We left Kuala Lumpur this morning for the Cameron Highlands. My impression of KL (as everyone calls it) are mixed. I saw some beautiful sights there-- mostly mosques and old Islamic architecture-- but other than the outstanding buildings it was a pretty ugly city. There is, however, a gorgeous park in the city, called the Lake Gardens, with a huge bird center. The bird place is under a huge net, so there are just birds flying around. There are all kinds of birds, from small songbirds to giant white pelicans and vivd peacocks, just wandering and flying around. I got some great pictures! (I'll put them up later, I swear :) )
But what struck me most about KL was the pervasiveness of Islam into every part of the city. From the halal certifications on all the restaurant doors (halal means 'allowed' in Islam...basically it means that the food served there is certified acceptable to eat according to Muslim guidelines) to the mystic call to prayer heard 5 times a day wafting from minarets to the Arabic on every sign. By far, the most obvious and notable sign of the Muslim nature of most of the country is the women wearing various forms of head and bodyu covering.
I would say 75-80% of the women and teenage girls in KL wear at least a headscarf and long pants, usually a long-sleeved shirt, to cover themselves because of their belief in Islam and their adherence to its mores, as well as because of their culture. I saw a good number of women who went even further, from full-body dresses with headscares that were bright, colorful and patterned, to the same in black, to full body covering with a veil over the head that allowed just an inch-tall slit for the eyes, all in black. Though in most cases, the latter seemed to be tourists from somewhere in the Middle East, since they were visiting tourist sites, and often the men would wear traditional dress as well, and carried a map.
It's hard to know how to react to this. I know that it is, for the most part, none of my business, but Islam has really interested me in the past few years, and I've heard, read and seen so many conflicting things about this controversial issue. The veil/headscarf can be seen as a symbol of repression, or of religious devotion. And I'm sure that it can be both, depending on the circumstance and whether or not the woman in question has a choice about wearing the headscarf etc. I, for one, can't see how they do it...it's so hot in KL! I know I don't have to have an opinion on this topic, but since I was confronted with the situation, I didn't know what to make of it. Especially the full-body eye-slit covering. One of the women I saw wearing that was at the bird park with her husband, who was wearing shorts and a t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. It seemed...I don't know... a little hypocritical, the contrast between the two of them. But then again, who's to say that she didn't choose what she was wearing. But if she chose, was it really a choice, or did family and societal pressures force her into a decision?
While I walked around KL in shorts and a t-shirt, I didn't get as many stares as I thought I might. There were lots of tourists dressed like more or worse, and a sizeable ethnic Chinese population that weren't covered. I did, though, at times, get the feeling men were ignoring me. There were a few times at restaurants when they wouldn't look at me, and kind of ignored what I had said...I had to ask a few times. And I got some looks from women, including the woman in the bird park with the eye-slit garb (sorry, I don't know the technical words for the different coverings, and since the words vary by region I wouldn't know what to call them, anyway). They weren't necesarily bad looks. Just curiousity, I think, the same way I was looking at them.
By the way, I did wear an approximation of the full-body covering once, when we went inside the National Mosque, which is gorgeous. Upon entry, Jon and I were both given full-length lilac-colored robes with hoods that tied in the front (Jon was wearing shorts, and men have to have long pants). It felt like I was in a cult. And I was really really hot.
"Words have no wings, but they can travel a thousand miles" (Korean Proverb)
Welcome to Flying Words, Jon and Aileen's blog of our adventures in South Korea! We will be in South Korea for a year, starting in mid-July, teaching English in a private school. We just graduated from college this past May, and are looking forward to having some adventures before continuing our education.
We started this blog to keep all our family and friends updated and to share our photos and stories. We hope this is entertaining for you! We will miss you all, and are very thankful to have the internet to keep us in touch.