The Malaysia Diary – final entry

Time and space are a constant source of inspiration for my art.  The train was four hours late, and when I finally arrived a sign proudly announced that we were heading for Nagano and many hours later I was standing in front of the Taj Mahal!

But not all is what it seem in Malaysia. The train I am a boarding  is the famous Jungle Train that travels up the central countryside of Malaysia right up to the Thailand border on the east coast of the country.  Unfortunately the locomotive suffered a breakdown, two hours out of Gemas, my boarding station, so a new locomotive had to be transported up from Singapore. This added another four hours to my waiting time.  I had left Kuantan on a 1 am bus and arrived in the sleepy little town of Gemas at 4.30 am. The town’s only claim to fame is its railway station and the fabulous Gemas Curri Point.

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Ironically, travelling often means waiting! So I waited and waited, circled the town with my camera a few times and when the 9:18 train finally left the station at 13:40, the fact that I was on an old Japanese carriage didn’t matter at all, we were moving and that’s all that mattered.

Unfortunately the famed ‘Jungle Train’ these days is more of a plantation train, as palm oil and rubber tree plantations take turns to dominate the landscape. The scenery is, however, occasionally interrupted by thick jungle that whacks and wallops the train carriages as the train bucks it way towards the next little town.  The train trip from Gemas to Kota Bharu takes a long ten hours, and I was fortunate to be able to see the jungle just before it got dark, that scenery is worth the trip alone. After a long 24 hours on the road I hit the hard pillow at my hotel in Kota Bharu that night for a well-earned rest.

But what about the Taj Mahal, well read on….

Kota Baruh in Kelantan is located in the north-eastern corner of the peninsula, Kelantan, which is said to translate to the “Land of Lightning”, is home to some of the most ancient archaeological discoveries in Malaysia, including several prehistoric aboriginal settlements.  Islamic architecture dominates the urban landscape, shop fronts however are signed in Malay, Chinese, English and Arabic.

I spend my day visiting the famed central market, Pasar Siti Khadijah, where I witnessed the colourful and boisterous theatre that can only be found in an Asian market.

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A lucky encounter at the bus terminal with a young French traveller meant that I spent the rest of the day with Pierre exploring the buddhist temples around the neighbouring town of Tumpat, including the largest sitting Buddha (Wat Machimmaram), in SE Asia and the second largest sleeping Buddha at Wat Polithivan.

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A big thanks here to a very friendly local man, Mohammed, who rescued us from walking in the heat and offered us a ride to the sleeping Buddha and back into Kota Baruh. He even fed us some free fruit.  The hospitality that I have experienced in this country has been very humbling and has been a highlight of my travel in this beautiful country.

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So finally I am standing in front of the Taj Mahal. Ok it’s not he real one but it’s impressive just the same.  After Kota Baruh I’m now in the town of Kuala Terengganu, where I am visiting Taman Tamadun Islam, a kind of ‘best of’ in Islamic mosque architecture.  In about two hours you can travel from the National Mosque of Malaysia, to the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq, to Al-Haram Mosque, Mecca in Saudie Arabia and of course to the Taj Mahal and many more extraordinary mosques in the world. This would have to be one of the most unique theme parks I have ever visited, and also one of the most beautiful.  In addition the site also boasts the fabulous Crystal Mosque, a glass and steel structure that sits out on a little island on the river.  Just stunning!  This could only be topped by a visit to the famous floating mosque, on a friday at midday prayer times.  An experience I will never forget!

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I finished my trip up the north coast with a warm swim in the south china sea.

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After three weeks work my sculptures and photographs are now ready to be shown at the Rajawali ArtGroupe Internationale, in Kuantan.  I presented a slide show of some of my portrait work and gave a talk on art as a international language, as well as a way to strengthen communities. I also discussed how my camera was the perfect tool to meet people and learn about new places and cultures.

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At the end of this week I will head to Indonesia for my next project at the Jatiwangi Art Factory.  For now, a big thanks to Jessin from ECAir and her staff, a warm thank you the staff from Rajawali ArtGroupe Internationale for hosting the exhibition and a special thank you to Raoul Mirlo, my fellow artist in residence.

To see the portrait series from this project please klick here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/romanschatz

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