LGS Cultural Tour 2: Malaysia – Truly Asia; Concert in the Rainforest

on Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lone Grey Squirrel finds himself in Taman Negara in the midst of some of the oldest rainforest in the world. It is now late at night and it is all dark outside the cabin with only the sounds of cicadas breaking the stillness. I now regret researching for my previous Halloween post on the Banshee of the forests because tonight I find myself outside my comfort zone and in the world of the night creatures.

To distract myself, I want to share with you the strange experience I just had of enjoying one of the best cultural dance performances I had ever seen here in this 130 million year old forest. I am here to participate in this year’s Asia Pacific Ecotourism Conference or APECO and tonight the State Government of Pahang hosted a dinner for participants and put on a great cultural show with their very own state groomed cultural troupe.

Malaysia is truly a microcosm of so many Asian and even non-Asian cultures; a legacy of being a major player, destination and crossroads in the spice trade routes of the 12-19th century and the rich and diverse indigenous peoples of the land. This is something that I have always been particularly proud of about Malaysia.

However, I have been far from proud or impressed by most of the Malaysian cultural troupes that carry out performances in line with Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism’s tagline of Malaysia – truly Asia. Most of the performances are lackluster and sometimes even embarrassing. When a good friend from the UK visited recently, I took him to one of the more famous regular cultural performance and dinner venues in Kuala Lumpur ( and there are not many), but even there the food outshined the performance and the food really was not that great.

But tonight, I saw a superior performance and it made me wonder what made the difference. For one thing, the dances were all well researched and accompanied with an explanation of its meaning and its origin, including descriptions of the cultural influences that helped to shape the dance. This understanding helped to engage the audience but also was reflected in a sense of pride in the performers.

Representation of the Sewang dance of the Orang Asli (aborigines)

Malaysia's Indian Heritage

The Tenun Dance showing off the Fine Weaving of Pahang

The Chinese Heritage

The next special ingredient was the attitude of the dancers. They were proud of what they were doing and of their culture and they appeared to be having fun. This is very important as a plastic or fixed smile always puts me off when viewing cultural dances.

The choreography and choice of dances are also important. The troupe tonight chose dances that very effectively showcased a very wide variety of the different cultural influences. I was pleased that they included dances from the indigenous peoples and the people of the forest. Unfortunately, very often they are forgotten or left out because of bigotry or a strange ill-placed shame some Malaysians feel for what they consider the more “backward” segments of the Society. Tonight’s troupe had none of that nonsense and celebrated the contributions of all these communities to the rich cultural canvas that is Malaysia – truly Asia. Tonight, we celebrated the cultures of the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians, the aboriginal peoples, the Thai, the Arab traders, the Peranakan or Nyonya amongst others including local cultural traditions.

Celebration was another key concept that made a difference. Again the troupe should be commended that they chose songs and dances that were lively, happy and celebrated life and invited the listener to also give thanks for being alive. When one has only got about 30 minutes to do a performance, I believe it is time squandered if many of the song choices were melancholic or too self-important. The participant should feel encouraged to tap his/her feet, clap his/her hands or even get up and dance.

A fantastic overall performance. The Lone Grey Squirrel enthusiastically approves it but wishes to advise Ministry of Tourism to drop the obligatory song finale of “Malaysia – truly Asia” because it just is not a good song. Some songs just do not work. I leave you with a snippet of another Government commissioned song from a recycling campaign;

“Recycle, Recycle
Show that you have taste,Eliminate your waste!”

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