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March 9, 2004

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Malaysia lures us away from southern Thailand. We follow the footsteps of the aboriginal Malays, who first migrated here 10,000 years ago by walking down the peninsula from southwestern China. Since then the Malaysians have become oil rich, fishing villages have converted into skyscraper metropolises, Islam controls the religious scene, and Chinese and Indian culture are the lesser partners of a triumvirate mix dominated by the Bahasa speaking Malays who seem to define themselves as the leading Asians of the Islamic world. After crossing the border, we saw immediate changes compared to homogenous Thailand: more cars, first class road conditions, sarongs and head scarves for women, Muslim caps and frocks for men, multicultural faces and architecture.

By crossing over on a ferry we reach our first stop in Malaysia: Georgetown on Penang Island, lying off Malaysia's northwestern coast. It began existence as the first British settlement in Malaysia. At first glance it looked like China met Pakistan under British supervision. Streets contain Chinese temples, merchant houses, side by side with mosques, moon crescent flags, curry restaurants, all radiating from a British fort.