It was the sounds of dozens of Orang Asli children chattering excitedly as they crossed over a short bridge that first caught our attention. Soon we were swarmed by a sea of smiles as they eagerly streamed past us towards the Muzium Sultan Abu Bakar. Atop the steps of the museum, guides dressed in traditional Arabic robes and costumes beckoned them into an inviting, wooden theater for the cinematic start to the "1001 Inventions Exhibit".
A short 'Harry Potter-ish' film opened with three young British students who were tasked with researching the "Dark Ages" at the library. It was no less then Sir Ben Kingsley, who led the eager students to discover that in fact, this was the Golden Age of Discovery for the Muslim Civilization.
But why, you may ask, why were we trailing behind these lucky kids in the midst of their field trip to Pekan, Pahang?
Pekan in itself is a culturally rich destination as the Royal Town of the Malaysian State of Pahang. Accordingly, it holds the distinction as the official home of the Pahang Royal family along the lush, majestic banks of the Pahang River, which becomes flushed with hues of rose gold and vermilion at sunset.
Pekan is also famed as the hometown for Malaysia's second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and the current Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. The town of Pekan charms with its riverside life, gorgeous traditional architecture, Royal Palaces, unique Pekan style cuisine, and the flourishing traditional textiles and handicrafts unique to this region.
With this rich heritage of arts and culture, it comes as no surprise that Pekan is quickly gaining renown for its establishment of excellent museums. And it is precisely the museums and the rich cultural heritage that keeps drawing Batik&Bubbles back to the beautiful city of Pekan.
Among the existing museums, in particular we are drawn to the Muzium Sultan Abu Bakar, which has undergone a massive renovation and the brand new Masjid Muzium Sultan Abdullah. These museums now stand as two of the brightest gems in Pekan's crown.
Each museum deserves its own proper showcase upon their official joint-launch at the end of October 2016.
But in the lead up to the formal launch, the museums are already actively engaging in creative, community projects. Today's fieldtrip was a highlight in the latest multi-cultural collaboration between university and graduate students from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia, University Putra Malaysia (UPM) and the younger Orang Asli students from Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Mas, Sungai Lembing, Pahang.
Batik&Bubbles was invited to experience and document this joint field trip co-hosted by the Pahang State Museums and Tourism Pahang.
The visit was part of a cultural and educational exchange called the "Short Term Mobility Program" (STMP) led by Dr Siti Suriawati Isa, a Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management and Creative Economy, from the University Putra Malaysia. Dr Siti is also a PhD graduate from QUT and thus perfectly placed to foster and strengthen the connections between the two universities.
The SMTP program is fully funded by the New Colombo Plan, an educational and cultural initiative formed between the 2 universities. For the past 2 weeks, the students from QUT and UPM worked together to teach and educate the Orang Asli children, the indigenous people of Malaysia. The QUT students spent their tenure in the village teaching the primary school children to utilize technology, including how to code an electronic bumble bee to move in different directions. As some of the QUT Masters student were studying biology, Pahang's old growth jungles served as the perfect locale to explore Malaysia's stunning diversity and local fauna and flora.
As this years SMTP program came to a close, the field trip to the Museum served as an occasion to also showcase Malaysia's equally rich, diverse and colorful cultural heritage with all the students, including a specific emphasis on Pahang's heritage.
We weren't sure whether the smiles of the educators or the children were wider, as the children raced between the different interactive displays at the 1001 Inventions Exhibit, an international award winning British science and cultural exhibit. The exhibit guides visitors to explores the Golden Age of Discovery, infamously and now we know, rather erroneously, known as the "Dark Ages".
Unsurprisingly, after an engaging two weeks of working on technology with the University students, the children were particularly fascinated and intrigued with all the explorative touch screens, computer graphics and more technical aspects of the exhibits.
1001 Inventions was perfectly targeted for their age group (10-12 years). It included a interactive worksheet that helped to thoughtfully guide them through the exhibit, although more often then not they enjoyed jumping from one discovery to the next on their own accord.
Even the University students had an enjoyable time interacting with the various games and gadgets on offer at the exhibit. These gave a profound insight on how so many scientific inventions that we use today can be traced back to the early Muslim civilizations!
