The gas station looks closed.
Our tiny CRF tanks are running out of fuel yet again and I hop off and try the doors to the convenience store attached to the station. Locked.
Strange, it's the middle of the day.
I cup my hands and peer through the glass. Two women in headscarves inside stare back at me and indicate that the pumps are working.
The gas station is open.
When we're finished topping up our tanks, I walk back to the booth and I have to deposit the money in a till that swings open to accept cash and swings shut so the operator inside can take the money - the kind that gas station attendents use at night in dangerous neighbourhoods.
I don't feel very safe.
We are entering the state of Kelantan. I've read that the crime rates here are high compared to the rest of the country. Also disproportionate are the drug usage and HIV+ rates. Some blame this state of moral decay to the proximity to Thailand, where the availability and culture of drugs and brothels contrast sharply to the strict Muslim code of conduct in this predominantly Malay state.
To combat this affront to their morality, the local government is trying to enforce harsher punishments under Sharia Law.
As we enter Kota Bharu, a huge sign tells us what we need to know about Sharia Law: No Wheelying.
The sign translates: "Guidelines for dignified young Kelantans". It advocates studies, prayer, modesty. Abstinence from drugs, partying, pre-marital relations... and wheelying.
A lot of states in Malaysia enforce Sharia Law under a dual-justice system. It applies only to Muslims and the penalties range from fines to jail-time. However, the state of Kelantan, which has one of the smallest non-Muslim populations (10%) in the country, has been pushing for harsher punishments, including amputations, stoning and death-sentences. This ancient Islamic system of penalties is called Hudud. State law and federal law clash, and Kelantan's push for Hudud has so far been vetoed by the federal government because these penalties go against the Malaysian constitution.
And No Wheelying is an attack on fun itself.
Kota Bahru is not a tourist attraction
We walk through a market which reminds me of the ones in Morocco
Vendors selling all sorts of trinkets and lotions
And copious amounts of fruit!
Everywhere we go, men and women congregrate in separate groups
Under Sharia Law, unrelated men and women are not allowed to co-mingle. I read about couples who were fined for riding a motorcycle together or sitting on a bench too closely. We went shopping for some food and in the grocery stores, there are separate queues for men and women. Even though we were exempt from these laws, we were very cautious not to show any public displays of affection. Then we saw some young couples holding hands in public - they looked local and may have been married, so we relaxed a little.
Near the museum, we saw a lot of people eating on tables laid out in a seating area with buffet-style serving trays of food alongside. There weren't any signs to indicate this was a restaurant, no menus, and not even labels on the food. This was as local as you could get. None of the food looked remotely familiar, so we just grabbed a plate each and started spooning whatever looked appetizing.
No prices labelled, but as expected, the total at the cash register was very cheap (just a couple of dollars between the both of us).
The other tables were segregated into men-only or women-only. We dug into our food and realized we made the wrong choices... :(
Although non-Muslims are supposed to be unaffected by Sharia Law, there have been economic repercussions amongst the ethnic Chinese and Indian populations. Non-Muslim women working at hair salons are not allowed to cut the hair of Muslim men, which impacts their business. Inter-faith marriages are also affected, as well as the children of these unions.
Male shopowner selling women's clothing. Obviously not Muslim.
Groups of men congregate separately from the women
There are certain arts and crafts that originate from Kelantan. One thing I really want to see are the shadow puppet plays, called Wayang Kulit. Unfortunately we were here during the weekday and there were none scheduled, so we headed to another museum to see them on display.
These intricate puppets are made primarily of leather
A light shines behind them and they are manipulated using sticks or buffalo horns
While researching online, I found a modern Wayang Kulit company that made superhero puppets, like Superman and Batman! Cool! Unfortunately, their shop was closed.
The part of the government that is pushing for Hudud under Sharia Law also wants to ban Wayang Kulit because it has Hindu roots. That's very sad, because these shadow puppets are such an identifiable part of Malaysian culture, not just in Kelantan, but through the entire country.
These moon kites, called Wau Bulan, are also another one of Malaysian icons
A stylized version of the kite is even the logo of the national airline, Malaysian Airlines, and it's on the back of the 50 cent coin. It's one of the things I remember about growing up in Malaysia.
Neda finds a nice background for her smartphone
Happy Malay Art!