Kampung Banghuris, Malaysia - H.J. Basir, the undisputed headman of Kampung Hulu Chuchuh, one of three villages in the Sepang district of Selangor state, clearly states: "I am chief of my village and chief of my home."
Under a new co-operative program called Banghuris Homestay, guests can experience his village and its fast-disappearing traditional Malay life.
Visitors don't get to be chief for a day, but 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 they gain a better appreciation of our culture," explains Basir.
Guests are invited to participate fully in village activities. Wearing traditional attire, we plant trees in the sweltering 36°C heat, eat simple local food and observe local customs.
In this Muslim nation, attire must be modest and behaviour respectful, while alcohol is forbidden. The cost per night is 60 ringgits (about $20) and includes two meals.
Kampung Banghuris contains three separate villages, Kampung Bukit Bankong, Kampung Hulu Chuchuh and Kampung Hulu Teris. In each village, traditional Malay stilt houses sit amid fruit orchards and rubber plantations carved out of the green towering jungle.
Although Kampung Hulu Chuchuh, the largest village, is just 50 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur, it's a world away from the 88-storey Petronas skyscraper and other modern examples of the country's march toward achieving developed-nation status by 2020.
Kampung Hulu Chuchuh, still very much a typical Malay village, offers a glimpse into the country's agrarian roots. The villagers continue to rely on agriculture as their primary source of income, although many also have small cottage industries manufacturing food snacks such as kerepek. The deep-fried shredded-yam treat is prepared by hand and packaged for transportation to the city.
Homestay hostesses home-cook meals of typical local food, prepared and served simply.
In addition to the fun of trying a new cuisine, mealtime is also an opportunity to learn more about Malay culture. First, we must remove our footwear before stepping onto the veranda that leads to the host family's front door. We 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, we rinse our hands in water from a kendi, an ornate silver kettle, with a basin to catch the water. We eat without utensils, using only the right hand. Scooping up the white rice takes some practice, and trying the variety of accompaniments, like chicken curry and sambal belacon, a spicy shrimp paste, is part of the fun.
Dessert is often pineapple, papaya, rambutan or other fruit grown in nearby orchards. Basir explains that it is polite to offer the best morsels of food to your tablecloth neighbour.
In the evening, we quietly enjoythe jungle sounds or watch traditional dances and music performances.
Because the profits from the Homestay program are shared cooperatively among all the villagers, everyone pitches in to make visitors feel welcome. Impromptu cultural performances of zapin (dances) or ghazal (guitar music) or even top-spinning are put on.
Most of the older villagers speak only Malay, so the children provide English translation, adding to the charm of our cultural immersion.
Basir says that the average stay is three days and two nights. That's just enough time to get into the rhythm of Kumpung life and learn more about this fascinating culture.