Saturday, August 20, 2011

To kebaya or not to kebaya...

Some of the Travelife team at dinner
in Malacca, Malaysia last night

Yesterday, I finally bought a kebaya, which is a traditional long blouse worn by the Peranakan communities in Malaysia. It's basically a cotton, silk or chiffon blouse that is heavily and colorfully embroidered at the collar and edges, and it's worn with an equally colorful long skirt of a batik or a traditional design.

This traditional dress, just like the Peranakan communities themselves, is a combination of Chinese influences and Malay influences. In the late 15th century, a Chinese princess arrived in Malacca to marry a local sultan; and the Chinese men on her boat also settled down in Malacca and intermarried with the Malay women. The descendants of these intermarriages form the Peranakan communities of Malaysia, and their culture is an inter-mingling of Chinese and Malay culture.

I'd fallen in love with the kebaya on previous visits, but I'd never bought one because it didn't seem to suit me. But on this trip, I made up my mind to buy one after seeing our host at the Peranakan Mansion in Penang wear one so beautifully. It takes a while to get used to the riot of colors of the kebaya plus the colorful skirt and all its equally colorful accessories; but once your eyes have grown used to the color, the effect is really beautiful.

I didn't find the kebaya I wanted in Penang; but yesterday, here in Malacca, I was walking down one of the town's ancient streets when I saw a kebaya shop manned by an old Malaysian woman named Khadijah. She'd embroidered all the kebayas herself and altered each blouse to each customer as the kebaya must be fitted exactly. When I saw the price tag at first, I gulped; but a black kebaya with orange and green embroidery called out to me, and so I closed my eyes and fished out the necessary ringgit from my bag.

As a plus, Khadijah altered the blouse for me in an afternoon. Later on, I found out that Khadijah is quite well-known in Malacca for her beautiful kebaya work (her shop is a few steps away from the town square), unlike the kebaya you find in tourist shops all over this town, which are mass produced and not as lovely.

Now all I have to do is find an event in Manila to wear it to; and fortunately, Malaysia's National Day is coming up and this is exactly where I plan to wear my kebaya to.

I love buying exotic clothing while traveling because so many of them are so beautiful and unique, and fortunately there are lots of diplomatic events to wear such things to. In fact, I often wear saree, caftans and long dresses I've picked up in India, Sri Lanka or the Middle East to such parties; and people who see me regularly have started calling it my "uniform."

Once, I actually wore a cocktail dress to a party -- it was Italy's National Day, I believe - and many people were actually surprised to see me in a regular dress for once.


Then last night the entire Travelife team for Travelife Magazine and Travelife TV all sat at outdoors at a restaurant just off Malacca's famous Jonker Street, in the old part of town. It was called Eleven and it served great Portugese food with a Malay twist -- basically everything was spicy and hot. We had spicy crabs, spicy baked fish, spicy fried squid, and spicy clams in a coconut sauce.

It was the best time to be eating here as it was a Friday night and the weekend market was just about to start in Jonker Street -- so the place was very lively with people out for dinner and also visitors trawling the night market for bargains.

I'm not much of a night market person, but it was so interesting to see all the goods for sale -- from big chunks of palm sugar in plastic bags and fried crablets by the bushel, to handpainted wooden clogs and even plastic slippers with the Facebook logo on them.

I didn't stay long, though, as I was anxious to get back to my beautiful hotel room and just chill. It's got a four-poster bed, an old-fashioned porcelain soaking tub, and a lovely coffee table book on the collection of antique kebaya of the wife of Malaysia's deputy prime minister; and I couldn't wait to finally get some me-time and enjoy this book.

Join us in Italy this September 8.
Travelife Italy Night
with Margarita Fores

with Margarita Fores
and the Embassy of Italy & Bacchus Epicerie
September 8 at Whitespace

Please call TRAVELIFE at 8138400/ 8922620
to reserve a limited seat

For reservations and information, please contact:
Bernice or Rachel at TRAVELIFE
813-8400/ 892-2620


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