The most common forms of housing for the urban Malaysian middle class are the terrace house and semi-detached house (semi-d for short), which we would call a rowhouse and a duplex respectively in the States. Malaysia is a relatively small country, and land is at a premium. The common rowhouse unit will be built on 6/100ths of an acre, of which almost the entire space is taken up by the house. The front yard is walled in, and functions as the car porch. Often it will be entirely cemented, though some people will maintain a bit of green to the sides of the driveway. The streetscape outside the gates is often quite bleak. Sidewalks are not common. Between the perimeter and the street is the monsoon drain and sometimes a patch of grass between driveways where a tree may be planted.
At the same time, Malaysians are fond of entertaining, and have large extended families. So what happens when somebody living in one of these tightly built subdivisions wants to throw a party? They take over the street. Wedding receptions, children’s graduations, what have you, will be catered right out in the road, with a rented canopy pitched over the whole affair. In the picture, you should be able to see the dotted road median disappear into the middle of the party. You can make out the half a lane I managed to squeeze through just prior to taking the picture. It could be a minor inconvenience to some, but it doesn’t bother me. There’s a neighborly spirit that comes from throwing a party in the street that I would not trade away.
One story I’ve heard a dozen times about parties like these goes something like this: “I’m driving around a winding subdivision trying to find my second cousin’s wedding reception. I spot a big tent and a crowd of cars, so I park and head in. I take a seat, eat a big plate of food, and finally ask the uncle I’ve been sitting with, “So how is good old Yusop anyway?” “Yusop who?” Wrong Party! I was looking for the second great big tent down the lane on the left…” It hasn’t happened to me quite like that yet, though I have stopped and gotten out of the car at two different street parties before finally finding the one I was invited to, the third one happening in the neighborhood that afternoon.