June 29, 2008

#14 Part-Time Malaysians

Malaysians are fiercely patriotic and supportive citizens. These qualities are prominent in relation to Malaysians residing in foreign countries who rise to prominence in the public eye. These part-time Malaysians who achieve celebrity status will be shown the full support of a country who usually turn a blind eye to domestic troubles or pleas for help but recognise that a famous person's dilemmas are much more dire.

The Part-Time Malaysian faces a quandary unlike Full-Time Malaysians. This is because they are merely Malaysian by birth or ancestral roots but have never really associated with the country itself. To repent for their lack of national affiliation, the Part-Time Malaysian will seek to enrich the country with his artistic or commercial contributions. Malaysians will then rejoice and revel in the discovery of another home grown-overseas talent they can tell everyone about ("Did you know Jimmy Choo is Malaysian? Yeah, Malaysians are really fashionable. We're like, his inspiration for ideas.")

Malaysians are even very accepting of foreigners who want to take up Part-Time status. That is why they have the "Malaysia My Second Home Programme". Of course, this is subject to which country you derive from. Alternatively, you could date a Malaysian celebrity and earn "Datukship" (the Malaysian equivalent of a Knighthood) status. Once again, this depends on which country you come from and your nationality.

Such reverence shown to Part-Time Malaysians would raise question marks with casual observers as to the intelligence of Malaysians. But of course, Malaysians will respond that Part-Timers deserve such idolation and championing due to their efforts in putting Malaysia on the map. Just don't ask them what happens after the 15 minutes of fame are up.

June 28, 2008

#13 Bali

Though there may be certain issues that divide Malaysians, the one subject that brings them all together is Bali. All Malaysians will at one point or another in their lives, visit the Indonesian island of Bali. The geographic proximity and generous exchange rate make it an attractive destination for Malaysians, not to mention the fact that Malaysians are more highly regarded on the island as opposed to their status at Western vacation spots.

All Malaysians who have visited the island for holiday will return with the exact same experience but believe theirs to be unique, profound and "life changing". The Malaysian will then proceed to bore his friends with stories and pictures of failed surfing attempts, temple visitations, fungi induced bouts of hallucination and of course, shopping.

Malaysians love Bali for various reasons, but chief among them is the fact that they can return home to relate how all the culture and symbolism gave them an epiphany on how they should enjoy the simplicities of life and not chase material obsessions. They will also tell you that at sometime in the future they wish to retire to live in a house by the beach in Bali and run a surf shop. This newly acquired perspective normally lasts until someone else comes back from Bali with their own inspiring story. The person who went earlier will then lament that Bali is now too commercialized, bland and "full of tourists".

When encountering a situation in which you need to start a conversation with a Malaysian, mention that you have never been to Bali before and would very much like to go. They will then rattle on about their favourite Balinese food/drink ("I acquired a taste for Bintang beer while I was there, it's the only kind I drink now") or their take on Balinese culture ("The nightlife in Kuta is way more vibrant than ours. Nights out just aren't the same for me anymore") but it will be completely about them. This is to your advantage as you do not need to speak and they will like you for letting them talk about themselves as well as allowing them to feel superior to you since you have not been to Bali.

If you have been somewhere more exotic and unexplored than Bali, don't mention it as you will ruin the Malaysian's moment.

June 27, 2008

#12 American TV Shows

While Malaysians have an ongoing love affair with most things foreign, they reserve a special place in their hearts and minds for mainstream American TV programmes ("Get Lost, cos I'm busy watching it."). The U.S. TV show is often the Malaysian's first encounter with American culture and is religiously followed by viewers of any demographic.

Despite the fact that these TV shows showcase unlikely characters and excessive melodrama, the Malaysian accepts the TV show as unquestionable gospel and it shapes his/her perception of America while fueling criticism of the Malaysian equivalent. "Sigh...my doctor looks more McSleazy than McSteamy" can often be overheard at hospital waiting areas.

The U.S. TV programme is integral to a generation of Malaysians seeking to adopt an identity more desirable and exciting than their own. In attempts to incorporate elements of popular TV shows into their lives, each group of friends will have the following designated stereotypes: "the fashionable cosmogirl", "the smart and sensitive one", "the charming ladies man", "the ditzy girl with the big heart" or "the control freak with an embarrassing past". If anyone should stray from the predetermined labels they will be asked to leave the group. This is why you have the "Which Friends character are you?" application on Facebook to check yourself.

The influence of American TV on Malaysians cannot be disregarded especially when you hear schoolgirls sounding like they're from the Upper East Side or when your office secretary tells you ugly is the new pretty. American TV also sets the benchmark for most people's expectations ("My boyfriend must have all the qualities of Seth Cohen", "Hey, how come my GP doesn't walk with a cane or make snide comments?" ). If you are still skeptical of American TV's influence on Malaysian culture, just keep your ears peeled for the next time you hear "How you doin'?", "XOXO" and the most annoyingly overused term of all: "Seriously."

