Kota Bharu kites

More days in Malaysia

The first post about our adventures in Malaysia ended while Jay and I were in George Town. On the morning of our sixth day in the country, a ferry carried us from Pualau Penang (Penang Island), across the Strait of Malacca, back to the mainland to begin the longest drive of our seven-day Peninsular Malaysia tour. As our guide Ray drove the little van west to east, we first passed through the “rice bowl of Malaysia,” although the paddies were currently dry. (Nearer our destination on the east coast we saw many green rice plantations.)

Bougainvilla at rest area
View into Thailand

Crossing over mountainous jungle via the East-West Highway, we noticed “Danger Wild Elephant Crossing” signs; the big animals emerge at night from the cool air of the jungle to the warm macadam road. Much jungle has been cleared to make way for palm plantations since palm oil has replaced rubber as Malaysia’s primary crop. An afternoon stop at a small rubber tree acreage gave us an up-close look at how the trees are tapped and a chance to dip a finger into the milky liquid and feel it coagulate.

At the highest point of the road (over 1000 m) we looked across to mountains in Thailand before entering the state of Kelantan in the northeast.  Once ruled by Thailand and showing strong Thai influence, Kelantan is the most traditional Malay and predominantly Muslim area of the country. In Rantau Panjang our guide parked and led us on foot to a river that separates Malaysia from Thailand. People freely cross the narrow waterway in small boats, with and without passports, for everyday business, while a member of the military sits on the riverbank and keeps an eye out for smugglers.

Raja Azhur Idris fused glass
“Batik Tampung Seribu”

It was late afternoon when we arrived in Kota Bahru, a city on the South China Sea, where we spent the night in one of the swankiest hotels Jay and I have ever stayed in. Our bathroom had marble walls and floor and elegant fixtures. Original artwork decorated the walls, including beautiful floral batiks along our corridor and, near one of the restaurants, a kiln-formed glass piece made to look like batik. The work was by Raja Azhur Idris, a Malaysian textural glass artist. Outside that restaurant was a magnificent blue-tiled outdoor pool with a short waterfall from deep end to shallow.

If not for the stiff breeze we would have eaten dinner beside the flowing waters. Indoors instead, I ordered Laska Kelantan, a delicious version of rice noodles with thick fish gravy, served with chilli paste and condiments. Jay chose Nasi Kerabu, another local specialty featuring rice colored blue by herbs and served with sliced beef, fish crackers, salted hard-boiled egg, and sliced fresh lettuce, bean sprouts, scallion, and finely chopped and dried fish.

Pesar Besar vendor
Hennaed hands selling koropoh

The same restaurant provided a large breakfast buffet in the morning and we sampled scrumptious Nasi Dagang (Thai red rice steamed with seasonings in paper) and served with gulai tongkol (fish gravy) and condiments; Nasi Impit (compressed rice); Sayur Ladeh (coconut milk and curry sauce); Loh See Fun (noodles and vegetables sauteed with soy sauce; and assorted Malay kuih (colorful sweetmeats).

Wisma Songket weaver
Songket weaving

Before leaving Kota Bahru we stopped at a shop to learn about Kelantan silver craft and watch apprentices work. Next we visited the wet market where vendors (80% female) sell fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, chicken, fish, and keropoh (ground fish meat stuffed into tubular casings). Upstairs herbs and other dry goods are sold. Another stop was to watch three women weaving songket, adding gold thread (silver is also used) to black or orange-brown warp in intricate patterns. At a road-side stand Ray treated us to baubu, something like a brown, flattened, muffin made my pouring a mix of flour, egg, and coconut sugar into small copper molds to cook in a coconut husk fire.

Next stop was at the shop of a famous traditional wau artisan whose son showed us large, beautiful kites they’ve created from cut paper and gold leaf. The kite is called wau because of the “woo, woo” sound it makes while flying. Our last stop before leaving the Kota Bahru area was to visit an elderly man who sat on his porch with his son and other young men. Hanging on the porch were several cages of merbau (sp?) birds, a colorful Thai species, which the men enter into Friday bird singing competitions. The son showed us how one of their pig-tailed macaques is trained for coconut harvest by climbing a palm to pick, according to command, a green or ripe coconut.

Then we headed south, stopping for lunch of fried keropoh at an open-air stand on the shore of the South China Sea. Continuing along the seacoast that afternoon we saw dragon-fruit plants growing on individual platforms, goat herds, and horned brown cattle with prominent rib cages. That night’s lodging was right on the shore, a bungalow facing the beach.  I could watch and hear the waves as I wrote in my journal. In early evening we walked in the surf and picked up sea shells, and later we enjoyed dinner in the open air restaurant overlooking the South China Sea. A trio started playing American pop music until Jay asked them to do one Malay song. Delighted at the request, they entertained us for more than an hour with mostly traditional and contemporary Malay music until we shook their hands and headed for bed.

