With my chin cupped in my hand and elbow propped on the arm rest I found myself on short finals from Singapore into Kuala Lumpur reminiscing about my first experiences of the country. Actually they were not the absolute first – I think that was a project in primary school on alluvial tin mining in Malaysia. Black and white pictures of massive dredges creating environmental slaughter with their sluices though that is a comment from our times – and was not a consideration back then. I wonder how they do that tin mining now?
No, the reminiscing was sparked by the regular (some would say monotonous) foliage pattern of the oil palms which cover so much of the peninsula. Mind you there were few plantations around by the time I took this photo (for those of you who like that sort of thing the bend in the river is at 2°39’14.32″N, 101°44’49.17″E on Google Earth) but earlier along the flight path there was almost nothing else. In black and white 10×8 “flats” – images printed from aerial imagery taken in the late 1960s from Mirage fighters – the plantations looked particularly exotic and unreal, their shadows throwing an additional patina into the scene. It was hundreds of these images, some taken even earlier during the Malayan Emergency, which introduced me (while doing an imagery analyst course), with some detail and intimacy to Malaysia and its palms. Oddly enough I don’t recall seeing any overhead imagery of tin dredges.
All those oil palms also reminded me of the somewhat humorous situation in the early 1990s when the Russians were trying to sell MiG-29 fighters to the Malaysian Air Force. The Russians wanted cash but the Malaysians wanted to barter a deal using palm oil! I could always imagine the scene in a military trade office somewhere in Moscow in which a few military types scratched their heads and wondered what on earth they would do with a few million gallons of palm oil. And that was after they first worked out what it was and how much soap they could make out of it. They must have wondered if the Malaysians were taking them seriously! I was never sure if they ever did figure what the Malaysians were thinking but in those crazy days when the Russian economy was so precarious they just took whatever they could get. Even if it was palm oil.