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Monday, March 27, 2006


March 27
We woke to a tropical rainstorm -- raining frogs and lizards -- but very steamy hot. We were scheduled for a round-the-island tour but delayed because of car trouble. The very congenial and informative young driver, Shoon, picked us up by noon with many appologise for the delay.
Then we headed off through the Langkawi countryside -- the padi fields with water buffalo wallowing in the mud accompanied by their ever-present friends the white egrets who willingly pluck the leeches and bugs off their backs. Our first stop (after picking two other passengers who were a very interesting couple from England) was to a Batik Craft bazaar. There we were shown the technique of batiks and even got to try out some for ourselves. It's such an interesting art form and so peaceful to do that I wouldn't mind trying my hand at it. The Malay batiks are exquisite, with the pattern on both sides of the cloth. I bought a couple of little pieces for table clothes.

The next stop was at a place that has a great significance in the island's history and legends. The burial site of Makran Mahsuri. It's a complicated and tragic story which I will try to condense here. This beautiful young maiden came here from Thailand (Siam) with her family and settled on Langkawi in around the mid 1800's. She married the son of the tribal chief and was well respected and loved by everyone who knew her not only for her beauty of countenance but of spirit. Unfortunatly, her mother-in-law, wife of the chief was horrible jealous of her. and when Mahsuri's husband left to accompany his father on tribal business, she set about a plan to destroy Mahsuri. She noticed Mahsuri talking to a traveling merchant and concocted a story that accused Mahsuri of adultery. She was arrested and tied to a tree, left for days int the heat and the rain while the verdict was decided. Accused of adultery, she was sentenced to death by imapling. The sentence was carried out despite her pleas of innocence. But no matter how many times they stabbed her she did not die. Finally, she conceded to death but said she would only die by the knife of her own father. And she said that to prove her innocence her blood would be white. She was eventually stabbed and white blood sprang out, never touching the ground but as she died she cursed the island and said that for seven generations the island would not prosper.

For years Langkawi was ignored by traders who sailed south to Penang, and beset by long wars against Siam. All the padi fields were burned so that the Siamese would not take them and to this day they say that after heavy rains the smell of the burnt padis can be detected.

Although part of this story is legend, a lot is true and there are newspaper reports posted in the museum as well as photos of the geneology of Matsuri's family, her husband and her son (who was an infant at her death and was spiritied away to another place).

Langkawi has not prospered until 1987 when things began to pick up (the movie "Anna and the King" with Jodie Foster was filmed here) and tourism is starting to take hold. Mainly the islanders survived on fishing, rubber plantations and padi fields. Most of the island is still rural areas with farming including some cattle.

After that very interesting and informative tour of the Mahsuri Mausoleum we went to the main town of Kuah and saw the giant brown eagle that guards the harbour, symbol of Langkawi.
Then a stop at the mall for lunch and shopping. Went to the duty free liquor store where you can get brandy for $15 (top brand) and other amazing bargains.

Tonight we went by cab to the Padi Cuisine Cafe for a delicious Malay dinner, right by the padi fields. So unique. The taxi driver offered to wait for us. Again, we were touched by the hospitality and kindness of these people. I'm sure I'll feel very sad when I leave here next weekend. This has been the most unique experience!

Tomorrow: Shop til you Drop!

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