Saturday, October 30, 2010

No Shoes? No problem.

Occasionally I get comments from readers who do appear to be interested in what life is like in Malaysia.  Any of us, truly, have interesting lives, to someone else!  Yesterday I gave an exam to 45 of my students and since I had no tasks to do while invigilating (overseeing the exam; 'proctoring' in US-jargon), I decided to take a few photos.

You might notice that the tables were scattered about, but I was in limited space and had to fit 35 desks into this particular room, and provide separation.  You will also notice the shoes under their chairs.

Girls especially, kick their shoes and sandals off immediately after sitting down.  I find this quite amusing since I come from a culture and climate where people have to wear shoes all of the time.  Sometimes I go around the room and select the prettiest shoe and take a photo (with permission, of course).  For this exam day, the Shoe-of-the-Day was a pretty brown pump with glitter on the toe end.

Shoe of the Day

Photo of the Week

I take a lot of photos for which there is either no, or little, story.  This photo was taken as I returned home one day for lunch.  This lizard was stretched out across my front gate like a circus performer.  Right after I snapped the photo, he (or she) shut his eyes and -like a child might- pretended that I couldn't see him.  I rattled the gate with my payung (umbrella) and he fled.

Click on the image for the original sized image.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hari Raya Fests - Private

More relaxed atmosphere @ home
Yesterday I discussed public Hari Raya fests. Today, I want to describe those fests held by individual families at their houses.  Of the two, I prefer the private ones since it allows me to visit the homes of colleagues and friends and, potentially, see them in a more relaxed setting.  This is not always so, however, depending upon how formal the family makes their open house, and how many other people have been invited.

Children of a colleague
For example, this year I attended 17 different Hari Raya open houses of which only two were public fests.  The other 15 were all hosted in different homes and varied greatly in the formality and the number of people attending.

For example, in the house of one older man with whom I use for Malay language practice, only three of us were in attendance (including a housemate of his).  Despite their poverty, the two men had made an effort to make their simple abode presentable, putting out furniture that is normally in storage, and a simple set of snack items.  We chatted amiably for around 40 minutes and then I left for another house.

At the house of a female colleague, I got the date wrong.  She had invited me for a Monday earlier, but then changed it to the following Sunday with me still thinking it was Monday.  Still, they were polite and gracious and I didn't discover my mistake until about 20 minutes into the visit!  Malays are very hospitable and easy-going and so the visit went well.  My wife and I were later invited back to the Sunday get-together, which was quite formal and crowded, but I enjoyed myself more on Monday when the family was informally dressed, relaxed, and visiting with ME only.
Banana chips

Of course, unlike the public fests where multiple choices of food are served, private open houses offer a more limited set of food.  Still there are some good eats, and usually include snack items - biscuits, banana chips, tarts, small pieces of cake - and simple noodle and/or rice dishes.

Hari Raya open houses begin on the first day following the end of Ramadan.  Called Hari Pertama (First Day) and Hari Kedua (Second Day), these open houses tend to be the most formal.  Politicians and Sultans host quite large gatherings that can run in the tens of thousands of attendees.  Following the first two days, which are national holidays, further open houses tend to be hosted on subsequent Saturdays and Sundays.  Many of my colleagues balik kampung (return to their home villages, i.e., parents' homes) for the first two days of Hari Raya.  After coming back from their home villages, they may or may not host in their own homes depending upon whether or not they have a house to host in.

I particularly enjoy interacting with the children of colleagues.  Hari Raya is a joyous time for most of them; fireworks are shot off or waved around (boys) or new clothes shown off to friends (girls).  I like to bring balloons to some houses as these prove to be a big hit with the 2, 3, and 4-year-olds.  I can see why Hari Raya carries such warm memories for Malay families.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hari Raya Fests - Public

Indoor Food Booths (and Entertainment)
Tents (with fans) for Outdoor Raya Fests
At the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Malays in Malaysia will celebrate the end of Eid al-Fitr with Hari Raya open houses that consist of eating, visiting, and more eating.  This year I attended 17 public and private hari raya open houses.  The public ones were hosted by various organisations to which I belong.  The private ones are those hosted by colleagues and friends at their houses, and will be detailed in a separate blogpost.

If one works in a Malay organisation or company, certainly the invite will come for that organisation's open house.  Some are held outdoors, under tent canopies fitted with fans.  Some will be hosted indoors, with food booths surrounding the VIP seating.  Most will have some type of "entertainment", but it won't be rock-n-roll!  Singers, supported by either "Music-minus" backing tapes or small ensembles of musicians, will belt out evergreen favorites, including M. Nasir's "Satu Hari, Hari Raya" and hits from Malaysia's sweetheart of singers Datuk Siti Nurhaliza.
Ketupat rice
Not Rock-n-Roll

The college where I work has a vocational branch that hosted a Hari Raya feast, prepared by the students.  One might think -student cooks?- but in fact this campus produces excellent meals.  Before the feasting began, I made a circuit around to photograph some of the items on offer.

Typically, the main dishes will involve the various forms of rice and noodles.  Some different ways of serving rice are:
-nasi putih (plain white rice)
-nasi minyak or nasi tomato (oil or tomato rice)
-nasi ketupat (rice cooked in triangular pandan-leaf wraps)
-nasi lemang (rice steam cooked in bamboo tubes)
-nasi What is it?
Nasi What Is It?
Lemang rice
The noodles come in a wide variety, but I know them as white (plain wheat), yellow (wheat, but with added flavorings) and very thin mee hoon noodles, which can be rice or mung bean flour.

Toppings are many and range in flavours, covering the taste range of sweet-to-sour, bitter-to-tart, and back again.  Meat can be heavily spiced, such as rendang, or simply grilled, such as satay.  Satay tends to be a crowd favorite, and most other food is ignored until diners have stacked multiple skewers of chicken or beef satay upon their plates.
Rush for the Satay

Beef Rendang
Apart from the eating, it is fun to chit-chat with colleagues.  Female colleagues come dressed in brand-new baju kurung, purchased especially for Hari Raya.  Men wear the traditional Malay costume, with baju Melayu, songket (decorative blanket worn around the waist), and Islamic songkok (black or white cap).

Basically, protocol for these functions is to arrive and wait for the VIP (very important people) and VVIP (very very important people) to arrive.  VIPs need to arrive before VVIPs, in order to greet the VVIPs and also show Who is Important.  Once the situation of Importance Level has been established, eating commences along with the entertainment.  ("Satu hari, Hari Raya.....")

Men's Outfits
Women's Lineup
I walk around, with my camera in hand.  People eating intently, or chit-chatting, or taking photos of each other, are not always aware of other camera-people.  This allows me to take photos of people in NON-poses.  Some of the best photos are NON-poses.  My favorite from the public Hari Raya fests that I attended are of a group of school girls.  They spied me at the balcony railing overlooking the indoor fest and giggled as I took a photo.  Smiling, I gave them the "thumb's up" signal, and they replied in kind.  If pictures are worth a thousand words, then non-verbal smiles and gestures can be worth millions.

School girls giggle at the Orang Putih