5 Facts About Malaysia (That Have Nothing To Do With Flight 370)

Before the plane debacle the only reference point for Malaysia was Zoolander. “Kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia!” Hilariously enough, the film is banned from the country. Now that Malaysia is in the limelight I thought it appropriate to layout some stomach curdling facts about its culture, people, and food. (Influenced by a year living and working in Malaysia)

1. “Butt Soup” is the name of the game your first month in Malaysia

Ah, the smells, tastes, and aftershocks of the cuisine. Malaysia is internationally recognized for its food, for good reason. The Brits brought Chinese and Indian workers in the late 19th century, along with hodgepodge ingredients that encompass the now typical Malaysian diets. The food dubbed “Malaysian” is actually an evolutionary product of Indian/Chinese/Malay influences. Yet, there really is no “typical” Malaysian diet. One can start the day with a spicy bowl of tradition Laksa (Malay influenced), get a midday snack of char siu pork (Chinese Influenced), and end with a hearty plate of banana leaf (Indian influenced). Indian and Chinese food is typically heavy and saucy. Now combine that with the starch/curry heavy Malay cooking and you have a perfect storm brewing in your stomach, ready to burst. Vivid, I know.

2. You can spend your entire life in Malaysia not knowing one word of the National language

It’s no news that Malaysia is segregated. There are predominately Chinese neighborhoods with privately run Chinese schools (Mandarin speaking), largely Indian areas (Tamil speaking), and of course the Malay communities (Bahasa Melayu speaking). I lived in Johor, the southern most state in Malaysia. The community was Chinese, with only Mandarin speaking hawker stalls, malls, and banks. I attempted Bahasa Melayu in restaurants, but waiters looked puzzled and brought in English-speaking managers. Indeed, Malaysians can grow up in Malaysia speaking languages from across the world, except their own.

3. Choir doesn’t exist in Malaysia, but Choral-Speaking does

Choir is a musical ensemble of singers. Choral-speaking is an entirely different beast. To no avail, I searched for a succinct definition of this bizarre, robotic extracurricular activity. Some compare it to the Shakespeare Chorus, meant to introduce a scene or prologue an event. But choral-speaking, this is not.

I can only direct you to this video. It will illustrate the project I attempted to direct while in country. (Fun fact, demerits are given if singing is even slightly audible).

4. Malaysians vehemently reject confrontation

My roommate and I rented a car from a Malaysian friend-of-a-friend. The 1992 Kembara was great at first, but like a failed Viagra experiment, the Malaysian make broke down at least once a week and always within a few miles of the apartment. Even after services and repairs the once virile, Kembara continued breaking down.

Our renter, the soft-souled gentleman that he is, was in disbelief. “No, no, no. You step on the acceleration TOO hard” he exclaimed as he held back tears when we brought up the issue. Then it broke down on the freeway. In the middle of the freeway, two hours between Kuala Lumpur and the apartment. We decided enough was enough and tried to return the car. The situation escalated in a matter of hours; the renter chose to meet us at a neutral location (McDonalds off the highway) at 10 pm with his family and a Malaysian friend who served as a moderator. We clearly appeared upset, because the renter decided to play with his children at a different table. Ignoring irate foreigners is a Malaysian hallmark. The hour-long consultation continued solely with the moderator, whom we had never met. The keys were returned and we ate the 500 Ringgit deposit. Hands were shaken all around like nothing strange had occurred, and that was that. A through the looking-glass kind of experience, to say the least.

5. Malaysia’s largest export is palm oil

What is Palm Oil? TC mark

featured image – Flickr / Conny Sandland

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