Thursday, March 16, 2006

Salam from Malaysia, March 2006

Made it safely to Kuala Lumpur and just taking it easy so far. Malaysia's favourite pastime is food consumption, so as you can imagine I'm acclimatising quite well.
I'm really surprised that Malaysia doesn't have an obesity epidemic to rival Australia or the USA, although I did hear that the national average cholesterol level is possibly the highest in the world. Unsurprising really. One would be forgiven for thinking there's nothing much else to do here other than:
(a) eat,
(b) drink something that invariably contains condensed milk, and
(c) talk in between mouthfuls
so Malaysians dutifully dine out as if they are on a mission from God. At any given hour of the day, there is always food available and being consumed. You don't see many full restaurants in Melbourne at 12:30am on a Monday night, but in KL its not uncommon.

Food is not usually of the low-cal variety either - or is just what I'm ordering? (Quite possibly.) My first day here began at 7am with fried noodles, followed by toasted sweet bun smothered with butter and serikaya (jam made from coconut and egg yolks), washed down with tea with condensed milk. At midnight not long after I touched down, my supper was an unusual and original example of East-West fusion - naan bread topped with half a tub of butter, grated carrots, sliced tomato, half a jar of mayonnaise, and sliced cheese. With dal and coconut chutney on the side. It was weird and kinda wrong but tasted oh so good, albeit with enough calories to kill a bull elephant at 10 paces. I gained 4 kilos just looking at it. Expect me to do some serious gym work and spinning classes upon my return to Melbourne.

The other weird thing I consumed was a drink strangely called "Michael Jackson", which consisted of seaweed jelly (black) floating in soybean milk (white). It turned out to be just okay, but it was such an odd combination that I just had to try; although I normally shy away from ordering drinks named after child-molesting entertainers ("anyone for a round of Gary Glitters?")

Interesting cultural fact: Working with teenagers as I do in Melbourne, young guys often tell me that you gotta be careful about messing with someone of certain ethnic groups, as he's liable to ring up his cousins to come and inflict a beat-down upon you. In Australia, they say its the Turks, Lebs and Pacific Islanders who have the biggest supply of belligerent cousins on speed-dial. In Malaysia, it's the Punjabis who have this reputation. So be warned; be careful who you start fights with, because you don't want an army of turban-clad dudes named Balbir and Jaswant Singh chasing you.

Communication is a funny thing in Malaysia. One of my friends has a theory that compared to many other countries, Malaysians are less friendly when it comes to striking up conversations with strangers, simply because of the uncertainty in what the other person's first language is. Heaps of people speak English, but enough don't to put some doubts in my mind over what language to use. Malays all speak Malay obviously, and the Chinese and Indians here all speak a little. Educated Chinese and Indians almost always speak English; the less well-off might not. But do I start speaking my shoddy Malay to someone who may possibly be fluent in English? Malay and Indonesian are virtually the same language (Bahasa Indonesia is basically a variant of Malay), but they are just different enough to cause confusion. Particularly as my Indonesian (sub-standard to begin with) is riddled with Jakarta-slang. So a simple, common phrase in Indonesian (eg. "when can you do this?") could be completely incomprehensible to a Malay speaker. It would be like me going to an old-people's home in Australia and speaking in American ghetto slang; it's still kinda the same language, but I'd get a lot of funny looks.

Everyone knows I love my mother's country, but still I've been inspired to give some

1. TRAFFIC LIGHTS: Indonesia has these too of course, but in Malaysia people actually stop at them. It's notable also that the concept of the seat-belt has appeared in Indonesia only 2 years ago.

2. BIRDS: No, I don't mean women (although they are nothing to complain about). Kuala Lumpur has pockets of green all over the place where you can actually see and hear birds. Even monkeys apparently. This may not seem like anything special, but if you go to Indonesia you will very rarely see live birds except in cages. In a crowded and poor nation of over 200 million, the fate of wild birds was sealed the moment Indonesians realised they tasted good.

3. TOILET PAPER: All that food has to go somewhere, of course, but in Indonesia this can raise problems for fragile Westerners like myself. Indonesians seem to take the admirably conservationist approach of "Why waste paper when Allah has given you a perfectly functional left hand?"
Now I'm sorry, but I just don't play that. Chop down all the trees you like, as long as my left hand remains untainted. Malaysians however, have been using toilet paper for decades, so you can walk into any toilet here confident in the knowledge that you will be sufficiently supplied. To do that in Indonesia requires severe optimism.

4. WARM SHOWERS: A foreign concept to the average Indonesian, yet standard in urban Malaysia. Even in the stinking hot weather, the whole Indonesian bucket-of-cold-water concept is a shock to my delicate system.

5. SAFER TAXIS: Its all relative of course, and I'm just going by hearsay. But in Indo, my relatives feel it their duty to warn me constantly that getting into a cab in Jakarta is akin to playing Russian Roulette. In KL, the worst thing a taxi driver will do is try and rip you off by hiking up your fare. So I guess I'd rather a cab driver rob me using sly words than dump me in an alley for all his homies to rob and brutalise me.

6. FOOD: Did I mention food? Good food is ever-present in Kuala Lumpur. Its not that there are more eating-places than in Melbourne. It's just that in Melbourne, walk into a place that sells food and 9 times out of 10 you'll have little to choose from beyond meat pies, sandwiches, pasta and vanilla slices. In KL, replace that with char kway tiao, masala thosai, char siu, fish head curry, kerabu (possibly the best salad in the world ever) and chendol. Its fabulous, and enough to make me consider bulimia as a valid way to experience several more meals a day. If you are going to live here however, just make sure you have a good heart surgeon.

Anyway, I'm gonna go eat some more. One Luv


    2009/01/31 19:58 [未分类 ]



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