Monday, 26 August 2013

Out of the Kampung

This week has been quite lively, full of social events, meeting new people including the owners of Rimbun Dahan, Angela and Hijjas Kasturi; close encounters with wildlife; escaping to Kuala Lumpur for some cultural activities and starting some sample dyeing from the garden. Oh, and in keeping with all things Malaysian, this post will focus on food, because its been a week of trying lots of new things.

During the week I was invited by a Malaysian batik artist to attend a Malaysian Tourism expo in Kuala Lumpur  which was held near the National Textile Museum, in Merdeka Square.

Muzium Tekstil Negara, Kuala Lumpur
This was a good adventure for me, finding my way to KL from our kampung after three weeks of immersion in studio work. The Mughal-style building was completed in 1905 as the headquarters of the Federated Malay States Railways, and was re-opened as the Muzium in 2010. The four main galleries house lovely examples of batik, songket, Iban ceremonial cloths, embroidery, jewellery and costume.

The Muzium had a stand at the Malaysian Tourism Expo, with demonstrations of weaving:

Demonstrating weaving techniques with rug wool and card
There were also demonstrations on how to prepare various national dishes including a giant vat of Dodol, a confection made from coconut milk, jaggery and rice flour, heated and stirred until thick and gooey, which is a traditional sweet during Eid ul-Fitr (Hari Raya).

The leg on the top left indicates the size of this bowl!
It was delicious, followed by an ice cold glass of my favourite beverage assam boi, made from the juice of calamansi or kasturi lime with preserved sour plum.

On Saturday night Angela and Hijjas hosted an 'Open House' at Rimbun Dahan, where they invited around 200 guests for dinner. The whole place was transformed into a sparkling sea of lights, with outside dining tables lit by candles, and many food stations where different dishes were prepared for you on the spot - it was magical.  I forgot to take photos until the end, when everyone was excited about eating the durian, that King of Fruits you either love or hate with a vengeance.

Abang Jesme getting ready to slice a durian open
Inside the creamy, custardy - and stinky - flesh
Actually, I didn't mind the taste at all, and other guests on my table  gave me the low-down on the different grades and qualities of durian, and the prices to match.  Rimbun Dahan does grow its own durian, I can smell them as I walk long.  Apparently they drop when they are ripe so I'd better alter my route to the laundry room pretty soon. Other wonderful fruits on offer were fresh rambutans, mangosteens and a desert called 'ABC' or ais kacang. This brightly coloured desert basically consists of ice shaved by a machine (below),  with red beans, grass jelly, and cubes of agar agar topped with condensed or coconut milk and red rose syrup and brown sugar.  Mix it all

Special ice shaving machine
Well, it can't be that bad for you if it consists mostly of water....? 

Anyway, my weekly encounters with wildlife....Yes, I have now met Mr and Mrs Tikus, who ran into my studio the other night hunting two little frogs who had hopped in from the renovated fishpond. I've never jumped on a chair so fast in my life. And I found this giant snail in the garden towards dusk just outside my door. Hard to tell the scale here but I think it was around 10cm or so. It looks like the introduced African Snail, Achatina fulica, but correct me if I am wrong.

Achatina fulica
Not nearly as exciting as the book I mentioned last week, "Camping and Tramping in Malaya" (1898).  So far I've learnt how to pack and smoke an opium pipe; how to prepare and chew betel leaf; how to erect a primitive overnight shelter in the jungle; grow and winnow rice; and, most importantly, how to dodge man-eating tigers - with graphic descriptions of what befalls the not-so-lucky.

And before you think I've just been spending my time reading, eating and socialising, I have include a photo of my studio with almost finished piece of work I started last week.

Yes, trying to hide under the table is Santan.......nakal!
Next week I promise I will have photos of the dyeing I have started and some of the other drawings I've been doing.

Until next week,


  1. Hi Julie
    I'm sure you are working quite hard and anyway making contacts and links into the local community is what your residency is also about.

    Oooh a National Textiles Museum, that's music to a textile artists heart.

    Has any new light been shed on the mystery of the disappearing snake? I'm sure something else saw it as an easy meal and took it away.

    Your time is certainly flying past. I'm enjoying reading your posts. Heavens only knows what tramping skills you'll be able to display on your return to Oz.

  2. Hi Leonie,
    The disappearing snake was taken by a tikus (a rat). Without CCTV I cannot be 100% certain, but I would say the circumstantial evidence is high! Especially since I saw two of them run into the studio the other night. Either that or a bat. We have some smallish bats here, so I may be pointing my finger in the wrong direction!
    Yes it would be great if Australia had a National Textiles Museum and I think that is an excellent subject for discussion amongst textiles practitioners, advocates, curators and collectors.
    I can't believe how quickly my time is going here either! It is easy to stay on the kampung and work, harder to force yourself to get out to KL and beyond, because half the time is taken with just travelling to and fro. However, you are right, it IS important to get a broader cultural overview, to network with other artists, and see contemporary Asian art in the galleries here. I will be going to check out the art scene in a couple of other cities, so will post these on the blog in the near future.
    By the way, congratulations on being short-listed for the Australian Craft Awards, best of luck.