Sunday, 29 September 2013

Tales, Trails and Travels

This week I escaped from the kampung to see a little more of Malaysian culture and to take the opportunity to track down something I've been looking forward to seeing for several years.....
First stop was KL to the Muzium Negara, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in this location this year, and another trip to the Muzium Tekstil Negara.  In both museums I was particularly interested in the crafts of the orang asli, the indigenous people of Peninsular Malaysia. Officially there 18 tribes which comprise three groups: the Semang,  the Senoi and the Proto-Malay. Here is a detail of a Mah-Meri (Senoi) women's skirt made of origami mengkuang leaves.
Origami skirt worn over a bark cloth skirt made from Terap tree.
Origami ornaments such as headdress, shoulder sash and cummerbund are also worn. Another display of intricately woven hats caught my eye.  Unfortunately no information about them on the display.

FInely woven hast with bright red pom-poms
From KL I caught the bus to the Cameron Highlands with two items on my agenda - the first to walk the final trail taken by missing textile designer Jim Thompson, and the second to finally come face to face with the Rafflesia,  the largest flower in the world. 

The Cameron Highlands occupies an area the size of Singapore, and are situated 200km from Kuala Lumpur in Pehang, bordering Perak. They are the highest point in Malaysia - 1135 to1839m above sea level - and are therefore a popular cool climate destination for nationals and tourists alike and are the site of many large tea plantations. The bus ride there can be a terrifying 4 hour ordeal, on very windy narrow roads with fearless bus drivers overtaking anything and everything on the way. Needless to say, not pleasant for those who suffer from motion sickness (or for those who don't!).  The best way to get through it is probably close your eyes and ears and try to sleep as soon as possible. 

View of one of the Boh Tea plantations
Jim Thompson was an American businessman who revitalized the Thai silk industry in the 50's and 60's, saving it from extinction. Although his work lives on, he himself disappeared whilst on a trip to the Cameron Highlands in March 1967.  After attending a church service in the morning, he left Moonlight Cottage in the afternoon for a stroll.  
This is Sunlight Bungalow, Moonlight Bungalow in the background.
Although he knew the area well, and was a keen walker, no trace of him was ever found.  Several theories exist - that he was eaten by tigers; that he had been kidnapped by communists; that he was a victim of a hit-and-run accident and his body hidden; that he was killed by an orang asli trap; that he had planned his own disappearance or even committed suicide. Unfortunately we may never know as no trace of him could be found despite hiring groups of orang asli  trackers, police, military, and foreign experts. The two cottages that he and his friends occupied that weekend - Moonlight and Sunlight Bungalows - have new owners who do not allow visitors in, although you can rent them to stay in, although at the time of my visit they were still undergoing renovations.

We were not allowed past the Sunlight Bungalow unfortunately.
 There was no silken thread to follow down that trail, so I then went in pursuit of the Rafflesia that I had really wanted to see last year when I was in Sarawak. To find the Rafflesia you must book to an organised trek with a tour guide, as these plants are found deep within orang asli land.  We drove for about an hour to get to the kampung and then the walk into the jungle was a hot and humid hour and a half. The orang asli scout out flowering Rafflesia for the trekking companies, and this eco-tourism has now become a valuable source of income for their kampung. High priority is placed on not disturbing the environment as we trek in and out in order to preserve it for the future.
Yes, I do know which is the more stunning redhead!
More information about the Rafflesia can be found here but basically this Southeast Asian plant is parasitic on the members of the genus Tetrastigma.  It has no roots or leaves and lives unobserved inside the stems and roots of its host.  It only becomes visible when the buds break through the bark and develop into the largest single flower in the world.  

A view inside the Rafflesia
This Rafflesia is probably Rafflesia arnoldii  (there are 28 species of Rafflesia)  and it was around two days old when we came to meet it.  It is more commonly known as the 'corpse-flower' because it exudes a distinct dead meat smell in order to attract its pollinators, the carrion flies. I did put my nose inside and it had a very funky smell, although this gets stronger at night.

Beautiful ornamentation on the inside and on the 'petals'
Nearby we found another bud getting ready to unfold, although that would probably take a few more months, as they take up to a year to develop. 
Rafflesia bud getting ready to open.
I caught the fast train back to Sungai Buloh from Ipoh, in Perak which developed during the 19th century through tin mining.  It has some lovely old Straits Chinese shop-houses, although many in Old Ipoh are derelict and look ripe for demolition.  However, there were a few trendy cafes that had managed to keep the old facades and embrace the new on the inside.
Old town Ipoh kedai
Back in Rimbun Dahan I found this banana flower which had broken off in the wind. I love it's sculptural form and rich colours.
The banana flower, or bunga pisang.
I was also back in time for a large dinner party with some visitors from the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It was also time to say good-bye to Carlo Gernale, who has finished his 3-month residency and flies back to the Philipines. Selamat tinggal, kawan saya.

sehingga minggu depan

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