“10 Million Fireflies”

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Aside from monkeys, some of the other things I wanted to see in Malaysia were its much-acclaimed fireflies. When I was reading about the country way back earlier this year, I came across a side box in one of my guidebooks that mentioned a little village outside of Kuala Lumpur where “millions” of fireflies just light up the forest at night. Of course I had to go! So Jullian and I took a little road trip Saturday afternoon and headed to Kuala Selangor to check it out.

I have to be honest, the fireflies themselves were pretty underwhelming. Thanks to deforestation and the destruction of their natural

A firefly in Kuala Selangor

habitat, the number of fireflies has gone down significantly in the past 20 years so the site isn’t as amazing as it used to be. The trip to get there, however, is quite charming. To see the fireflies, you get in these old, rickety, canoe-like boats that hold about four people. It’s nearly pitch black outside, and the guide takes you across the water for a 20-minute ride along the mangroves where the fireflies are. Though not spectacular, the fireflies really are beautiful. They light up the trees and twinkle like Christmas lights, which was sort of nice since it’s the end of November. What was really interesting to see was how small they are. They’re only a few millimeters long and just a fraction of the length of American (or at least Michigan) fireflies. It was a very cool experience.

The real highlight of Kuala Selangor, however, was the MONKEYS! Before going to see the fireflies, Jullian and I headed to one of the village’s parks to check out the wildlife. Given my recent history being attacked by a monkey in the Batu Caves, I was a bit wearier of them, though still fascinated. In fact, when I saw the sea of macaque monkeys (the same as in the Batu Caves) sitting in the parking lot

Silvered leaf monkeys in Kuala Selangor.

and swinging in the trees as we drove in, I was a bit scared to get out of the car. But when Jullian told me there was a four-foot lizard nearby, I grabbed a stick and got out :). I was glad I did, because when Jullian and I made it to the top of the hill, I found a whole new breed of monkeys I completely fell in love with: silvered leaf monkeys! Unlike macaque monkeys that are brown, can be quite aggressive and have been known to kill babies, the silvered leaf or silvery lutung monkeys were quite gentle and definitely not afraid of humans. You can go right up to them and feed them, and they just come right up to you taking the food, some even climbing up on you to get to it. They are absolutely adorable too, with dark gray fur that’s almost like a Mohawk on top and these sweet little faces. I just adored those monkeys, I could have played with them all day. Sometimes I think I’ve gotten over the culture shock of being here, but the minute I see monkeys I’m in awe all over again. I hope I never lose that.

Aside from Kuala Selangor, the week brought about some other new experiences. Last Wednesday Malaysia celebrated Hari Raya Haji to mark the end of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. The event is basically a mass slaughtering of animals meant to commemorate the sacrifice Abraham made instead of his son (in their case, Ishmael). The men use knives to cut the throats of the animals, and the meat is divided among the animal donor, the family of the one slaughtering and those less fortunate.

Muslim men gather to slaughter an animal during Hari Raya Haji to commemorate Abraham's sacrifice.

So anyone that’s ever talked to me for more than five minutes would know that an animal slaughtering is not exactly an Erica-friendly environment. Though I am by no means a vegetarian, I am an animal-lover, overly-emotional and have a pretty weak stomach when it comes to blood. However, my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to join Jullian and Kevin to visit the mosque of a friend where a slaughtering was to be held. When we got to the mosque, I saw a crowd of men on the lawn with about eight cows and goats tethered to trees (sidenote: Asian cows look different than American cows. Their ears are floppy, they have a hump and they’re more of a brown/gray color). As they went to slaughter the first cow, I kept my distance and took a little stroll around the grounds. When I came back, they had moved on to the goat, so I thought I’d focus my attention on the living animals and distract myself from the slaughter. What I didn’t realize was there had been a mistake in the slaughter of the first cow (they missed one of the jugulars) and the animal lay among the living cows, slowing bleeding to death. When I saw the cow’s gaping neck with the blood dripping down, I left the grounds as quickly as I could and burst into tears. I literally walked to the side of the road and began to sob, it was a very difficult sight for me to see. As I mentioned before, I am not a vegetarian and have no right to judge the killing of animals for food, since I am the happy recipient of the one who does it, but seeing that up close is a little disturbing.

When I headed back (yes, I headed back) they had just finished a goat and another cow, who lay dying on the ground (these two had been done properly the first time and the deaths were a lot quicker). What was particularly sad this time was watching one of the living cows go to the dying cow and actually start licking its face as if to comfort it. Again, it was all a bit sad. Interestingly, I heard from a Malay friend that if you feel sorry for the animal, you are not allowed to consume the meat it provides, since you are supposed to be grateful for what God has provided you. That is also the reason many women don’t attend the event. I think, even if I was Muslim, I would never be able to eat Hari Raya Haji meat.

Now I’m preparing for my next adventure, a four-day trip to Kuching, Sarawak in East Malaysia. Though I am technically going for work, the weekend is all mine! Can’t wait!

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