,
 
Jeremy



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