Melaka is a vibrant city in south-western Malaysia that boldly shows the imprint of many cultures and conquests. The mural in the top photo extends further along the Melaka River depicting much of that melting pot history. Melaka was established in 1400 by a fugitive Hindu prince who became a Muslim in 1424. A Chinese trading envoy arrived in 1403 and in 1424 the founder Parameswara travelled to meet the Ming Dynasty Emperor and a strong trading relationship developed, founded on Melaka’s strategic position between west and east. A marriage of a Chinese Princess, Hang Li Po to the Sultan, Mansur Shah, in 1448 foreshadowed the development of the Nyonya culture blending of Chinese and Malay that continues to today. In 1511 the Portuguese attacked and took control. The Dutch began a protracted struggle to oust the Portuguese from 1606 and in 1641 Malacca fell to the Dutch. The British East India Company took over in 1795 during the Napoleonic Wars until Melaka was restored to the Dutch in 1818. Six years later in a colonial land swap, the Dutch gave Melaka to the British. The British colonial rule was interrupted by Japanese occupation from 1942 until the end of the Second World War , when Malaya was returned to the British. It was only in 1957, after almost 500 years of colonial occupation that independence returned, with the establishment of Malaysia. The influence of that extraordinary history makes Melaka a city of multi-cultural charm. The Nyonya or Peranakan culture that grew from Chinese settlement is manifest in many ways, but none more pleasurable than the delicate and delicious Nyonya cuisine.

In the ultra-modern heart of Kuala Lumpur sits a small but exquisite reminder of traditional Malay architecture. The Rumah Penghulu was relocated from its original location in Kampung Sungai Kechii within the small town of Kedah. It was moved to KL and rebuilt by the Heritage of Malaysia Trust and is now open to guided tours. The core of the house was built in 1916 and acquired in 1924 by village headman Penghulu Abu Seman bin Nayan. He relocated the core and added to it in the 1930s. The building at left in the top photo was his office, where he dealt with administrative matters. Stairs and a separate doorway from the office section link to the main house. The building is a joy of carved panels and decorative fretwork, designed to allow access to cooling breezes through vertical shuttered windows which are inset with horizontal wooden louvres. It stands on posts which are set into decorated concrete pediments, keeping it to some degree out of the reach of rot and termites. So much modern housing in the tropics is just not right. Rumah Penghulu shows the practicality and beauty of a great tradition of tropical architecture. Long may it endure.

The Greater Banded Hornet (Vespa tropica) is a tropical species of hornet found in Southeast Asia, and commonly found in west Africa, from Afghanistan to New Guinea (Wikipedia). The Australian Venom Research Unit website also notes its presence in the Torres Strait but says so far there have been no sightings on mainland Australia. Members of the Vespa genus “are typically very aggressive, and can inflict a particularly painful sting”. This specimen was photographed on a banana flower outside the Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park in Malaysia.

Masters of Deception

Two remarkable masters of deception seen on a trip to Malaysia a few years ago. The bird-dropping spider (Phrynarachne decipiens) was encountered beside a boardwalk at the wonderful Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak. I thank Wiki for the ID and behavioural notes, which say, in part: ” It crouches stationary on a leaf…and exhibits an elaborate combination of form and colour, the posture it adopts and the character of its web so as to simulate accurately a patch of bird’s execreta. The effect is to create the impression of a semi-solidified bird’s dropping with a white raised centre with black specks, a surrounding thinner, more liquid portion and even a drip effect on the lowest margin ending in a little knob. …the spider emits an odour not unlike bird excreta.” The disguise may work two ways: enabling the spider (in typical crab spider style) to quietly await an unwary victim and also perhaps fooling birds who might enjoy a spider snack. The butterfly was seen perched on a piece of rotting pineapple laid out for the enjoyment of denizens of the Butterfly Park in Kuala Lumpur. A dip into Wiki leaves me convinced it is Kallima paralekta, the Indian or Malayan Leafwing. With wings folded the underside mimics a dry leaf, with veins and even a mid-rib. The uppersides are colourful, but quite different for male and female. The rear of the wings even end in pointed narrow tail resembling a leaf petiole.