A weekend at a Malaysian homestay: Looking at stars
The last time I spent the night in a kampung or village with my family was decades ago. I don’t even remember how old I was. We were at my paternal grandmother’s house and there was to be a big feast – a kenduri– the following day, and my father figured there was no point in going home that evening.
I remember sleeping on a mattress on the floor because all the beds were occupied by my older cousins and aunts and uncles. I didn’t complain. I imagined that I was camping in a tent somewhere, looking at the stars above.
I also remember being awakened by a rooster at God-knows-what time and being immediately sent off to have a shower. We were lucky that the bathroom was actually in the house because back then, most village houses had outdoor bathrooms. For any child, venturing out in the dark for a late night or early morning toilet visit was a nightmare.
So when the time came for me to pack up for a homestay visit two weeks ago, I actually felt excited. I was going to spend the weekend at a village somewhere in Perak, a state I hardly ever visit, at the home of a family I’d never met. First adventure for 2014, here we go.
The village of Kampung Batu Ring lies on the shores of Tasik Raban, a picturesque lake which receives its water from Sungai Perak, one of Peninsular Malaysia’s many rivers. Thanks to the lake and the surrounding hills, mornings are cool and breezy and the air is fresh.
The village is accessible by car, although when we arrived in the early hours (at three in the morning to be exact), we were brought in by boat because our bus was too large to enter the village. Cars, even four-wheelers, can go in but only as far as halfway through Batu Ring where the road is tarred. Go beyond that and you’ll have to walk.
Some forty-four families live in Batu Ring, most of them involved in one way or another in fishing. I stayed with a villager called Mat Ramli Yusof and his wife Arbaayah Isa, both in their sixties. They look terribly serious in the photo but they were very kind and insisted on plying my housemates and I with food and drink throughout the two days we were there.
One of the best things about life in the kampungs is the strong sense of togetherness in the community. While walking around Batu Ring, I noticed that none of the houses had fences or gates and yet that is exactly what my grandmother’s village is like. Every time I go back, I’m reminded how different a kampung is from a city- life is much simpler in a village, no-one’s obsessed with finding a wi-fi connection and friendships are much more personal.
On our last night at the homestay, the villagers got together and cooked a delicious farewell dinner for us. I hung around the community centre where they prepared the food.
I enjoy doing the cooking whenever there’s a barbecue but since Batu Ring isn’t my ‘hood, I thought it was best to leave the men to it.
When it was time to say goodbye, I told pakcik Ramli and his wife that I would be sending them the photographs that I’d taken.
“Can I have the address of this house?” I asked, notebook and pen in hand. I hadn’t developed photos in ages, and here I was all ready to develop and send them via post.
“Just put my name and the name of the village, then Lenggong, Perak, and it’ll reach me. It won’t get lost,” he said.
His wife Arbaayah had a concerned look on her face. She had been up since six that morning, preparing nasi lemak for breakfast. “I hope the room was comfortable and that you all had a good sleep. I noticed that you slept on the floor.”
I had to smile. I’d slept like a log on both nights.
“I did, don’t worry. I slept very well.”
*Getting there: Batu Ring is one of six villages making up Kampung Beng, which is 23 kilometres from the town of Lenggong, or 60 kms from Ipoh, the capital of Perak state. From Kuala Kangsar, make your way towards the Lenggong Archaeological Museum and turn right at Jalan Intan Suraya. Kampung Beng is five kilometres away from the turn-off.
*My trip to Perak was made possible by the Tourism and Culture Ministry and the Railway Tourism Association Malaysia but like everything else on this blog, the story and opinions are all mine. More information on the homestay at Batu Ring can be found here and here. For more details on the rail+ homestay packages offered by the Railway Tourism Association Malaysia, visit their website.
© 2014, Anis. All rights reserved.