Sunday, October 26, 2014

Malay Journey

"It was 1405, on a spring dawn. Three short years after Parameswara founded his empire (where a mouse deer outwitted a dog), the Sultanate of Malacca was still in an unstable infancy. In the south, the expanding Majapahit Empire was a threat, as were the Siamese, who sought revenge for the death of their regent Temagi at Temasek (today’s Singapore). As day broke across Malacca’s natural harbor, an unspeakable dread must have swept over all on shore. Ships larger than anything afloat, as far as the eye could see, had arrived in the night. Hundreds of ships, a fleet crewed by over 27,000 men, silken sails set by a forest of teak masts across the horizon. Treasure ships, as much as 125m long and weighing 1,500 tons, securely guarded by five-mast Fuchuan warships and supported by a host of transports, supply ships, and patrol boats. The Chinese had arrived."

- Malacca’s First Visitors by Mike Street

The diorama exhibit I saw at the Cheng Ho (1371-1433) Cultural Museum, Malacca, gave a vivid account of the Ming Dynasty's Armada's virgin voyage described by Mike Street. It preceded the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the Atlantic Ocean, the discovery of the New Continent and the Age of the Exploration by European powers. Malacca became the archetypical trade port of Malay, on the mouth of the river, people congregating for trade, fishing, and farming under the Muslim Sultanate.

Admiral Cheng Ho's mission was to deliver Ming Dynasty's message and gifts to enter into amicable trade relations with the Sultanate, who in response, presented tributes and sought Ming's protection and influence against Siam's (Thailand) offense. This reciprocal relationship worked well and lasted until Cheng Ho's 7th and the last voyage between 1405 and 1433. Ho reached Mogadishu and Brava in eastern Africa on the 6th and 7th voyages.

Admiral Cheng made Malacca his Armada's strategic port-of-call, primarily for waiting for change in monsoon winds, and had constructed warehousing facilities. He died from illness on the 7th voyage and the Ming Dynasty discontinued the voyage because of the exorbitant costs.

At the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum, a small vase exhibited in a glass enclosure attracted attention of a few visitors. I wondered what it was. Contained in it was his male piece. Seemingly he was an Arab boy castrated under captivity in Yunan to serve as a page for one of Ming's nobles. Growing into an active lanky young man and a good fighter in the war, he won the trust of Yong Le Emperor and quickly rose up the ranks. Malacca showed special attachment to Cheng Ho with the Cultural Museum dedicated to him.

Thriving Malacca drew ambitions of European powers and was taken over, first by Portugal (1511), second by Holland (1641), and third by England (1824). The defeated Sultanate retreated to Johor and Perak. They had to wait for the arrival of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826) to learn how Malacca lost its luster to Penang and Singapore. There is one legendary episode that took place in 1810. Raffles happened to be in Malacca when the old Portuguese Fort was almost totally blasted by dynamite, as it was an eye-sore to the British. Because of Raffles' respect and passion for history, a Formosa Gate was said to have been spared from destruction. We would not see the gate today if he had not intervened. Close to this gate are the restored replica of the Sultanate Palace and Malay's Independence Hall, which was the British Malacca Club where the writer Somerset Maugham liked to visit. It was here that he found inspiration for some of his short stories.

I didn't have time for the Maritime Museum nor the Malacca River cruise, but glimpsed a life-size replica of the shipwrecked Portuguese "Flor do Mar" (Flower of the Sea), close to the Watermill, the tourists attraction of the river. On his return trip, the Portuguese Conquerer Alfonso de Albuguerque ran into a typhoon and lost the Flor de Mar, fully loaded with treasures, near northern Sumatra.

Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum was my last stop in the Jonker street area. I was attracted to the curious names. Baba is an immigrated Chinese boy and Nyonya is a local Malay girl. It was the home of the Chan family (rubber plantation owners) that housed over eight generations, built in 1861. It was a beautiful home inside, reflecting the hybrid life style and furniture of the Chinese, Malay, Indian and English. Outwardly, it looked no differently from the rows of the neighborhood houses, called shop houses with narrow frontage. I passed the Chan house a number of times. I later learned that the Dutch tax system based on frontage forced such housing structures. The tour required reservations in advance.

Today, the Chinese Malaysians occupy a quarter of Malay's total population, as the key working force of its economy. My old pen pal from Negeri Sembilan, about 90 km away, came to see me on my last Malacca night despite the rain storm, accompanied by her new husband. She is a Chinese Malaysian who is a PhD candidate and middle school vice principal. Her husband is an Indian sports journalist. The couple took me to a modern Malacca business center located more inland, to treat me to an excellent Chinese dinner.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thu Bon River Part 2

Have you ever heard of Cham or the Champa Kingdom? It was the name the kingdom was referred to by Marco Polo. He had traveled through Cham on his way back to Italy but Hoi An did not exist when he passed through. Polo wrote that the Cham Kingdom was conquered by the Yuan Dynasty and they had to offer 20 elephants tribute to Khans annually. This was not true. Yuan Dynasty, trying to expand south to Malay and Java, invaded Cham a number of times. Cham defended itself, once together with Dai Vet. General Tran Hung Dao repelled the Mongols using guerrilla tactics. His statue stands in downtown Hochimin square. Eventually Champa King made the act of vassalage to the Mongols and soon lost sovereignty thereafter and disappeared.

