Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Muzium Negara - or - Beauty in Beads

19 March 2014

We've been having fun in KL despite the rain - the drought seems to have suddenly broken and we have rain for at least half the day.

Even at night, the city skyline is amazing.  These photos were shot from our hotel room, or down the hall.  We see the KL Tower, the Maybank Building, the Petronus Towers (the two towers), and I don't know what else.

I also like the blue-ish glass building that looks just like one of those transformers - I can totally see it turning into some giant robot and defending the city from Godzilla or something.

Anyway, we walked down to the Central Market, which is fun and exciting.  The original building is dated 1888, and still houses restaurants, shops, stalls, and all kinds of wonderful things.  It's a lovely blue, and when we entered the market the skies were a lighter version of the same blue.  Of course, after a few hours of lunch and browsing, it was pouring rain by the time we were ready to leave.  Because this is rainy week.

My favourite part, though, was the young man who was working on silk batik squares.  He was set up in the center court, just quietly painting with melted wax on a large piece of silk cloth, stretched on a frame.  Parts were painted with dye, everything outlined in wax (which will later be ironed out).  He was making each square unique with different backgrounds, different colours, and just drawing all kinds of designs freehand.  With a little hollow stylus full of hot melted wax.  This truly isn't as easy as he made it look, I've tried this before.  

It was fascinating, and his finished samples were gorgeous.  Of course, there was also a shop, which we skipped, but he was my favourite part of the market.

There was also a covered area outside the market for more vendors, selling uninteresting stuff.  But the covered part was amazing - see the front of it?  That sort of football shape with a top and bottom part?  That's the traditional kite shape!  It's also the design on the red bus, toward the top of today's blog.  Isn't that a cool shape?

And check out the street lights - it seems as if each area of the city has a unique design for the street lights.  And they're all so ornamental!  Most have hibiscus flowers, which seems to be the national flower - it's also on the money.  And Petaling Street has dragons on the lightposts.  I know, most people don't think twice about street lights, but I like the little attention to artistic details that create the look of a place.  We humans have a need to decorate and make our spaces attractive, and street lights are part of that.

So, decorative.  Today we went to the National Museum of Malaysia, or, in Malaysian, Muzium Negara.   Their website is

We took a taxi (spelled "teksi" in Malaysian) because this is a pretty far distance, and had lunch at the museum cafĂ©.  (Cafeteria style, with rice, curries, spicy chicken or fish - I think we were the only non-Asian people there.)

We found this interesting boat that looks like a chicken, though I think it's probably supposed to be a hornbill.  Beautiful and exuberant boat!  This is a traditional fishing boat in some areas of Malaysia.  (Keep in mind that we're in peninsular Malaysia - there's a large part of Malaysia on the island of Borneo, though we likely won't get over there.)

My favourite area was a special exhibit about beads.  Yes, I know, it doesn't sound very exciting, but actually it was.  Some of the beaded items were hundreds of years old, some were everyday objects that were traditionally beaded - like these baby carriers.  Who knew baby carriers could become such ornamental objects and end up in a museum?!?!?

The displays were wonderful - the backgrounds of the display units were giant, larger than life photos of beaded objects, with the objects in show cases in front of the giant photos.  Periodically, there might be a curtain of hanging beads, because, well, this is an exhibit of beads.  It just was gorgeous and such a wonderfully conceived exhibition.  

The rest of the museum was nice, with the normal chronological presentation of the country's history - the geographic development of the land; the first people; some of the archeological evidence of prehistoric humans; paleolithic age; bronze age; you get the idea.  The early kingdoms of Malaysia.  And then the European conquests - first Portugal, then the Netherlands, and finally the British.  Independence in the 1950s.  Yes, it is interesting.  But I tend to breeze through these displays, reading the headings of the narratives and looking at the items, not going into a whole lot of depth.  History, wars, conquests, just sort of bore me.  So this paragraph is a very condensed version of Malaysian history in a tiny nutshell.

I was really impressed with the displays again - this museum has done a really great job of displays.  To transition from one era to the next, there were often replicas of important gates - part of a Buddhist temple.  A gate from the Portuguese fort.  A section of the British fortifications, complete with cannons.  Part of a traditional carved wooden entrance to a palace.  This really gave a feeling of the period of time, the look of that era, so much more than just the normal photos might.  Absolutely a great way to separate eras of a culture!   (Even the windows looked like the traditional ornately carved stone windows of some kind of sultan's palace!)

I also really liked the giant throne - wow, it was like some ornate four-poster-bed-style throne!  All carved wood painted gold, hanging drapes, velvet cushions - I'd love that in my house!  Well, maybe big enough to be the bed.  Just fabulous and yes, totally luxurious!

There were various dioramas showing traditional crafts and clothing of the major cultures in Malaysia - the Malay people, people from China, and people from India.  And there was also an exhibit showing many of the minority groups as well, with information about their culture (and of course traditional clothing and crafts).  This is a very diverse country, multi-cultural, and while there has been friction amongst the cultures in the past, people seem to try very hard to accept each other and work together.  And yes, the Indian woman in a sari is a mannikin - she looks real, doesn't she?  Wearing a beautiful purple and teal sari, and making a design out of tiny seeds or beads or something.

There were all kinds of weapons, swords, the wavy-bladed kriss (in Malay "keris"), ceramics, armour, and, well, all the normal kinds of objects you see in museums.

We also managed to visit the museum while there were a couple of school groups there.  The kids looked like maybe middle school or early high school aged and they were SO energetic, bounding up and down the stairs, looking at everything and taking pics of each other with their phones.  Of course - this is Malaysia, this is 2014, this is what kids do all over the world.  (This is what my students in St. Thomas would do!)  I kind of enjoyed the kids in the background, especially when they had some kind of cheer before they left - not sure what that was all about.

So, all in all, it was worth a visit - if you're every in Kuala Lumpur, make sure you get to Muzium Negara.

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