The kindness of strangers

March 29th, 2009 by scott and becky

100 km, 5h 20 min, max temp 41

It felt like a long ride today, as the distance was long, but we were moving pretty fast throughout the day. Even after entering some small rolling hills (not much really), we still maintained our almost 20 km/hr average. For us this is pretty good.

The riding itself was pretty uneventful. We decided to take the shorter highway route, which was a likely less interesting than the coast route, but saved us 7 km. Given the state we were in when we arrived, it was the right decision.

We left the province of Terengganu today – one of the more conservative Muslim provinces in Malaysia. One of the things we noticed about Terengganu was a distinct lack of Malaysian Chinese. It appears to us that there are fewer of both the minority groups in Malaysia present in Terengganu.

Shortly after entering the province of Kelantan, we pulled over at what looked like a fruit stand. In the end, they had very little fruit and the things Becky thought were mangos turned out to be raw chickens (she must have been pretty tired at that point!). One of the customers asked us if she could help, and we asked if there were oranges. She thought we were asking for orange juice and said there was none, but we could get some at a store up the road. We got back on our bikes and soon discovered that they had hopped into a van and drove ahead of us. They bought a couple of Tropicana Twister Orange drinks and presented them to us when we caught up to them. It was such a kind gesture we had to drink them up immediately (BTW, Tropicana Twister doesn’t have much orange juice in it, but this was at least fortified with pulp). We were very touched by her kindness to these strangers on funny looking bicycles.

We are staying at the Medina Hotel in Tanah Merah. We tried to find the Muy Jaya hotel that Kat and Mike stayed at, with no luck. The first room we took had good working AC and enough space, but had mould on the ceiling and the walls of the bathroom. We also saw mouse (or other rodent) droppings on the headboard of the bed. After trying to nap and listening to Becky coughing due to the mould, Scott suggested we look at other options. Becky checked out the other hotel we could find in town – the Tanah Merah, but was not too impressed, so we asked to see another room at our hotel. They have a second section that is further down the building and the room was in much better condition – so we moved to it. It seems to be much better.

When looking at the Tanah Merah Hotel, one of the issues Becky noticed was the smell. It was situated right next to a building being used for swallow nesting, and the rooms they had available were indoor courtyard – which opened onto the swallow building leaving the area smelling just a little off. Tanah Merah seems to have several buildings in the downtown core where the upper floors are used for swallow nesting. The swallow nests are used for birds-nest soup, and are quite valuable. Still, it is very odd to see this form of “agriculture” right in the middle of the town. We notice a slightly unpleasant smell, and the sounds of hundreds of chirping swallows, whenever we get close to a nesting building. Strange!

A huge swallow nesting operation in the upper floors of the first two blocks of this new building.

A huge swallow nesting operation in the upper floors of the first two blocks of this new building.

We also saw a larger Malaysian Chinese presence here than we’ve seen in a few days, with several stores containing small shrines, and a Chinese restaurant. We ate dinner at the Chinese restaurant – a nice change from the Malay food we’ve been eating the past few days. We also experienced our first gender-separated check-out line at the grocery store. Each check-out had a picture of either a woman with tudung (head scarf) or man with Muslim hat. We just went to the closest one without issue. This is apparently a legal requirement now in Kelantan, which has been ruled by the conservative Islamist PAS party for many years. We still saw some women wearing a tudung with tight jeans and a shirt or sweater, and women continue to smile and wave – even in this province Muslim attitudes seem much more relaxed than we experienced in the Middle East.

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One Response to “The kindness of strangers”

  1. hariz Says:

    hehe…nicely wrote. I’m Malaysian, to be exact, Kelantanese and currently in Jordan, studying over here. Yeah, actually in Kelantan, Tanah Merah holds quite a population of Chinese compared to other towns and maybe beating Kota Bharu which is the main city of Kelantan (where I’m from). and the significant different about Kelantanese Chinese is they speak Hokkien and most of them are “Cina Kampung” (Village Chinese) compared to Chinese in other states. which mean, the speak the native language of our state (Kelantanese) better than Chinese in other states which mostly unable to do so- they are more likely to speak English, Chinese and Kuala Lumpur slang.

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