Sunday, December 28, 2008

Selamat Detang from Malaysia

"Hello" is the common greeting in multi-cultural Malaysia. Many signs say Selamat Detang, which means "welcome." The capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur, which most people call KL. KL had the tallest buildings in the world, the Petronas Towers, until Taipei 101 was completed last year. At 1,483 feet, they are still the tallest twin towers in the world. The double-decker Skybridge connects the towers at floors 41 and 42.

From KL we drove four hours to a jetty where we got on a boat and went three hours up river to Taman Negara National Park which they say is the oldest rainforest in the world - 130 million years old. We thought we were going to be roughing it but the resort on the edge of the park has about 100 cottages with air conditioning, which was good because it is very hot and humid in Malaysia, especially in Taman Negara. Even so we like the rainforest.

We went on several hikes and saw a lot of plants and insects, plus we learned what some of the plants can be used for. The members of the cat family, the wild elephants, and other big animals of the jungle have learned to stay away from people and mainly come out at night, but the monkeys and monitor lizards come into the resort area. Taman Negara has the world’s longest canopy walk - about 1500 feet long. A canopy walk is a walkway that hangs in a net high in the trees so people can see what it is like to be at the top of the rainforest. The walk was a bit scary. You can see us trying to decide who should go first. We had to stay 15 feet apart. The canopy walk actually goes from tree to tree and even had parts where we had to climb up a ladder. It was fun being up in the treetops. At night we went to a "hide" which is a room on stilts. It overlooks a waterhole and a natural salt lick where the bigger animals come at night. We saw samba deer.

Our favorite activity at Taman Negara was visiting the aborigines, or "Orang Asli," which means "original people" in the Malay language. They were the first human occupants of the Malay Peninsula. They continue to live a nomadic, hunter-gather lifestyle. They call themselves Batek. The Batek are gentle and shy. About 1000 Batek live in the park. Nomads don’t move every day but they move many times during the year. The group we visited had been in the same location for two weeks. The Malaysian government built them a school and houses but the Batek people want to keep living their way. They hunt and fish and make a little money by letting people visit their village. Instead of a permanent house they sleep in a lean-to covered with palm fronds and plastic.

It rained while we were there so we all sat on the mats in their "home" while one of the Batek showed us how they make fire without using matches and how he makes poison darts for his blow gun. The poison they use comes from the Ipoh tree. They hunt animals with a blowgun. A blowgun is very quiet so it doesn’t scare the animals away. In the "village" there were five families and about 20 people. When we first arrived the children hid behind their mothers but when we sat on the mat near them they smiled and came closer. Once a month the government sends a doctor to check on their health and give them medicine. Many of the children had coughs. We saw bottles of cough syrup but our guide said that as after the doctor leaves their take their own traditional medicine made from plants they find in the rainforest. We wonder how long they will be able to keep their old ways.
Malaysia is very interesting. It has the world’s tallest twin towers and the one of the oldest rainforests.