The earliest plants I have any memory of are my neighbor’s mulberry tree, and the frangipani in our front courtyard. The courtyard was of cement or maybe stone except for where the tree grew, against the high wall. What I remember most clearly is how the flowers looked after they had fallen from the tree and littered the courtyard floor. Being closer to the ground back then – I was only four or five – I would pick them up and examine them. The frangipani is a simple flower, just five fleshy white petals with a yellow heart, but the sight of a small tree covered in them with the halo of flowers around it on the ground is a memorable sight. Perhaps because our neighborhood, like all of New Delhi, was so dusty and dry and brown, the tree stood out that much more in my mind.

Frangipanis and ShadowsWhatever the reason, meeting the frangipani when I began visiting Malaysia was like meeting an old friend. The frangipani, or Plumeria, isn’t so exceptional in Malaysia, which has dramatic flowering plants in abundance, but it is widely planted. Called kemboja here, the frangipani has a niche as a cemetery tree amongst the Malays. The white flowers and gray-white bark complement the plain white and gray gravestone materials commonly used here.

Around the new year holiday (Roman, not Chinese), I took my family out to a small vest-pocket park decorated with a stand of grand old Frangipark 009frangipanis. The park design has the frangipanis spaced in such way that the whole park is blanketed with frangipani flowers when they drop from the trees. It is just lovely, albeit in a subdued kind of way. Most of my children were more interested in the slides, but my daughter KakAndak, who is two and a half now, spent most of her time picking up and playing with the flowers. I placed a few behind her ears as she graciously paused for a photo. She decided to return the favor.

Here are the rest of the Frangipani Park photos.

Frangipark 007 I have to thank Sister Aaminah for giving me an excuse to start writing a bit again, which I haven’t done in nearly two months. She went and tagged me for a book meme. Believe it or not, I have yet to do one of those meme things in all these years of blogging! Until now, that is. So the book I’ve most recently finished is Snow by Orhan Pamuk. All I’d heard of Pamuk from the Muslim Rumor Network thus far had been some general dismissals for being un-Islamic, but you know, between him winning the Nobel Prize and the limited book selection here in Kuching, I thought I’d give him a read or two. The first book of his I picked up was My Name Is Red. That book explores the philosophies behind Islamic and Western art forms in a way that was very thought provoking for me. As murder-mystery, which was the official plot, it was kind of slow, but as art, history and philosophy it was entertaining enough for me to pick up a second book, Snow. Snow was similar in the sense that the ostensible plot never really picks up speed and loses interest by the end, but you begin to realize the whole thing is just a vehicle to present ruminations on politics and religion and art and so on. Again, those ruminations are pretty engaging and gave me plenty to chew on. I wish I had marked passages as I went, and I hereby resolve to do that with the very next book I read, but in the meantime, that segues well into the format of the meme from Aaminah, which is to read the three sentences following the fifth sentence on page 123. To proceed:

“… When a girl has accepted the headscarf as the Word of God and the symbol of faith, it’s very difficult for her to take it off. Hande spent days locked up inside her house trying to ‘concentrate’.” [said Kadife]

Like everyone else in the room, Ka was cowering with embarrassment at this deeply disturbing story, but when his arm brushed against Ipek’s arm, a wave of happiness spread through him. As Turgut Bey jumped from channel to channel, Ka tried to find more happiness by pressing his arm against Ipek’s. …

The story is about this Ka, a journalist who goes to a remote town to find out why a number of hijab-wearing girls have committed suicide. Now, before you start thinking the book is a lot of tedious generalizations or judgements about how muslims dress, the opposite is true. The book never answers why definitively, and most suggestions put forth are shown to be shallow or incomplete. It is everybody’s various fretting responses to the mystery that are being examined. Moreover, Pamuk, as he did with My Name is Red, inserts a novel disclaimer at the end of the book, where one of the villagers tells the visitor who records the story in book:

“If you write a book set in [their town] and put me in it, I’d like to tell your readers not to believe anything you say about me, anything you say about any of us. No one could understand us from so far away.”

Frangipark 010I found that remarkable. After immersing you in his ideas for hundreds of pages, he’s pulling you back out and saying,”look, it’s just a story, think about, chew on it, and take it or leave it”. I think that is both honest and humble.

Last but not least, have you checked out Stuff White People Like? It might be handy to look over if you think you might be dealing with some White People in the near future.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. Asalaamu alaikum.

    Glad to see you back. It was worth the wait. 🙂

    The flowers are beautiful. I’m not familiar with them… do they have a heavy scent or not? Sweet, spicy, something else?

    I haven’t read Pamuk’s novels but have read most of one of his collections of essays on Istanbul, and read a really interesting interview with a translator who has worked extensively with him to translate his novels into English. Yes, he is “secular” and all that… but I don’t think that necessarily makes him “un” islamic per se or that he doesn’t have anything of value to contribute. I look at it partially in terms of the generation to which he belongs and the life he lived in Istanbul and how that will color his views. I don’t have to agree with everything to find his work interesting. You have revived my dormant intention to read his novels and make up my own mind. 🙂

  2. w/s

    I forgot to mention the smell! Yes, they are very fragrant, sweet with a bit of lemon scent. You can sometimes find it ladies’ perfumes; I’m fairly certain my mother used to have a bottle of frangipani perfume. When the whole tree is in flower, the smell can travel on the breeze.

    About Pamuk, yeah, one thing about Snow was that the least convincing and fleshed out characters were the two deeply religious figures, the revolutionary and the Naqshbandi shaykh. Like you say, maybe he just can’t get his head inside people like that on account of his upbringing.

  3. I love frangipanis; they have a unique, soothing scent too. Frangipanis, always remind me of Nairobi (one of the few of my most favorite places). In Nairobi, they are many and seem to be every where one goes.

  4. ahh..bingregory is back… got kinda freaked out by the ular-looking-thing-in-jar flickr pix after awhile haha… funny about the #11 hehehe.. but rings true nonetheless.. welcome back!

  5. What a delightful picture story! Very sweet – one can almost smell those frangipani flowers on the ground. I never had perfume with that smell, but I’ve looked for it. My favorite perfume oil nowadays is called Amma’s Rose. It’s a blend of sandlewood and rose.

  6. eventhough i surf n’ spent all this site,,still dont get it how you get here in malaysia but one thing for sure,a little comprehended from your picture..mmg susah nk cari mat salleh yg boleh adapted malays enviroment tapi saya betul2 respect,hinggakan pada your parents.lawak jugak tgk your dad wore kain pelikat..hampir 10thn tinggal kat malaysia,i’ve seen that you near become malaysian,your skin almost become us,but what really touching me,,your spiritual really so grateful that you chose the right way n’God chose you as well.Rasanya you wife should tell your child how lucky they are to have such a dad like you,n’ she should know how lucky she are to have you as a husband,even im a litte envy about it.yeah! i know “sedangkan lidah lagi tergigit,”nobody’s perfect anyway”,,glad that i know you even in this cyber.just to tell you too that i really enjoyed myself in bingregory.ignore my tatabahasa okey,as long you understand mine..tried to be like your child””me type~type je”.he!he!he!

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