6. Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Malaysia has three main races of people, which means it has three main religions. Almost all Malays are Muslims, most Chinese are a mixture of Buddhist and Taoist, and most Indians are Hindus. Muslims don’t eat pork (in fact, they consider even touching a pig to be unclean), and Hindus don’t eat beef (they consider cows sacred). In Malacca, KL, and other cities, there were always enough Chinese that we could get pork. And, although Friday is a Muslim holy day, in most places shops only close from noon until 2:00 p.m. (to allow men to attend public prayer), and Sunday is the day off.
But in Kota Bharu it was different because there were very few Chinese. Everything (except restaurants and movie theaters) closed on Friday, and Sunday was just like any other day. (There was a Presbyterian Church in Kota Bharu, but we didn’t know how they had Sunday morning services.) And there was no pork available. The two restaurants there that served western meals had all sorts of sandwiches, except ham. Most Chinese restaurants served pork, but the one we found in Kota Bharu didn’t. While we were there we ate more chicken than ever before.
Before Peggy’s crash (on the East Coast on the way to Kota Bharu), we were a couple miles from a beach where huge turtles came ashore to lay their eggs. For some time we read about huge Leather-back turtles. One source, the GOLDEN GUIDE TO SOUTH AND EAST ASIA, said, “ … during May to September there is the unique sight of the giant leather-back turtles coming ashore to lay and bury their eggs on the beaches. The turtles may be up to eight feet long and half a ton in weight and, it is maintained, may be centuries old.” We decided to spend the night at a nearby kampong (village) so that we could see the turtles (which came ashore on a particular beach usually after midnight.)
Peggy chose the perfect spot to crash. A boy who could speak some English came up and asked if we wanted to see turtles. It turned out that his father went to the beach every night to collect turtle eggs … a delicacy there. So about 4:00 p.m. we rode our bikes to the beach, hiding them in some bushes. Everyone then went to sleep. Later, the boy went to locate turtles … an easy job since the moon was full and the sky was clear … and came back and reported that two had already came ashore. Since the turtles were uneasy on land, we waited a while to give them a chance to get settled.
When we finally saw a turtle, we were amazed. She was about six feet long and five feet across! A second one was about the same size. We watched the latter lay her eggs in a deep hole she dug in the sand. Each egg was almost as big as a tennis ball, and she laid 90 of them! Afterwards she covered the hole up, but she didn’t know that there were no eggs left in the hole. A government man had been collecting them right from under her! (He took the eggs to a hatchery, and young turtles from these eggs were released in the sea. Otherwise, all the eggs would’ve been eaten, and there would eventually be no turtles. The eggs are good … much like a chicken egg except that the yolk, when hard-boiled, is somewhat grainy. The shell is soft.)
We watched the poor turtles trying to go back to the ocean. Since they live only in the water, they don’t have real legs. We didn’t know what to call them except flippers, made for swimming. This combined with great weight made it very difficult for them to move in the sand. Sometimes the ones we watched worked for several minutes and got nowhere. All they were doing was digging holes in the sand. One apparently got confused because she started going away from the sea. We finally left because we thought we might’ve been upsetting her. When we left the beach at 6:00 a.m., she was gone, but we saw another one who was still struggling, many yards from the ocean.
We stayed in Kota Bharu longer than we planned because Peggy picked up some virus infection. That meant another five days. We stayed in Kota Bharu two weeks. All Peggy had was a common bug, the same as a stateside variety.
Kota Bharu was the main place where Malaysian batik was made. Before we left there, we got to see a small batik factory. Batik is not made in a large roll; the work is done on a piece of cotton, which is usually two or two and a half yards long. The basis is just a piece of white cotton, onto which a design is stamped in wax. When the cloth has the desired combination of patterns, it is dyed. Then it is put in boiling water so that the wax is removed. Thus, the places where the wax was is not dyed. This process is repeated three or four times, depending upon the desired number of colors. A somewhat more modern process is sometimes used … called screening … but we didn’t get to see it in operation. Because screening is faster than printing, batik made this newer way is somewhat cheaper.
Peggy and Randy Ford