5 things I love about Malaysia.

It’s only fitting I list what I love about Malaysia since I am about to return home for a holiday.   Malaysians and frequent visitors to Malaysia, see if your list matches mine. Yet to experience enchanting Malaysia? Why, here are some things you should not miss out on if you go there:

1) Food

Yes, yes, you knew it’d be number 1, because what Malaysian doesn’t like food? Being multiracial and multicultural, we have so many different kinds of food, I could spend all day waxing lyrically about it. In nutshell we have street food, hawker food (not the same as street food), restaurant food, hotel food, Chinese, Malay, North and South Indian food, Indian Muslim food (aka Mamak food), Peranakan food. Due to new migrants from around the world, we also have Thai food, Indo food, Korean food, Japanese food, the usual steak and fries, pasta, pizza…Every ethnic group has food only found and eaten during certain celebrations, at particular times of the year. For instance, during Ramadan, we have the most mouth-watering array of curries, sambals, pickles, cookies, cakes you can imagine lining entire streets of night markets.  Every region is famous for something: Klang is famous for Bah Kut Teh, or porky herbal soup, cheap seafood dinners, Ipoh for salt-baked chicken, chicken shreds with rice noodle soup, Taiping for popiah, His Royal Highness claims Tofu pudding with syrup too, much of the East Coast of West Malaysia with Keropok, especially the thick chewy variety called Lekor, which I love so much, Kajang for Satay, Ampang for stuffed vegetables known as Yong Tau Fu. Penang is famous for Lobak, meat filled into tofu sheets, Assam Laksa, a very, very distant relative of Curry Laksa, popular in Australia… Describing just doesn’t do justice to the food of Malaysia, so  here’s a video to show you some of the culinary delights found in Penang alone:

 

2) Markets

We have morning markets, night markets, weekend markets, farmer’s markets, where you will find everything from food to apparel to traditional remedies for zits, aches and pains, household goods, to school bags, sometimes uniforms and accessories… You could do your entire week’s shopping without going to the supermarket and the best part is you can haggle until your heart’s content. Which brings me to…

3) Bargaining

When I first arrived in Australia, the rule was no bargaining. Now it is ask for the best price. In Malaysia, it is expected that you bargain. Traders in Malaysia’s famed home of fake goods, Petaling Street, LOVE it if you bargain. They expect you to bargain. You must bargain if you are to secure even a half decent deal. It’s like dancing the tango with them.

Competing stall holders will shout for your attention, saying, “Boo – tee – ful (they mean “beautiful”, you come here. I give you good deal. Good deal.”

As soon as you walk away, feigning disinterest, they will shout even louder. “Hey you boo -tee – ful, leng lui (meaning beautiful girl in Cantonese), come, come don’t be like that. Come, I’ll give you best price.” He’ll dig out his calculator and pretend to slice chunks off his profits, especially for you, boo – ti – ful.  To be sure, he wants your business.

 

4) Friendly people

Malaysians are so friendly, you can make new acquaintances just about anywhere. Many are willing to go out on a limb to show visitors around, often inviting them home for dinner or at the very least, point you in the right direction should you get lost. Just beware of people who tell you some sob story in order to get your money. My mother once lost RM100 to a man claiming to have lost his wallet outside the airport. He thanked her profusely and gave her a number no one has ever answered.

5) Cheap goods

With the exchange rate, most things are a third of what they are in Australia. I regularly stock up on Loreal sunscreen, Sensodyne toothpaste, toothbrushes, instant cooking paste sachets, clothes  and shoes whenever I go back to Malaysia. Electronics are roughly 30% less than what they are in Australia too, as is jewellery and branded goods. What I’d like to buy this trip back is several kebaya tops to wear with my jeans, or to shade my arms from the harsh Australian sun, sunscreen and a couple of items from Bobbi Brown, saving me a small fortune.

Interracial romance of Yasmin Ahmad’s “Sepet”.

If you’ve seen the late Yasmin Ahmad’s movie “Sepet”, bear with me. Since foreign movies take forever and a day to reach Australian shores, last night, courtesy of the intellectual property rights disrespecting of Youtube, I was finally able to catch the interracial love story in all its glory on His Royal Highness’ crook laptop.

Ever since Amanda accidentally sprayed His Royal Highness’ laptop with urine, we’ve only been able to use it for limited surfing of the internet. If ever you do receive an extremely curt message from me with no h, t, j or l, then you know which computer I am using. Anyhow, it’s still good for Youtube and we managed to enjoy “Sepet.”

If you’re a white dude or dudette reading this and wondering whether “Sepet” is the movie for you, read on. You can read a synopsis of the movie on Wikipedia but since you’re already reading this, I might as well tell you about it. It was awesome!

It’s the love story of a Malay girl and a Chinese boy set in modern-day Malaysia that captures the ethnic, social and political conflicts of the multi-racial, multi-cultural country. If you think European movies on SBS speak a different language, wait until you see this.

Reflecting how diverse Malaysian society is, dialogue is a combination of English, Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien and Peranakan patois. There are English subtitles throughout for the linguistically-challenged viewer. As a Peranakan, I adore the movie because it explains to the viewer indirectly what we are and touches on our special place in the nation’s history. As a Malaysian, I am proud to say it is from our local film-making industry because it is a production with creative integrity.

The late Yasmin Ahmad, herself married to a Chinese, did not trivialise the issues that arise from Malays perception of Chinese or Chinese perception of Malays but instead sought to give the racial tension between Malaysia’s two major races voice by acknowledging its existence through the nuances of the script. Friends of the main characters were opposed to the relationship, even though family was mostly supportive, because each held long-standing racial misconceptions of the other.

For example, Malays are viewed by Chinese to be lazy. Chinese are viewed by Malays to be shrewd and mercenary. The movie shows how both groups co-exist within a multi-cultural framework but have ample mistrust of the other. It is a love story, but it also a story about the love-hate relationship between Malays and Chinese; the private admiration and the open condescension, the historically close relationship and present-day alienation.

As for the title, “Sepet” means slitty-eyed. It refers to what Malays call Chinese eyes.

 

The staggering ignorance of the second generation.

By Estella

With second generation Asians, for whom Asia is a fabled land they go back to for holidays, I have to water down my conversations to only include topics like tuition, fees and choice of high school. Some are polite enough to bear with me as I delve into the dynamics of race relations but for the most part, all many want to discuss is this year’s Ikea catalogue.

Take for example this girl who I used to hang out with often. She was born in Australia, but her Malaysian family lived for many years in Papua New Guinea where her father owned a chain of grocery stores. All was fine and dandy until I mentioned that I am Peranakan. “What’s that?” she asked.

I explained to her. “Haven’t you heard of it before?”

Most would just say no. She had the nerve to say, “That’s not what Malaysia is about.”

Pray tell, ignorant second generation migrant, what is Malaysia about? Eating spicy street food, buying cheap knock-off Louis Vuitton at Chow Kit or having manicures down at Sungai Wang? The unofficial definition of the country might be wide enough to encompass all three, but contemplating the staggering ignorance her comment revealed, I shuddered to think how clueless of her cultural heritage and ethnic history my daughter is going to be.

To tell me, who was born and raised in Malaysia that being Peranakan – essentially bi-racial and bi-cultural, descendants of the first ever Chinese settlers in the Malay archipelago – is not what Malaysia, a multi-racial, multi-cultural country is about, is to spit on everything that her family stands for. If all my place of origin represents is foreign food cooked by my parents at home and a smattering of a tongue the locals have no appreciation for, then I might as well call myself an Aussie. At least, white Aussies are brave enough to admit they are a hodgepodge of European races they do not know.