PR Agency Required
Malaysia needs to get some better PR! That is the considered opinion of Hootoksi’s dad, a superbly elegant and eloquent gentleman who you’d never guess has passed his 90th birthday. Hootoksi’s parents moved to Malaysia (from Bombay) in the 1960’s to help construct the first palm oil refinery in the country, a joint venture between the Malaysians, the Brits & the Indians. Palm oil production is a huge part of the Malaysian economy and you can see the plantations stretching for miles in the countryside around Kuala Lumpur. I may be wrong, but I think it only ranks behind tourism and crude oil in terms of a revenue generator for Malaysia.
Back to the PR problem: Either the country is not on anyone’s radar at all or it’s widely believed in the West (certainly by us, before we came here) that Malaysia is an Islamic state…which, given the current hyper-sensitivity to anything combining the words “Islam” & “state”, naturally give rise to all sorts of pre-conceptions. In reality, Malaysia is a secular and open-minded country populated by a Malay (usually Muslim) majority (about 60%). The rest of the population consists of any number of other ethnic groups including Chinese, Indian (mainly Tamils), etc… You certainly see a lot of women in head scarves, some in burkas (oddly enough, usually accompanied by men in flip-flops and board shorts)…but plenty of others wearing many of the same clothes you’d see western women wearing in any city in North America. The point is no one seems to care one way or another and everyone gets on rather well. This is a very well-adjusted country and, frankly, should be one of those held up as an example of how a state containing multiple ethnicities and religions can co-exist brilliantly while creating a modern country with excellent infrastructure (eg. they’re rolling out 4G wireless broadband next week) and facilities. And, on top of that….I shall repeat from the previous post…they are mind-bogglingly hospitable and friendly! Secular, tolerant, modern & friendly – yup, basically Canada with better weather!
If our first three days here were all about relaxation & the beach, the latter three have been about family, people and great conversations. Robert is my third cousin on my Mum’s side (thank God for the genealogy website “Geni” or we wouldn’t have had a clue whether we were third cousins or 10th cousins, four times removed). He and Hootoksi retired to Malaysia (after working for UNICEF for ages) seven years ago and barely knew anyone when they got here. It’s a testament to just how interesting and nice they are that, of the people they introduced us to, I don’t think one of them WASN’T the head of a bank, the owner of a multi-national company or a member of the Malay royal family! Seriously, all these people want them around and, after spending three awesome days with them, I can see why!
Going a bit backward in the chronology, given Brita’s worries about leaving our two bigger suitcases at the KL airport’s “Left Luggage” facility while we went up to Langkawi, it was with a wee bit of tension that we headed from our plane to the arrival section. As you can see, the facility in question is not one which might fill the weary traveller with a great deal of confidence that his various bits and bobs would still be there when we returned.
However, all was karmically well and we were greeted on arrival by both our massive suitcases as well as the smiling faces of Robert & Hootoksi. The evening was spent catching up and cross-examining each other about every detail of our pasts since, third cousins notwithstanding, this was really the first time we’d actually spent a significant period together. What a great and relaxing home they’ve made in Malaysia complete with purring cats, friendly dogs, attention-deficit disorder Koi!
The next few days were a combination of utter relaxation interspersed with mad rushing about! This was the Roti Canai Thelur we devoured while out for breakfast at an Arab restuarant which, strangely, seemed staffed completely by Tamils!
That evening we were taken to an amazing Diwali party hosted by friends of Robert & Hootoksi’s. On the way in, we had an amazing view of the Petronas Towers (for a short while, the world’s tallest buildings).
We met some really terrific people there including a member of the Malaysian Royal Family, the head of Citibank in Malaysia (the host), a fellow who is establishing palm oil plantations in Uganda and someone who’s heading up 4G (ie. the fastest cell-based data network)… All interesting and accomplished folk – we had a great time. The crazy coincidence was that the cell network guy knew my best friend from school in Darjeeling and his sister is married to a guy who I was about to meet in Calcutta!
Our one excursion out of KL was to go to Malacca – a former pirate base in the not so good old days! Where you have water and pirates, the inevitable conclusion is that you absolutely must have boat tours. Don’t ask me, I don’t make these rules!
The city, in turn, had been colonized by the Portuguese, the Dutch & the English and the result is a town with some amazing architecture and, for some unknown reason, flower-encrusted rickshaws (usually blaring loud music as they ferry their passengers hither and thither).
We left Malaysia on Monday being thoroughly impressed with everything we saw. The smiling faces, the scenery, the cleanliness, and the organization. However, the best thing was the hospitality and spending time with Robert & Hootoksi. We will miss it all!
PS: For all the Malaysia pics, check out my FlickR album.