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Homestays in Malaysia

Under a co-operative homestay program in Kampung Ulu Chuchoh, one of three villages in the Sepang District of Selangor, guests have an opportunity to experience a fast-disappearing aspect of Malay life. They are "adopted" by one of the 68 participating families and treated as members of the family for the duration of their stay.

"This way guests gain a better appreciation of our culture," explains H.J. Basir, the chief of Kampung Ulu Chuchoh. Guests participate fully in village activities. This includes wearing traditional attire, planting trees in sweltering heat, eating simple local food, and observing local customs. As this is a Muslim nation, this means no alcohol, modest attire, and respectful behavior.

Although Kampung Ulu Chuchuh, the largest of the three villages, is just 50 kilometers from Kuala Lumpur, it is a world away from the 88-story Petronas Towers. The villagers continue to rely on agriculture as their primary source of income.

Mealtime is an opportunity to learn more about the Malay culture. First, footwear is removed before stepping onto the veranda that leads to the host family's front door. Guests sit cross-legged on the floor adjacent to the dapur or kitchen in a long dining hall where a tablecloth is spread the length of the room. Before and after the meal, hands are rinsed using water from a kendi, an ornate silver kettle with a basin to catch the water. The food is eaten without utensils using only the right hand. Scooping up the white rice takes some practice but is made all the more fun by trying out the variety of foods such as chicken curry and sambal belacon, a spicy shrimp paste. Dessert is often pineapple, papaya, rambutan, or other fruit grown in nearby orchards. Basir explained that it is polite to offer the best morsels of food to your tablecloth neighbor.

Evenings are often spent quietly enjoying traditional dances and music performances. Because the profits from the homestay program are shared co-operatively with the whole village, everyone pitches in to make visitors feel welcome. This may include impromptu cultural performances of zapin (dances) or ghazal (guitar music) or even top-spinning. The children provide English translation and this adds to the charm of learning a new culture by immersion.

"The average stay is three days and two night," says Basir. That's just enough time to get into the rhythm of Kumpung life and learn more about this fascinating culture.

The cost per night is 60 Malaysia Ringgits ($16) and includes two meals. Reservations can be made through Tourism Selangor at detc@tm.net.my or via the Coordinating Committee, JKKK Kampung Hulu Chuchuh, 43590 Sungai Pelek, Sepang, Selangor, Tel. 011-03-3141-2050 or 019-661-5648.

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