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Published: February 28th 2016
All the Americans, in our finest traditional Malay clothing
We stopped here before going to visit friends and colleagues in their homes. We'd be back!
Hari Raya is the big celebration that follows Ramadan. In the US, everyone I knew called it Eid, which is the Arabic name for the day. It's supposed to be a short holiday (one main day followed by a few extras) but in Malaysia they make it last a whole month. School closes for a week, following special ceremonies, perhaps games, and Koran recitation.
Ramadan is observed by about 60% of the population here, and it affects lots of things in daily life. Many restaurants aren't open because the owners (and most of the customers!) are fasting. My school canteens closed. Things move at a slower pace because by mid-afternoon, people are tired and hot. Food bazaars pop up all over, all selling a variety of foods. Since many people don't feel like cooking during the month, the bazaars are quite popular. I didn't actually go to any (though I'd planned to) since from a distance I mostly saw meat and sweets for sale; I also heard quite a few stories from my teachers about how someone had gotten sick from the food, since it's prepared in the morning, sold in the afternoon, and eaten at 730pm.
fist day of Hari Raya, my friends and I planned a trip to the palace and then to visit open houses. Most people either travel to their family's home or host at their own home. It turns out the palace was closed because visiting hours would interfere with Friday prayers; I was told it would be open Monday instead. So, after taking a few photos alone and with strangers who had the same idea, we split up to visit our friends. My friend, Caitlyn, and I traveled all around Pekan and Kuantan, attending 5 open houses.
Each family's home was quite different: Some were large and traditional; one was quite modern and reminded me of my parents'; one was modest but had purple walls; and one was older and sparse, and the family spent most of their time outside under the shade of a great tree. But all of the families greeted us graciously and welcomed us in, serving up a great meal of special foods and sweets, taking photos, and laughing with us.
I took a few days off to recover, swearing a diet would be in order after all the food I ate. Monday
I'm at the palace gate!
But here's a close up of my kebaya.
morning I got up bright and early for the next big event: The Palace.
Every year during Raya, the Sultan has an open house at the palace. I expected it would probably be a lot like the others I attended, but bigger, more lavish, and at a palace. I was right. And I had the time of my life.
We arrived a little early because we'd been warned about crowds. As we were walking around and taking a few photos we met some very nice men, who ended up being high ranking state representatives and judiciary members. They suggested we all go into the great hall together. When we walked in, we realized we were by the head table, rather than by all the chairs for whomever showed up. We mingled a bit and they said we could sit at one of the side tables to eat. We weren't quite sure if we could sit anywhere or if we were better off sitting with them. While we debated this, there was a bit of excitement. We turned to look.
The Sultan and Sultana had arrived. Like everyone else, we went over to greet them. We shook both
Food at the first house
All traditional foods, served during rays. Glutinous rice cubes, peanut sauce, toppings, salad, meat. I was in love with the peanut sauce.
their hands and smiled warmly. And we were then in shock for much of the morning, whispering, "I can't believe I shook the Sultan's hand!"
We made our way over to the tables and managed to get the last two chairs. We immediately noticed the fine china was from Bavaria and had the Pahang crest on it. As did the silverware and napkins. In the middle sat the Malay version of a lazy susan, covered in a variety of traditional foods, as well as some sweets in jars. As we ate, they were refilled and always kept full. It was at that point that we realized how great these seats were; many of the people who would attend the open house wouldn't even get chairs, let alone tables or fancy china and silverware, since they had to stand in line for their food. We chatted with the people sitting with us, and my friend figured out that the woman who later invited us over for tea (at a later date) was most likely the equivalent of a Lady. As we were chatting with her, one of my teachers walked in with her family; it was great to see another
familiar face in the sea of people.
Key members of the Pahang football team showed up later on, and were promptly mobbed by just about everyone. Including us, of course. They were good sports about it. They were also the only people wearing western clothing, rather than traditional Malay clothing.
We were debating whether we should get going when we were stopped by a woman from a national newspaper. She asked if she could interview us, and of course we said yes. A few minutes later, another reporter from another national paper asked the same. Both said they'd like to call me in the future for possible further interviews. After snapping about a dozen photos, we were back to normal, taking photos with random strangers. The second reporter noticed and took a few photos of that, too.
Finally, shortly before 1 o'clock, we decided to go outside and take a few photos of the grounds before the palace closed. We were lucky enough to see the sultan's helicopter take off as we continued our walk around the palace, taking photos of doors, fountains, and the grounds.
It was time to head home and nap. It has
He wanted to take a photo with me
I have no idea who he is, though!
been quite the holiday!
Here are the links for the newspaper interviews: http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v8/ge/newsgeneral.php?id=1154190 http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2015/07/21/Open-house-at-Istana-Abu-Bakar-Thousands-including-foreigners-enjoy-Sultan-of-Pahangs-hospitality
My schools all had celebrations as well. I managed to attend two of the five and had a lovely time. Lots of feasting, music, games, photo taking, and a talent show! It was great to see everyone all dressed up in their best clothes, the children all smiling and excited. The teachers were almost as excited as the students! I just tried to take it all in.
Hari Raya was quite the holiday and I'm so happy I could celebrate it with my new friends in Malaysia. But I'm pretty sure I won't need to eat again for quite a while!
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Dad and Mom
How did you decide which houses to go into? Did you get a formal invite or were they just open for anyone who wanted to visit? Malaysian football = soccer(?)
You can probably go to the home of anyone you know, but I only went to homes where I was specifically invited.
I love the way the Malaysians extended this holiday into a month--brilliant. So sweet the way the Muslim families welcomed you into their homes, fed you and laughed with you. The feast were incredible and the children in the schools adorable. How could you not fall in love with this country. And then on top of it, the Sultan has an open house. OK, you've come to Nirvana--thanks for taking us along.
That's pretty much how I felt. I'm glad you enjoyed the ride!