Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Thoughts from my latest Malaysia trip

I'm back from Malaysia now, late. The plane was delayed at LCCT - they had to remove baggage of people who didnt turn up to the flight. I was wondering, "who the f*ck does that?" but then I remembered that I did it once - i forgot to change my watch during a 3-hour stopover in HK once and missed my flight. So I'm not one to judge.
I return feeling and apparently looking substantially chubbier. My mum even commented on it, and that was in poor lighting, so clearly it's obvious. Then again, Mum is one of those Asian people who think telling people they are fat is a compliment (it means you are prosperous). So I don't know what to make of it.

Gonna have to hit the gym like a mofo this week, which will make a change from hitting the roti chanai like I've done over the last couple of weeks. Seriously, I don't think a day went by without me eating at least one. And usually it was more like 4. For breakfast. Which doesn't sound too bad unless you remember how much oil goes into those crispy flaky little bundles of joy.

I found a kindred spirit to share my gluttony in my friend Sangeeta. She's from Singapore and obsessed with teh tarik, Malaysia's national drink (it's basically tea with condensed milk). You can get it everywhere in Singapore, but apparently it sucks in comparison. Sangee was in Malaysia less than three days and consumed around 10 teh tariks in that time. 4 of those were in one night, each from a different venue; it was the Malaysian equivalent of a pub crawl.

On the topic of food, one thing keeps happening to me again which is weird and slightly frustrating, but sort of funny nonetheless. My Malay language skills are far from perfect, but I know enough to say the basics and my accent is not too bad. I was in a mamak for lunch, and asked the Tamil guy waiting tables for another rot chanai. "Roti chanai, satu lagi" or something like that. He looks at me like I just spoke Swahili to him. I repeat, and get the same look. He calls over the Malay woman who works there; she approaches to ask what I want. "Roti chanai, satu lagi" says I. She then turns back to the Tamil guy and says: ""Roti chanai, satu lagi". And then he nods, and goes and gets my roti chanai.

Was my accent that bad, really? It's possible. I do roll my "r"s out of habit, which is an Indonesian thing which Malays don't do. But it doesn't make much difference. I think it's just that some Malaysian people can't quite compute the phenomenon of a foreigner speaking Malay to them.


My friend Ang has an interesting party trick. He can mould chewing gum into the shape of a penis, using only his mouth. No hands. After boasting of this trick while we sat at a cafe in KLCC, he proceeded to chew up several tabs of green tea flavoured gum, and after about 10 minutes, spat out this masterpiece:

No doubt Ang's girlfriend is proud to have a man with such an agile tongue. Though I'm not sure what she thinks of a guy who decided that this was a good skill to hone in the first place. Or if she is worried about how the inside his mouth is so attuned to tracing the outline of a penis. In any case, we all thought it was a good thing to try and do, so nearby diners at the cafe would have noticed the odd sight of five people just sitting and looking at each other while chewing.

For the record, it's pretty hard (nudge nudge). Mine looked like a penis that had been flattened with a mallet and then ravaged by a starving canine, and the balls ripped off. In other words, it didn't look anything like a penis at all. Score one to you, Ang.


KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) Park is an extremely well-maintained garden of ponds, palms and banyan trees, beneath the twin towers of the Petronas building that dominate the KL skyline. Walking through this park on New Years Day, when lots of people are out and about strolling and relaxing, I discovered a new game with which to amuse myself.

I happened to be walking several steps behind my partner and her friend, far enough behind that onlookers might not automatically assume we were part of the same group. Now, Aveena and Jen are fairly attractive young women, and from my vantage point I noticed the way passing guys looked at them. Were I walking alongside them, my presence would have made their glances more subtle perhaps. But from a few steps back, I was able to watch the way men check out women in all its blatant glory. The men in the park were mostly Malay and South Asian that day; the Malay men looked a bit, but the groups of South Asian men (Indian, Nepali, Bangladeshi) stare and turn their heads as if they've never seen a woman before. It's damn funny. Of course, it's probably not so funny to a woman being constantly stared at intrusively by such men.

KLCC Park is also subject to some odd policing guidelines - apparently it is illegal to hold hands in the gardens, let alone do anything more than that. As we walked through the gardens, we heard a policeman blow his whistle and wag a finger reproachfully at a couple, who were sitting a little too close on a bench, with the man leaning back into his girlfriend. My Malay friend Lydia tells me that the police are really only zealous about enforcing this with Malays, since as Muslims their government expects them to uphold stricter codes of moral behaviour. Yet there was a well-known case of a Chinese couple arrested and detained for "behaving improperly" in the park back in 2004.

Malaysian police are good at catching young lovers in the act. Since it is a country where people typically live with their conservative parents until they are married, opportunities to canoodle are limited and frequently take place in parked cars and hotel rooms. Thus the police love to catch couples in secluded spots steaming up their car windows and threaten to arrest them, even though the primary objective seems to be the procurement of a bribe to look the other way. Add to this another arm of official enforcement, the Moral Police, who excel at turning up at the door of your hotel room and arresting unwed couples for fornication.

In a country with some serious crime problems in which people rarely feel safe to walk the streets at night alone, I wonder what could be accomplished if the Malaysian police actually devoted their time to fighting real crime.

1 comment:

  1. With the non-understanding of your Malay, chances are that said waiter was from India/Bangladesh, so his Malay wasnt all that good.
    There are a lot of migrant workers in M'sia.
    Most of the blue collar jobs are done by them.