It was the Chams who opened the silk and spice roads via the ocean, trading with the neighboring countries, establishing a base in Hoi An as a trading port. The Chams prospered from 7th Century to 15th Century in Central Vietnam, with Dong Hoi, near Hue, to the north and Phan Thiet to the south. They had constant conflicts with Dai-Vets in the north and Kmel in the south.

Chams are found today in Cambodia and Thailand but are a minority in Vietnam. They started out originally as Shaivists and Hinduists but later more Chams converted to Islam. My Son (pronounced mi: sa:n, meaning beautiful mountain), 60 kilometers upstream and in the middle of the Thu Bon Valley, is where the Chams' sacred sanctuary ruins quietly sit, a cluster of over 70 Hindu temples, discovered by French archaeologists and recognized by UNESCO the same year as Hoi An.

I took the weekend tour on a fully loaded microbus. Angkor Wat in Cambodia is a 50 acre site and is too wide an area for me to cover. Instead, I chose My Son for easy walks and for a fun boat ride of the Thu Bon River on the way back. My Son temples were partially bombed during the Vietnam War until U.S. Congress stopped the bombing to save the cultural treasures. The September 2014 issue of Vietnam Airline "Heritage" Magazine features "My Son" and "Chmpa Culture." It was full of beautiful shots of "Di Tich Cham." That is why I chose the photo of a 3-D wall of Phuoc An Hotel dining room where I stayed for this post.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Kuala Lumpur Fun Night

On behalf of the ToastMasters from Sri Lanka, I am glad that you enjoyed the evening as much as we did. For most of us, it was the first time we enjoyed a fellowship with two international communities. Hopefully next time we can organize an event of a longer duration.

The team from our end that was involved in organizing the event was me, Arshad Mohideen and Trishma Pinto. We would be delighted in getting involved in whatever capacity as Toastmasters united, wherever we are in the world and whatever background we come from.

Please do keep in touch and I hope you will at some time in the future have the opportunity to visit our country, which to us is Paradise.

Warm regards

- Ajit De Soyza

Toastmasters - What expectation did you have when you booked your flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in August? Myself, as a repeat attendee, I looked forward to the very last event of the Convention, tension running high with excitement and thrills when the winners' calls melt the silence into a roaring applause. The crowning of the 2014 World Championship of Public Speaking!

Secondly, be involved personally in the Board Member election campaign. I wore a Sri Lanka "Balraj" Button the day I arrived. He won and, coincidentally, Sri Lanka became the 2014 world champion.

Third, become friends and hobnob with Toastmasters from around the world. I was to meet a Canadian couple, introduced by my Canadian friend by names only. When I made my registration, I asked the registration staff if there is any way to locate them and, if at all possible, at which hotel they were staying. Their answer was not very promising with such a flood of travelers. The suggestion they made was to use the open message board on the 2nd floor. I posted my message but had doubts how effective it would be. Then I heard each regional conference was scheduled on the last day, and 'bingo', I found a way and we connected.

I wish to report one hell of a fun night I enjoyed, which combined the above 2 and 3 expectations. At the KL hotel where I stayed, I bumped into my fellow DTM Tamura, ex D76-DG, who invited me to join their Fun Night Bout. I joined him without knowing any details, but it was quite an event over and beyond my expectation. If anyone plans similar bouts in the future, this will be a great precedent to follow.

From L to R: Tamura, Floy and Ajit
When Tamura made his business trip late last year to Sri Lanka, he met Balraj Arunasalam who was running for 2nd VP at the KL Conference and he offered to help. What popped up during their conversation was a joint meeting of their respective home TM clubs with details to be worked out between Ajit De Soyza on the Sri Lanka side and Tamura on the Japanese side. Making a long story short, this idea developed into the Aug 22 "Fun Night", unknown unfortunately, to other Toastmasters.

The event was held at a hotel in Bukit Bintang, near Pudu Sentral (formerly Pudraya) where about 60 Toastmasters assembled. Basically there were 25 Japanese (from Kansai area, a dozen women who were clad in Kimono), 25 Sri Lankan and 10 Malaysian Toastmaster volunteers eager to meet, dine and enjoy each others company. Expenses were split: dinners (boxed Bento catered by the KL "Isetan" Japanese Department Store) borne by the Japanese; venue and drinks borne by Sri Lankans and Malaysians.

Dinner started with mingling and chatting. Toastmaster of the Fun Night was personable Trishma Pinto, the right person at the right place. Greetings and speeches were exchanged to cheers and chanting of Balraj.

Soon Tamura led a bell chime rhythm along with taped music and the Japanese Awa Dance theme featuring "Dancers are fools, Watchers are fools, if both are fools alike, why not dance" - started in a circle. Encouraged by this theme, Sri Lankans, Malaysians and even hotel restaurant workers all jumped into the dancing circle and danced for many, many rounds.

Then Sri Lankans and Malaysians answered the Awa Dance with their wonderful Group Chorus, including the local "Baila" song. It was a marvelous "Fun" night to remember for all Toastmasters who participated.

I wish to recognize preparation/coordination efforts of each group as per the following list given by Tamura. Thank you all very much.

Sri Lanka Coordinators:
Ajit De Soyza
Arshad Mohideen
Trishma Pinto
Malaysia Coordinator:
G. Subramaniam
(friend of Kenshi Suzuki, Osaka)
Japanese Coordinators:
Kay & Minoru Tamura
Kenshi Suzuki