Saturday, August 30, 2003

Malaysia's diversity stirs excitement

A nighttime scene of downtown Kuala Lumpur, with the symbol of Malaysia`s capital, the Twin Towers, on the right.
Malaysia has fervently embraced modern technology - it boasts two of the world's tallest skyscrapers and a huge "cyber" center for computer businesses. But it still has some of the world's most remote jungle (in Sabah and Sarawak), one of Southeast Asia's most vibrant old ports (Georgetown) and an atmospheric colonial hill station (the Cameron Highlands). Even in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, which bristles with ambitious new building projects, you can still find exotic markets and plenty of local color. As a result, travelers to Malaysia can easily ratchet up or down the level of adventure and comfort they want to experience.

Malaysia's history

History books have made note of Malaysia since the Srivijaya Empire, which controlled much of the region from the 7th century to the 10th century. Afterward, the first kingdom to be centered on the Malay Peninsula was founded in Melaka in the early 15th century. The increase in the spice trade turned Melaka into one of Southeast Asia's leading ports. Subsequent alliances with China and Arabia brought Chinese and Arab traders together in Malaysia, initiating the unique Chinese-Arab cultural blend.
Local control of the peninsula, however, was short lived. Portuguese traders and soldiers took over Melaka in 1511, adding yet another influence to the cultural mix, and remained until the Dutch took over in 1641. In time, the British, who turned Penang into a thriving port and eventually brought all of Malaysia into their colonial empire, gradually supplanted the Dutch. Malaysia agitated for, and won, its independence in 1957. During the past two decades, until it was rocked by the economic crash in 1997-1998 that affected most of Asia, the country's increasing commitment to modernization continued to pay off. Today it appears to be back on the path to prosperity.

Merdeka celebration

Highlights of the month-long celebration marking the attainment of Malaysia's independence or 'Merdeka' include a grand parade on 31st August, a nation-wide campaign of flying the national flag and colorful cultural events in major cities. Crowds gather at Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) in Kuala Lumpur on 30 August the eve of Merdeka, for the exciting count down to midnight when the Jalur Gemilang or national flag is proudly hoisted.
Key events during the celebration are the Eve of National Day celebrations held throughout the country, often with a countdown, on the night of August 30 and the grand National Day Parade on August 31 at Putrajaya attended by His Majesty The King, the Prime Minister, government Ministers, foreign dignitaries and guests. This spectacular parade incorporates march-pasts by the military and various organizations, a host of marching bands, a patriotic mass rhythmic dance by schoolchildren and cultural displays. Similar celebrations are held in the various states. The closing ceremony, to be attended by His Majesty the King, will occur on September 16 in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan.