RUBBER AND PALM OIL

Travelling down to Ipoh from Penang and passing vast plantations of palm oil trees made us wonder about the origins of rubber and palm oil, two of the most important industries in Malaysia, together with tin. For someone who grew up in Kuala Lumpur I am a little embarrassed to admit that I had no idea that neither rubber, nor palm oil tress, are indigenous to Malaysia.

The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is in fact indigenous to the Amazon basin in South America. Rubber seedings were smuggled out of Brazil in the late 1870’s and became the parent planting stock for all rubber plantations developed in present-day Malaysia and other Southeast Asain countries at the turn of the twentieth century. These plantations gradually superceded those in Brazil partly because of much improved productivity. In Brazil the trees naturally grow some distance from each other; in Southeast Asia trees were planted close together making harvesting much easier and quicker. Today Brazil plays an insignificant role in international markets.

The story is much the same with the oil plam tree (Elaeis guiniensis jacq.) which originates from West Africa where it grows in the wild and later was developed into an agricultural crop. It was introduced to Malaysia, then Malaya, by the British in the early 1870’s as an ornamental plant. The first commercial planting took place in Selangor in 1917 but it was in the early 1960s that palm oil cultivation increased significantly under the government’s diversification programme to reduce Malaysia’s dependency on rubber and tin.

Sadly the production of palm oil has long been associated with negative factors such as:

tropical deforestation, biodiversity loss, air pollution, soil and water pollution, soil erosion, violation of customary land rights.

Deforestation followed by plantation establishment has had a significant effect on carbon stocks and greenhouse gas emissions.

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IPOH

Ipoh is the capital city of the state of Perak in Malaysia and the third largest city in the country. It grew rapidly in the 1920s and 1930s as a result of the booming tin industry. With the decline of the tin industry in the latter half the 20th century growth stagnated and today tourism is a major driver of the local economy.

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This is Ipoh railway station, a great example of colonial architecture. Re-built on the site of the original station construction started in 1914 but was delayed because of the First World War and not opened until 1917. It is apparently known as the Taj Mahal of Ipoh by locals. Designed by the architect Arthur Bennison Hubback it also included the Majestic Hotel.

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Which today is sadly a pale imitation of its former self…….boarded up and gradually crumbling……….

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The Padang in Ipoh is still alive and well and cricket is still played at the Royal Ipoh Club….a colonial hangover that seems a little out of place in today’s environment!!

Thaipusam

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January / February). It is mainly observed in countries where there is a significant presence of Tamil community such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia etc.

The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, and the name of the star, Pusam. This star is at its highest point during the festival which commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a Vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.

In Penang we woke early to witness the start of the journey of the Golden Chariot which left the Queen Street Maha Mariamman temple at about 5.15 a.m. on Wednesday 8th February. It then made a 9 kilometre journey all the way to the Sri Arulmigu Balathandathabani Murugan temple (Hilltop temple) located at Waterfall around midnight.

As we waited we saw devotees throwing coconuts on the ground and during the pilgrimage procession coconuts will be smashed on the road before the chariot to symbolise the shattering of one’s ego to satisfy self-realization. We also witnessed devotees making offerings of fruits, flowers and incense to the deity.

On Thaipusam day itself  (9th February) devotees go through a physical endurance of being pierced and skewered on the back and front of their bodies as an act of penance. Devotees will also undertake a pilgrimage to the Waterfall hilltop temple while carrying kavadis as an act of penance and fulfilment of a vow or to develop spirituality. Carrying kavadis will be in the form of carrying Paal Kudam (milk pots) as offerings to gods or in the form of physical endurance by piercing the cheeks, tongue or skin on the body with hooks and Vel skewers.

The following day we walked along Jalan Utama to see the celebrations in action, a picturesque display of colour, loud music and of course devotees heading for the temple carrying kavadis.  Alongside the road were some 150 beautifully decorated thaneer panthal (makeshift refreshment stalls) all offering free vegetarian food and drink to everyone. Apparently over 1 million people will attend the celebrations.

Lion Dance Tradition

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During the Chinese New Year lion dance troupes will visit houses and businesses to perform the traditional custom of ‘cai  qing’ meaning  ‘plucking the greens’. The lion plucks the auspicious green vegetables like lettuce placed on a table  in front of the premises. The ‘greens’ (qing) is tied together with a red envelope containing money and may also include fruit such as oranges. The lion will dance and approach the greens and red envelope like a curious cat, eating the greens and spitting it out but keeping the red envelope. The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the house or business.

This photo was taken opposite our house in Penang with the lion about to enter the house.

Kung Hei Fat Choi

Today is the first day of Chinese New Year. In Chinese astrology each zodiac year is not just associated with an animal sign but also one of the five elements: gold(metal), wood, water, fire or earth. Both the zodiac sign and the element shape the astrology of the year. 2017 is a Fire Rooster Year. Element-sign combinations recur every 60 years.

Fire Rooster (Year of birth 1957)

Trustworthy, with a a strong sense of timekeeping and responsibility at work

Jungle

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There’s something so appealing about the colours and shapes of the jungle. Most people in Penang are keen to buy or rent apartments facing the sea; of course some of the views are amazing. But you know I would rather be facing the jungle which has such a rich vein of colours, and there is a sense of mystery and adventure. Another hike up Penang Hill beckons!