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By S. Tchernomordik

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The middle space is kept clear from the ground floor to the building’s uppermost level. The furniture is dark lacquered wood with a tiled floor. Chinese-influenced housing, adapted for cities and towns, generally creates many more small spaces than the Malay house which is more communal. In Southeast Asia, the saying goes, the sea unites and the land divides. The jungle was so dense and so inpenetrable that it was easier to move around by boat than overland. The easiest internal travel was by river.

We follow directions to a Peranakan house which has been transformed into a restaurant. The food is Malaysian Chinese and very good. Peranakan is the characteristic architecture of the Baba community, a mix of Chinese and Malay. The Peranakan style house is distinctive and well adapted for the climate. It has a central well with an enormous ceiling while separate stairways lead to rooms at the front and rooms at the back which have no connection apart from the ground floor. The middle space is kept clear from the ground floor to the building’s uppermost level.

Take Karim Raslan. Karim has been a friend of mine for years. He is Eurasian, with a Malay father and an English mother. He comes from a distinguished Malay family and identifies himself fully as Malay. He was educated at Cambridge, for a time wrote leaders for the Times of London, and was called to the Bar in Inner Temple. He is something of a KL phenomenon. He seems to be in and about everything. He is originally a lawyer but has been desultory at best about the practice of law. He is good-looking in a rather Cambridge way, sort of a Malay Hugh Grant look, and stylish, and speaks with a cultivated contemporary English accent.

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