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Sequestered

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 The son still ran New Eastern—one of the sons at least. In his mid-sixties, over lunches and dinners in subsequent days, the man unfolded the main lines of the family tale.

Opposite, the heavy, squat colonial-era building that was dated 1917 reminded of Rechabite halls back home. In the son's early days it had been a Protestant church, latterly used only for funerals, and in recent times badminton had been played there. Currently the place was undergoing renovation.

Thirty years later they had felt the shocks of the October Revolution in these streets of Johor and across the outlying jungle in particular in Malaya.       

In front in the vitrine at New Eastern a frieze of red Coke cans from across the company's production of the last half century, almost perfect colour tone for the recent CNY.        

It was the line of cubicles, above all, that intrigued. One was reminded of the restaurants in Indonesia. At Sinbad’s in Tanah Abang, Jakarta, one had seen Arab families escorted into the rear room where screens were available for the womenfolk. The practice was common throughout the Arab world, they said.

In the Hainanese here there were portable screens too standing against the opposite wall, one with the fabric removed from the wooden panels. These were heavy old screens on blocks that would have needed two for transport.

If one recalled rightly, there was a mention in the reading in Singapore of the importance of Muar for moon-sightings for Ramadan. Up on the Thai border, in Kelantan State, there was a conservative revival currently; a recent newspaper article had mentioned a proposed ban on unmarried mixed gender sharing motor-cycles. And of course Aceh, up in the north of Sumatra in neighbouring Indonesia, where the first Arab dhows had landed—Aceh the “Veranda of Islam” for the entire South-East Asian region.

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