Master boatmaker's son at work
Traditional boat builder on Pulau Duyung

In the morning we visited the city of Terrenganu, first crossing to Pulau Duyung and wending our way through narrow lanes to a traditional boat maker. Although the master craftsman was away on business, his son continued to work on a large fishing boat that will require at least a year to build. Plans and techniques are passing from the mind of the father to his son and apprentices. A photo album showed us construction phases of other boats they have made, all of which are finished with beautiful decorations and bright colors.

At the Terrenganu State Museum we focused on hand crafts and textiles, then photographed the Crystal Mosque and the Floating Mosque. At a brass ware workshop we learned how baubu molds and other objects are made through a lost wax process. To enter the adjacent batik shop we had to remove our shoes. We should have also removed stockings; the soles of our feet were easier to wash than grimy socks.

Masjid Kristal
Crystal Mosque, Kuala Terengganu

That was neither the first nor the last time we had to remove our shoes to enter a building, but the first place other than a temple. Malaysians don’t wear shoes at home so entering a house requires going barefoot. Later we would have to remove shoes before entering the dining areas of a couple places where we stayed.

On the road heading south again we passed miles and miles of a Petronas oil refinery complex. Our afternoon snack was Nasi Lemang, sticky rice with coconut milk with a little salt and sugar that was stuffed into bamboo lined with banana leaf and cooked over a charcoal fire. We purchased the traditional treat at one among a strip of stalls along the road.

Beach at Swiss Garden Resort
South China seashore, Kuantan

Eventually we reached Kuantan and the seaside resort where we were to spend the night. After dipping our toes into the South China Sea again, we partook of the hotel’s seafood buffet. At the end of the outdoor meal we learned that our favorite “fish” that evening had been grilled stingray.

In the morning we headed back to the Kuala Lumpur airport for a flight to Sabah, one of Malaysia’s two states in Borneo. That evening we flew Malaysia Airlines, whose logo is a stylized wau, the traditional kite, from KL to Kota Kinabalu. Our plane landed about twenty-nine hours before MH370 disappeared. In another week or so I’ll share stories and pictures from our days in the Borneo jungle.

Kiln-formed pasta bowl

Recent adoptions

Sometimes a customer asks how we feel about parting with one of our pieces.

Bluegreen rack from the top
Birdseye view of our glass
While all of our creations are our “babies,” we’re also happy to see each one go to a good home. Jay or I are birth parents who are pleased that someone has adopted our beauties. Within the past couple weeks a number of pieces we have loved became the cherished possessions of new admirers.

Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show
Birdseye view of the PIF Show
Kiln-formed pasta bowl
Blue Contrasts with green
A visitor to the Philadelphia Invitational Furniture (and furnishings) Show who loves the color blue chose two pasta bowls for herself. The first bowl she fell in love with features several blue hues with green flecks. Then she spotted a pastel design of sea blue circles against a lavender-blue background (see photo featured at top). The styles are very different, but then so are our children.

Coincidentally another customer chose a one-candle bridge made in the same manner that I’d made the “Blue Contrasts with Green” bowl. It often happens that several similar pieces sell in the same show, a phenomenon that is not always connected to a color decorating trend or to what is newest from our kilns. Is it simply a mood among show visitors or does it have something to do with us?

Kiln-formed candle holder
Summer Garden candle bridge
Someone else chose a four-candle bridge I call “Summer Garden.” Other than the base glass the candle bridge was made entirely of frit (ground glass) and looks like an Impressionist garden with multiple tones of red and green. The candle bridge makes me think of Monet’s “The Artist’s Garden in Argenteuil,” some of Childe Hassam’s paintings of gardens on the Isles of Shoals, the poem “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae, and the Crimson Rambler roses Jay and I planted at our first house.

SO64 fused glass dish
Doradus oval dish
Frit in tones of red and blue constitute the design for a short oval dish inspired by a composite Hubbble telescope photo of 30 Doradus. That dish was chosen by a male buyer to take home to England. Before I wrapped it up, I told him how the photo of the largest star-forming region in or near our galaxy influenced the glass design.

Fused glass pasta bowl
Red Swirl pasta bowl
A beautiful pasta bowl that Jay made during the winter was snatched up as soon as a visitor to our studio saw it. The shallow bowl sets smooth red “petals” against blue, lavender, and pink pebbly-texture “rimations” (as Jay calls the interstices). The same person asked to see other dishes with the color red and selected a short oval dish with a bold red curve running across it, and a red, black, and white trivet.
Kiln-formed oval dish
Red Curve

These pieces are a few that found new homes already this spring. On Mothers’ Day weekend we’ll be at the 3rd annual American Artisan Showcase with other glass works wanting to find new “parents.” If you’re interested in taking a lovely piece of glass into your home, consider an outing on May 10th (10:00 am to 5:00 pm) or May 11th (10:00 am to 4:30 pm). The show is indoors at Byers’ Choice workshop in Bucks County, north of Philadelphia near Doylestown. You can get details about the artisan showcase online or call 215.822.3274. Admission is $6 (free for children 12 and under). Download $1 off coupons from the show website or ask us to mail one.