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A Lighthearted Intro to Malaysia

Original by Kassim S.A.

Is this your first trip to Malaysia? Are you a tourist, a businessman or a Mat Salleh expatriate waylaid from the safe haven of Bangsar? If you are, here're some lessons to help you along.

Lesson 1

You have just landed in KL International Airport and the first thing you want to do is to call your Malaysian friend. If you're calling him at home or at the office, the first thing to say on the phone is "Eh, what you doing?" If you're calling him on the hand-phone (cellular phone) the standard greeting is "Eh, where are you?"

Lesson 2

Your Malaysian friend has graciously offered to pick you from the airport. He said "Give me half an hour?", be prepared to wait at least one and a half-hours. This is probably your first (of many) encounter with Malaysian Timing. There's no need to adjust your watch. Whatever time a Malaysian tells you, just add (minimum) one hour, and you won't go wrong.

Lesson 3

You have no friends in Malaysia (yet) and you decide to take a cab from the airport. Don't get too excited if somebody sells you a coupon for a limousine ride. The limo is either a re-conditioned Japanese sedan or a stretched Proton. When I say stretched, I mean lengthwise only.

Lesson 4

If your friendly limo or taxi driver, says "Sir, you want to try some Thai chicken?", he's definitely not suggesting a good place for Thai food. If you encounter the word "chicken" in a taxi, hotel lobby or street corner it usually means a lady who charges you a fee in exchange for pleasure.

Lesson 5

If you're a newbie expat, your colleagues will definitely introduce you to the mini Beverly Hills of Kuala Lumpur, Bangsar. Believe me, there are other more interesting places to shop, eat and drink (coffee for RM 15). And by the way, get the pronunciation right! It's "Bar-ngsar" not "Bang-sar" as in "Bangkok".

Lesson 6

Since you're heading for Bangsar anyway, you ought to know that Bangsar was previously Indian territory before the white men's invasion.

Lesson 7

Why do Malaysians call all Caucasians "Mat Sallehs"? About a hundred years ago, drunkard sailors from the West were a common sight in the Port Klang area. The locals used to call them "Mad Sailors". Somehow, it got corrupted into the Malay name "Mat Salleh". The Chinese will still call you "Gwai-Loh" or "Devil". To the more polite Hokkiens you're a "Ang Moh" or "Red Hair".

Lesson 8

If your Chinese friends invite you to join them for a Chinese meal like "Hokkien Mee" or "Bak Kut Teh", eat as much as you can. You'll never gonna get it anywhere else. Not even in China, Taiwan or Hong Kong. There's another Malaysian invention, the "Yee Sang" or raw fish salad (served during the Chinese New Year).

Lesson 9

When you're in a restaurant, always "pop" the disposable tissue packet as loud as you can. Don't worry, nobody will get annoyed. Usually, at the end of a ten course dinner, there'll be one "Big Bang" as everybody "pop" theirs. In order to express your appreciation to your generous host, remember to throw in a loud belch as well. Although it may be normal in your own country, don't ask the waiter for a separate bill (check). Either you pay for everything or just keep your mouth (and wallet) shut. If you feel bad about it, offer to pay the next time. Anyway, don't worry too much about it as most locals know that most Mat Sallehs are "stingy buggers"?

Lesson 10

Don't like to be a stingy Mat? Take your friends to a Mamak "fish-head curry" restaurant. Order the prawns and the crabs as well. Be totally reckless, don't ask about the prices and don't check your bill as well. I guarantee you'll find a big hole in your pocket. Whether you're in a five-star hotel or at a roadside stall, always ask for the "bill". Nobody will understand when you say "check" or "tab". Need a paper napkin or serviette? Just say "tishoo".

Lesson 11

Every Wednesday or Thursday night is Ladies' Night at the "fun pubs" and discos. That's the night when most club operators get rid of all their stale and unwanted alcohol. They mix it into some strange cocktails and give it away free to the ladies. Ladies' Night is actually Men's Night! That's the time when all the predatory "buayas" (crocodiles) go out in full force. Stick to normal nights, you'll find less competition. If you're a lady, stay away from the "buayas" and the free drinks (unless it's pouring brands).

Lesson 12

Stop hassling the street vendor who sold you a 3 VCD set of "The Titanic" that didn't exactly meet the ISO 9000 specifications. C'mon, what can you buy for US $3 back home? Besides, you should listen to your own government and not buy pirated stuff. But from what I see at Imbi Plaza, pewter and batik are no longer the favorite souvenirs. By the way, when you're at Imbi Plaza, don't forget to check out another distinguished landmark of Malaysia; the world's first and only permanently static escalator.