Capital: Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia, created in 1963 out of the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah, is an artificial country like many others that were set up by colonial powers in the '60s when outright colonialism went out of fashion. I say it is an artificial country because it contains only a part of the Malay ethnic group that also extends over Sumatra and Java, now a part of the ex-Dutch Indonesia, and because it includes Sarawak and Sabah whose majority Dyak population is definitely foreign to the Malay culture. The point I wish to make is that the borders of Malaysia would have probably been quite different had it not been for the intervention of European colonialism. The proof of that proposition is that Singapore broke away when it became obvious that it could not be integrated into this artificial Malaysia because the values of its massive Chinese majority were not compatible with those of the Malay people.
Malaysia is doing very well in spite of the distortions inherited from its colonial past. I just felt like mentioning this aspect of Malaysia because most of the African countries subjected to similar distortions, have not yet had much success in generating a common purpose shared by all the ethnic groups included into their artificial borders.
Malaysia has its problems of course but it has been dealing with them remarkably well so far, and it can be cited as a fine example of what religious and ethnic tolerance can produce.
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Georgetown, also called Penang for the name of the island it is on, was first settled by the British 1876 but has now been taken over by hardworking Chinese immigrants who pragmatic materialism gave them an edge in business matters over the more idealistic Muslim Malays.
I took this picture from a pedestrian overpass over Penang Road which is one of the main commercial avenues in the city centre.
Naturally, I stayed in a Chinese Hotel where I had a large room for 7.40$.
I had a most enlightening conversation in the restaurant with the Chinese hotel manager and a Malay journalist who both calmly expressed their feelings about the delicate situation of Malaysia where the Chinese minority (25%) has taken control of the economy while the Malay majority (60%) has maintained its hold on political power. Both have good reason to be frustrated, the Malays feel invaded and the Chinese feel rejected but they have managed to live together harmoniously since Singapore opted out of the Federation.
Contrary to most predominantly Islamic countries, religious tolerance is remarkable in Malaysia where Chinese Temples are everywhere to be seen along with the occasional Hindu Temple.
This large Kapitan Kling Mosque in the city centre was built by Muslim settlers from northern India.
On the left below, the huge Kok Lok Si temple complex took 20 years to build on a hilltop west of the city.
After touring the island to enjoy the view from Penang Hill and to see the tourist hotels and beaches of the North coast, I moved on to Kuala Lumpur where I took the photo on the right of a typical Malay house dwarfed by skyscrapers in the city centre
The British occupation of Malaysia has left unmistakable traces such as this cricket field and the Moorish inspired Secretariat offices now called the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Increasing numbers of modern skyscrapers now reflect the new reality of Malaysia's rapidly growing economy.
The Friday Mosque (Masjid Jame), marks the spot where tin prospectors founded the city at the confluence of the Kelang and Gombak Rivers in 1860. They called it Kuala Lumpur meaning "Muddy Estuary".
The Malaysian Parliament Building is located in the hills west of the city not far from this "National Monument" which you cannot avoid visiting if you take a guided tour!
Of the three cities I visited, by far I preferred historic Melaka that gave its name to the "Malaca" Strait between Malaysia and Indonesian Sumatra. These boats, tied up in the Melaka trade with Indonesia or forty kilometres away.
The natural advantage of being located at the narrowest part of the Strait made the mouth of the Melaka River an ideal site for trade with Sumatra. Indeed there was already a trading post here when the famous Chinese navigator Cheng Ho established relations for the Ming dynasty in 1405.
The first European settlers were the Portuguese who arrived in 1511 and built the fortress A'Famosa of which only this Gate remains.
Then, the Dutch took the city in 1641 after an eight month siege. When the French occupied Holland in 1795, the British "temporarily" took over the administration of the Dutch colonies and Melaka was ceded to them definitely in 1824.
The Melaka Kingdom accepted Islam as early as the 14th century so the ancestors of these girls were already Muslim when the Catholic Portuguese and then the Protestant Dutch took over and built churches like the one in the background.
Malaysia is a confederation of 13 states ruled by Sultans one of which is "elected" to become the temporary King of the country every five years. These houses near the palace of the Sultan of Melaka can give you an idea of the lifestyle enjoyed by the Sultan's noble entourage.
Being a mere commoner of proletarian means, I stayed in the cheap Chong Hoe Chinese Hotel where I slept as soundly as the Sultan himself for only 8.80$.
As elsewhere in Malaysia there was a wide variety of places of worship. This Hindu Temple was right across the street from my hotel.
And this Mosque, only a block down the street.
A little further stood this Chinese Temple.
There was even a Protestant Church in the neighbourhood.
Yes it is Chinese but it has nothing to do with religion, it is simply a stand-up theatre