My Observations of Malaysia

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes

Hello everyone,

While in Kuching I found the following things interesting. You might too.

  • While in Toronto I was asked to wire transfer a deposit of RM 50 / CAD $ 18.50 to the organizer of the Mesilau homestay I will be taking part in during my time in the Mt. Kinabalu area. I explained that I would be charged the same or more to do so from Canada and would it be ok to deposit it at a bank in Kuching upon my arrival? I was told “yes” and thought I’d have to go a bank teller to do so. But no, unlike at home one can go to the bank machine, without a bankcard and deposit cash or a cheque into someone’s bank account without the bank retaining any info of who you are. Interesting.
  • Most people speak English in the cities due to the mix of Malaysian, Indian and Chinese people. The further you get from a city, the less people speak it. Some of the elderly population speaks it fairly well and the current generation is learning and although shy at first, many like to practice.
  • The front page article of an English speaking newspaper in Kuching told of kindergarteners learning how to save their Malaysian Ringgit (RM). What a novel idea. Many people I know live in the now and live paycheck to paycheck and very few have savings. Might that be different if we had learned to save money from the age of 5?
  • Approximately ½ of the population are Malay. All Malay are Muslim.
  • I’m not sure if it is the same in all Muslim culture but here, regardless of gender, one needs to convert to Muslim if they are to marry a Malay.
  • There are no parking meters. Instead people buy parking scratch books and each time they park they scratch the date (day, month and year) and the time. They are then placed on the car dash. Pros? You don’t have to walk to a meter/pay station, especially in heels or in freezing cold weather. You don’t have to go back to buy more time. And who doesn’t like a scratch card? Cons? Litter. I’ve seen quite a few used booklets on the road.
  • In the paper I saw a posting for a Starbucks barista. Gross salary of up to RM1300 / CAD $433.50 per month, including allowances. I like that accommodation near the location you will be working at is included in your package. Sa-weet.
  • I was asked if I wanted to go visit a man who goes into a trance, sees things and will tell me whatever he sees. I think I might have hurt Franky’s feelings when I politely declined. Why? I knew I’d likely start laughing uncontrollably or maybe even get scared if his eyeballs rolled back. I decided to read my horoscope instead.
  • Here in Kuching you’ll walk down the street and have a car garage next to a food stall and then a Chinese medicine dispensary and then again an automotive parts store next to a fruit stand. Unlike at home where alike stores and businesses are generally kept together.
  • I passed a “Bird’s Nest and Sea Products’” store. Wonder if it’s a chain? Want something cold to drink? Why not a frosty bird’s nest flavoured pop? Yes, it does exist.
  • I often see Bata shoe stores when I travel but no longer see them in Canada. And yes, Bata is Canadian; the family is from Toronto I believe. I bought a pair of shoes for $20, comparably $70 at home.
  • The hot fashion item in Kuching? Distressed gray t-shirts and tank tops with the 7/11 convenience store logo. They actually are pretty cool and I almost looked for one and then thought where the #$@% would I wear it home? Actually truth is, who cares? I’m buying one if I see one. Eyes peeled!
  • This likely comes as very little surprise to those who have travelled in Asia but there are so many whitening and bleaching products to lighten one’s skin. A 180-degree difference from us with spray on stockings, self-tanners, tanning salons and tinted moisturizer.
  • Dentistry is lacking or is not a priority. Many, many people are missing teeth and often are visibly rotten. I find it hard sometimes not to stare when they’re talking to me. For the first time in Malaysia I met an old man from an Iban longhouse that had the betel nut black teeth thing going on that you see with the long neck tribes in Northern Thailand. Chewing it changes the colour of your teeth from the inside and acts as a natural fluoride. In women it is a sign of beauty, I guess it’s like us having healthy white teeth at home! 
  • Whenever you take a bus or boat here it is freezing, a/c to the max. I am so thankful I did my research before I came and knew that. I am currently on a bus and have a long sleeved Lululemon shirt, one of their thick sweatshirts, capris and the blanket I took from the plane. Bearable but my fingers are freezing!
  • You’re going to wish you had packed an inflatable seat cushion. My butt and lower back are in pain and I’ve been using my think Lululemon sweatshirt, it has saved me. There is a lot of boat transportation where it is really needed.
  • The hot/chili sauce here teases the tongue and if you like spicy it’s not doing the job. It is in fact sweet with a mild spiciness to it at the end of the bite. I’m definitely missing hot sauce from home and have yet to find it here.
  • Trash cans are nowhere to be seen. It’s quite sad, people throw their garbage out wherever need be. I asked my Muslim “friend” Saibah today where I could throw my can out and she said into the water. I told her that the environment is dying, we would never do that at home, I’m fanatical about recycling, yada, yada, yada. She told me she’d throw it away for me. I turned away and she pitched it the water. My heart hurt. All to say, on the bus, as we speak, there are wastebaskets. Yes!
  • Finally, Malaysians are the nicest, kindest people I have ever met. The Irish and Newfies a close second/third although they’re kind of the same people (think accent, formerly attached land masses). They are helpful, open, expressive and talk to one another, strangers or not. They are adding to the joy of this trip.

Questions: Anyone have an interesting observation from Malaysia or another country? Anyone ever try the spray on stockings? I’d love to hear from you.

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