Other attractive features of my countries of origin which have been retained or are still there, include the vista of clean kampongs, exuding peace and colour. Granted that ceramic tiles now decorate the front of steps leading to the kampong houses and that the soft atap roofs have been replaced by unlovely rusty tin, the kampongs project the continuance of that tranquil past which most of us will remember with joy. It is noteworthy to the tourist that the clothes hung out to dry display whites whiter than white, and that the children look well kept, well fed and happy, and that the grounds surrounding the houses are well swept and absolutely tidy.
The way to see kampongs is to travel by train. These are ideal for the tourists in general. They are spacious, clean, and very comfortable and offer excellent and courteous service; provided that one is prepared for the cold in air-conditioned carriages. On my first trip back, I had to step out into the heat about every hour in order not to freeze. The food rushed into the train by kampong vendors at stops is as tasty and as safe as ever; the food served on the train is not bad either. For me, it was a change from my last wartime trip, when I sat on the hot stones in an open bed truck, and from my trip during the Emergency with those useless troops on board, when there was a fair prospect of being blown up or being shot at by the terrorists.
Architecturally, Malaysia presents very beautiful buildings. The splendour of the old colonial buildings is enhanced by modern structures, supplemented by very good statuary. I was pleased to see the old buildings being refurbished to retain their original character, especially in the smaller towns. The beach-side towns and villages, especially on the east coast of Malaysia, have not been spoilt, as yet. It was a strange experience for us, too, to walk into warm water even in late evening; I had forgotten what it is like.
The modern tourist complexes, e.g. at Pangkor, are very modern but set out in an attractive fashion. This also applies to a seaside development in Singapore, where we watched with great interest the very committed people jogging well before the sun rose and, presumably different people, long after the normally late dinner-time. Some of these joggers were not young. In a small town in Malaysia, I joined my relatives in a very brisk walk around the well laid-out fitness park on a few occasions; it was very hot, even at six o’clock in the evening.
Traditional arts continue, but with some modern designs. I acquired a batik painting at the east coast, which was most modern in style; it was superbly impressionistic, better than the one I purchased in an art school in Jogjakarta. However, I felt that Singapore needed an improved public art gallery. The national art gallery in Malaysia’s capital was an improvement.
Looking at lifestyles, it was good to experience again the courtesy of the people, including customs and immigration officers. At one railway station, an immigration officer and I exchanged notes on our respective work responsibilities; at one airport, a customs officer and I had a chat about life in Australia and why some Malaysians migrate. There are lovely, fat, and happy babies everywhere. It is my contention that brown babies, with their big eyes, are much more interesting and attractive than the pale ones (how is that for prejudice?).
On festival days the traditional patterns of hospitality continue. One visits those who are celebrating, requiring the celebrants to remain at home and to entertain the others. On Deepavali Day in Malaysia I found it interesting to see a large number of Christian Ceylon Tamils visiting, together with the other ethnic groups, a Hindu Ceylon Tamil family.
Families remain close in spite of so many offspring obtaining professional qualifications overseas. They return home and pick up where they left off. The clan links remain strong. This is a great contrast with Australia, which has no tradition of clan linkages, especially with its post-war ‘baby boomers’.
(While I liked the cross-ethno-cultural contacts during my life, I came to appreciate the calm demeanour of the kampong people. I used to cycle some distance to buy fruits from a Malay family working their tiny plot of land. During WW2, my family lived in a small village across the road from a Malay kampong; we once exchanged clothing for unhusked padi (rice), even as my shorts had patches on patches.
The Malay people were always friendly, in spite of their land being occupied by increasing numbers of foreigners. That is why I felt that there would be a shared future for us all when the British left. I believe that I was correct.)