A dash of culture

I’m in the state of Sabah, Malaysia now, on the harbor front in the town of Sandakan. Getting here was a 7 hour bus ride across Sabah, on the winding roads that have been warped to bumpiness by the weight of the palm oil trucks that run throughout the region. Just thinking about the ride over to Samdakan makes me hot and slightly nauseous, but I DID get to see Mount Kinabalu (13,435 ft), the highest peak in the Malaysian archipelago.
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For the large Muslim population here, it’s the month of Ramadan, with fasting during the day ending at sunset with a feast. Particularly impressive are those that run the restaurant stalls- It must be torture to cook for others all day without eating yourself. So you’ll walk past a food shop and see the whole family that runs the shop out at a group of tables chowing down. Its a pretty lively affair, and plentiful food. I’ve also seen the popularity of KFC here- two to three for every golden arch- maybe the colonel is Halal…

At the end of Ramadan is the celebration called Eid al-fitr, known in Malaysia as Hari Raya Aidilfitri. It’s the feast breaking the fast, and children or relatives may receive small gifts; everybody seems to get a snazzy new outfit.
Just like in the states, this holiday seems to be overwhelmed with consumerism. Shopping is already the number one favorite pastime: I have never seen so many malls, everywhere! And where there isn’t a mall, the bottom floor of every building on a block is a little shop, selling clothes, electronics, sandals, food and snacks. As I walked through one afternoon, each one of these open shop fronts was spilling its wares on to the sidewalk for the crowds of students and families to weave through, and I was struck by the colors of the clothing! For women, you have a boundless selection of baju kurung (a knee length tunic top worn over a long skirt) in every shade and pattern, and bins of all the matching head scarves you could dream of.

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Everything is embroidered with scrolling vines, flowers or abstract stitching, and lots of sparkly beads. Malaysia men wear a baju melayu, like a pair of satin pajamas with a skirt-like tartan wrap (sarong) and a black velvet hat called a songkok. And everywhere is a sign proclaiming their Hari Raya sale!!!! It reminds me of the malls at home around Christmas, and I wonder here too, how many are celebrating the holiday versus indulging…

Speaking of indulging, I’m going to a scuba diving resort tomorrow, and I decided to book a plane ticket back to Kota Kinabalu rather than repeat the bus. It’s a pretty tourist thing to do, but my back thanks me 😉

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