The discovery that the Arabic numerals, which are the basis of our modern numbers, were each accorded the specific numeric value based on the number of 'angle-points' in each number was a revelation. Learning about how advanced the surgery techniques were, especially for that time period, was another new discovery. The famed doctor Al Zahrawi not only published an illustrated surgical encyclopaedia of 1500 pages but also was the first to use cat guts to stitch internal wounds and the first to utilise instruments such as forceps and scalpels, which are still in use today. Al Zahrawi is also referenced as the first doctor to perform complicated procedures such as the first caesarean operation, bearing in mind this was way back in 1000 AD. There were many such fascinating inventions on display across fields as diverse as astronomy, medicine, mathematics, engineering and so forth.
Many of the scientific inventions were new not only to the the children but also the elder students and adults engaging with the exhibit and surely incited a deep sense of pride, curiorisity and a desire to explore further!
After an eventful afternoon the day culminated with a special evening dinner at the Pahang Art Museum (Muzium Seni Pahang) in Kuantan, the capital city of Pahang, less than an hours drive away from The Royal Town of Pekan.
As the night sky darkened, the air filled with the lilting melodies of the Gamelan orchestra that flanked the rich red carpet welcoming the Tengku Puan Pahang and invited guests into the Pahang Art Museum. The museum’s inner courtyard had been transformed into a beautiful gala setting with a small stage set up for the evening's performances. The Pahang Art Museum is an old colonial building originally designed and built by the British in 1910. It was then converted into the Pahang Heroes Museum in the mid-2000's and then re-launched as the current Art Museum in 2011.
As HRH the Crown Princess of Pahang Tengku Puan Azizah, Tunku Hajjah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah entered the walkway, the guests rose and the evening began in full swing with the start of a small play with quirky characters that set the tone for an evening of art, entertainment and laughter.
In a unique twist, a Wayung Kulit (Shadow Puppet) show served as the emcee for the evening, giving little quips and anecdotes in between speeches and entertainment.
Judging by the uproarious laughter of the other guests, we assumed it must’ve been pretty funny alas, it all went a bit over our heads as the puppeteers spoke in a thick Kelantanese accent!
Thoughtful speeches were given by Dr Vinesh Chandra, the Senior Lecturer in Education from Queensland University of Technology, The Crown Princess Tengku Puan Pahang, and Dato' Sri Haji Mohd Sharkar bin Haji Shamsudin, Chairman of Pahang State Tourism and Cultural Affairs.
They all celebrated the achievements of this cross-cultural learning exchange between the two universities and the Organ Asli community and called for the continuation of such vibrant educational exchanges.
We particularly enjoyed Tengku Puan Pahang's speech, where she told guests of her early interest in forestry, thanks to the guidance of her father, the late Sultan Iskandar of Johor, who also had an interest in the natural environment and landscapes of Malaysia.
These type of personal stories relating to the students aspirationscertainly seemed to resonate well with the students and specifically, the Australian biologists in training.
Meanwhile as the speeches came to a close, the tables started to overflow with local specialties and choice grilled meat, all accompanied by different types of kuih (Malaysian sweets) alongside the sweet harmonies of the UPM students. They gave a lovely musical performance of Malay and English songs to the delight of the audience and then joined us again to continue the meal together.
After dinner, all the guests were invited to make their way through the different art exhibits held in the adjacent galleries.
The evening ended on a joyful note with a belated birthday surprise for the Tengku Tuan Pahang. Museum officials arranged for a grand birthday cake lined with fragrant white lilies, as we all joined in a birthday prayer lead by Dato' Ahmad Farid bin Abdul Jalal, Director of Pahang Museums, and then a very cheery birthday song!
It was the perfect end to a spectacular day; one filled with all the excitement of discovery, learning, and new friendships. This cross-cultural learning exchange truly enriched and broadened the perspectives of everyone involved.
Kudos to the SMTP program, Tourism Pahang and especially to Dato' Farid and the Pahang Museum staff for a wonderful day that deserves to be repeated annually!
- Pahang Art Museum: http://www.jmm.gov.my/en/museum/pahang-art-museum
- Muzium Masjid Sultan Abdullah and Muzium Sultan Abu Bakar: http://www.pahangtourism.org.my/index.php/destinations/islands-beaches/pekan/sultan-abu-bakar-museum
- Best accommodation in Pekan, Pahang: Ancasa Royale Pekan http://www.ancasahotels.com