Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kuala Lumpur

It seemed odd to have to take the train from the bus station to get in the city, but this was the reality. We were 40 km away from the capital of Malaysia. Mihai managed to choose between the three different kind of networks, buy tickets and get us on the right platform. Then we just walked around with our heavy backpacks trying to find the needle in the haystack. We thought it would be easy to find the address, but there was no map... We chose a corner, stayed put with the bags and left Mihai to wander around. After half an hour of walking round and round, he found the hotel. It was there all along!
A multileveled guesthouse, with shared bathrooms and plenty of stairs, it offered us a quiet family room. During the day, it gave a wonderful feeling that it was just for us. Come night time and it suddenly became alive, people eating in the kitchen, smoking and listening to music loudly on their phones. Fortunately for us, around midnight they would go to sleep. We would be awakened by “Jar of hearts” by Christina Perry played continuously, until we were sick of it. Still, we didn’t move; it had good internet, and that’s a rarity.
Our main raison d’etre here was to obtain visas for South Africa. Mihai looked over the requirements before leaving and decided to obtain them from Singapore or Malaysia. Trying to fill out the papers on internet, he read: apply in the native country or country of residence. This was not possible for us. He tried his luck in Singapore, but got a categorical refusal. Now we tried it again in Kuala Lumpur.

First thing Monday morning we set out toward the High Commission of South Africa. We walked on streets that were clean, but with numerous repairs. We passed old buildings, street food vendors, people going to work, suspended walkways between skyscrapers. At the twenty-second floor of a modern tower, we stated our problem: we needed visas, but we got the same answer. Still we pressed, gave her our card, told her about our trip, our blog. This seemed to work. She didn’t promise anything but gave us the papers to fill in and accepted our passports. Now we waited. 
We didn’t visit, we left the room only to eat and buy some groceries. The hotel people were puzzled. Why don’t we go and see the city? There are so many things to see and do. We did eventually, after paying for the visas and hoping for a positive answer.
What did we see?

The Islamic Museum is set in a modern building with white and black marble, domes covered in blue tile and matte geometrical designs on stainless steel elevators. 

It starts with explanations for the mosques—how they appeared, the transformation of the design, adaptations to the country’s cultural influence. All over the room we were moving around small-scale models of the most important mosques in the world. The children recognized the ones that we already visited: Taj Mahal; the one from Xian...

The scale model of the mosque Al-Haram

 We learned about the mirab, a small niche, always oriented toward Mecca; about the muezzin that calls people five times a day to pray; we saw a graphic about which prayers are said and where around the world during a day. 
On a slanted plane we saw a Kiswah, the black silk, gold-embroidered covering of the Ka’abah, the House of God in Mecca. It is changed annually, during the Hajj, the pilgrimage (one of the sacred duties of every Muslim in the world).

We saw numerous Qumran (Koran), written and illuminated by hand on velum or linen paper, big and small. 

The tools used for this kind of work showed what it meant to be a calligrapher. 

Nasta'liq script, Iran
23rd January 1850 AD/ 9th Rabi'ul awwal 1266 AH
Marriage certificate
The many designs that make a tile.

The exhibition went on, focusing on Islamic art in different parts of the world: India, China, Malaysia, Mongolia.

Islam meets China!
The frames are made of various sayings and the  three diamonds are saying:
the religion before Allah is Islam

 Not only fashion and jewelry, but weapons, everyday vessels and tools. 

Sword with a horse head hilt.

The spreading of Islam meant spreading of the knowledge: in astronomy, in medicine (they put an end to the bleeding, as a universal treatment of all sickness and improved the wounds treatment), in travel (a rudimentary sextant helped them arrive at the intended spot, sailing on open waters instead of coasting). They brought the secret of paper from China, adapted it to the available plants (linen) and devised an assembly line for hand-copying manuscripts.

Calligraphic gilt leaf
Paper, ottoman Turkey of Syria
1924-5 AD/ 1324 AH

 Their way of building and the improvements in construction meant progress. The living conditions dictated the way of dressing (an overcoat in dusty areas) or the everyday objects (the nomads had colorful and beautiful objects, and they were wearing their social station in rich clothes and jewelry).

The museum was housing the Ann Dunham Personal Collection of Batiks and had, to the side, a looping message from then-Senator Obama (about the importance of empowering women and their role in maintaining this craft), and information about how to paint a batik, explaining the tools and colors used in the process.

Long hip cloth
Hand drawn on cotton
Literally across the street was the National Mosque, the one that we could visit. We took this opportunity, because the vast majority of mosques are closed for non-Muslims. Why would I want to visit a mosque? Why not? I’ve seen people praying in Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, Shinto ones, churches, mosques in India, why not in a mosque in a Muslim country? 

Showing off!

We were given abbayas, those long overdresses and a headpiece, told to take off our shoes and let in to roam the grounds. This is a modern design mosque, with water-fountains next to the tower, sleek white and gold or black and gold columns, a folded circle roof suspended above the praying place. We were not allowed to step inside, but we could look at the immensity of it, the crystal candelabras, the blue stained windows. It felt peaceful. 

Maria couldn’t wait to get out of those clothes, she felt oppressed by the idea of having to wear it. Ileana and myself felt like we were playing dress up. 

Can you tell the time?

The National Museum, though hosted in a beautiful building, failed to impress me in any way. The history of the place was presented in a boring and predictable way. Though it had one new thing for us: ways to wear the royal head piece.

Tengkolok is the wearer's symbol of social status through color, shape, pattern and fabric. 
The boys also visited the Bird Center (shot two birds with the same stone: father-son bonding time and satisfying their wish to see birds).

What else is to say?
Petaling Street is the commercial street. With two small spaces, wide enough for just one person, the street is filled with cheap imitations of every fashionable object—be it shoes, belts, bags or perfumes. It feels oppressive to walk around, and even more so when the vendors are trying to interest you. 

The view from a less crowded angle

But, on the sides of this street are these amazing food courts. In the middle, tables and chairs. Look around: do you want noodles? Go to your left; fried rice? There; indian food? At the back. Order, then sit down, you’ll pay when they’ll bring you the food. People come alone or with the whole family, having fun or reading the newspaper. When they’re finished, the vendors come and take their own dishes and the last one will wipe the table clean.

If you don’t want to eat, you could have a snack of fruits or chestnuts.

Or drink a freshly squeezed cane juice.

Or just watch people.
We have our happy ending: visas for South Africa! Terima kasi! Thank you! We pack the bags, take a taxi and head toward airport.

Selamat tinggal (sell-ah-maht teen-gahl) !Good bye Malaysia!

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