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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ride in a Magic Island: 'Nature Is Result of Prayer'

As we ride around the island we are awestruck, but the driver declares she is bored with Langkawi. Malaysian friend Aura, 26, says she would much rather tour Hollywood to see movie stars.
Instead, we see rainforest-covered mountains, mangrove rivers, and beaches after we leave our apartment building in Kuah, the most developed part of Langkawi.
Suddenly, I say “wow” as an aquamarine statue emerges from the woods near the entrance to a Hindu temple ( photo above left ). We stop, and we also see a Thai temple; a Buddha juts out in brilliant gold from boulders at the side of a mountain (photo, top right ).
Further away on the northwest side of the island, we plunge into the chilly water of a pool at Temurun waterfall. We wear bathing suits while next to us a woman takes a dip, completely covered in a hijab (photo, above).
Nearby at Tengkorak Beach, trees frame the Andaman Sea as monkeys strew garbage from trash cans onto the sand. A Surau, a prayer hut, appears at the hilly top of the beach ( photo, bottom of post. ) The warning written on it says, “( for Muslim only).”
The Muslim prayer hut on the beach, the Hindu statue, and the Buddha are among the images on the island with a Muslim majority as well as a multi-religious population.
Here and there in Langkawi, “One Malaysia” billboards emerge from the landscape; the billboards are part of the government‘s campaign to promote unity among the country’s diverse ethnic and religious groups. In one of them, children in costumes representing ethnic groups pose in a row under a 1Malaysia logo (photo left). Together, they smile and wave Malaysian flags.
As I look at the billboard, I remember conversations with members of different minority groups. One of them, Chin Fook, a Malaysian of Chinese origin, contends the 1Malaysia campaign is “government propaganda.” Chin Fook, a young project manager for an engineering firm, was discussing privileges granted to Muslim Malays, the “bumiputra,” ( “sons of the land.”)
The economic policies implemented in the 1970s that favor the Muslim Malay majority include setting aside properties that can only be purchased by them as well as special discounts when they buy property, subsidies for their businesses as well as quotas and scholarships just for bumiputra students.
Chin Fook compares minority status in Malaysia to yin and yang, contrary forces that interconnect and transform each other. Minorities have disadvantages, therefore they have an opportunity to struggle more.
Meanwhile back in the paradise, we meet Malaysian artist Aza Osman, who remembers an even greener era in Langkawi (photo, top left). More than 25 years ago, he visited with a pet monkey on his shoulder, riding his bicycle on dirt roads, rather than on asphalt; only sandy paths led to the beaches.
We chat with Aza at his business, Atma Alam Batik Art Village, now a half-acre complex with a batik workshop, showroom, and art gallery. He and his wife, batik artist Roshadah Yussof, opened it in one small room in 1987, the same year the federal government established Langkawi as a duty free zone. Soon after, tourists started visiting the 478.5 square kilometers of Langkawi‘s main island, now populated by some 64,000 people.
Finally, closer to home at Beringen Beach in Kuah, we meet Mohamed bin Yussof (photo, top of post, right). He runs “tours on the wild side,” including trips to uninhabited islands in the archipelago of 99 islands. As we admire the beach with a view of tiny green islands, he relates our surroundings to the Muslim practice of praying.
“The nature around us, all this is not free,” he says. “We have to pray for it five times a day.”
Photos and story by Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter, copyright, 2011
This is the last of a series of stories and photos from living in Langkawi, Malaysia, 2010.

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