June 25, 2008

#11 Jumping On The Bandwagon @ Kiasuism

Although Malaysia is a vastly diverse country with considerable culture, there is a searing need to jump on the bandwagon or ape the latest trend that penetrates the local hemisphere and is deemed "cool" by self proclaimed local taste makers. In local terms, this trait is called "kiasu", a Hokkien term denoting fear of losing out.

Malaysians are not discerning when it comes to the trends they adopt and obsess over. The only requisites are that said trend/fad must come from foreign places and that it is hip in the eyes of their peers. Whether this is a new food establishment, fashion trend or even worshipping of celebrities (see previous post #10) & bloggers (future post), all Malaysians will move towards it like moths to a flame if it serves their ego and improves others' perception of them.

Some recent trends or developments favored by Malaysians: supporting newly successful foreign football teams, wearing scarves and skinny jeans (weather apparently does not deter fashionistas/victims), queueing for hours for popular donuts from otherwise ordinary establishment and promoting a certain cause or petititon which they don't really know much about (online support of releasing political prisoners makes you appear both anti-establishment and cool, depite the fact that you don't really care and would deny it completely should the federal authorities approach you).

This speaks volumes of the average Malaysian's insecurities that they are not contemporary or worldly enough. Now this is where you can take advantage of the situation for your own amusement or benefit. Put on your most convincing face and say to a Malaysian, "Y'know, the Urkel look is really hip in the States. It combines a sense of wholesomeness, nostalgia and intelligence. Everyone is digging it". Now sit back and be amused as the Malaysian rethinks his entire wardrobe.

But if you want to turn their insecurities into you own personal gain, try something like this; "Hey guys, have you checked out my blog recently? I used to be under the radar but I'm getting insane traffic these days and all these celebrity bloggers like XXX and AAA are saying how smart and witty I am. I think my blog is going to go global". You can now pat yourself on the back for a sly use of namedropping and reap the benefits. Enjoy.

*Caution: Constant manipulation of bandwagonners will cause them to develop schizophrenia or loss of identity. Proceed with care.

June 23, 2008

#10 Local Celebrities

Malaysians have a strong affinity for their local celebrities, so much so that a new one is born every minute. There are only two criteria for achieving celebrity status in Malaysia; mixed blood and/or good looks (talent is not necessary but would be a bonus). Foreigners with the faintest Malaysian roots or lineage are increasingly aware of this and thus head back to the country they always heard about from their parents at family dinners and bedtime stories.

The typical career progression for a hybrid Malaysian celebrity takes the following path:

1. Debut: star in a locally produced drama or comedy while modelling in local magazines
2. Ascension: host a series of trite and tested reality shows or music programs (borrowed foreign TV format), host short lived talk show
3.Stagnation: participate and/or headline local theater productions plus TV commercials for stuff no one wants
4. Decline: when looks fade and star wanes, head to radio stations and emcee at local events like university proms or Secretary's Day
5. Demise: where careers go to die; contributor to magazine and newspaper articles/ last resort: open tacky and pretentious, overpriced restaurant

Born and bred Malaysian celebrities seem to have more staying power compared to their hybrid counterparts. Although they too first find their fame in reality TV shows and TV soap operas, they have an added element to their celebritydom: scandals.

The truly Malaysian celebrity only achieves full fledged star status when he or she makes the front page and headlines of local press publications with a scandal. What kind scandal will elevate them to superstar status? Sex of course.

Many a Malaysian celebrity has been embroiled in some sordid affair which gets drawn out in the media and remains the hot topic on the average Malaysian's list. Unfortunately this reflects on the Malaysian's need to live vicariously through others' lives and has undertones of sexual repression.

Recently however, Malaysians have looked elsewhere to crown new celebrities. Where, you ask? Right here, cyberspace! What else do you think this blog (and thousands of others) are for?

June 21, 2008

#9 Taking Pictures

A true Malaysian never misses out on the opportunity to participate in some flash photography. No matter the occasion or location, the Malaysian is always well equipped to snap a picture for posterity (flashing the peace sign is mandatory, not optional).

Malaysians will and must record digital memories in spite of ruining the vibe or not being able to fully enjoy an experience because they have to pose for that Kodak moment. Watching the sunset? Hang on, let me whip out my SLR. Going snorkeling? Not without a waterproof camera you don't.

The inexorable need to take pictures can be explained by the practical nature of the Malaysian ("Now we can show our relatives where we spent the holidays") as well as the desire to share experiences ("I sooo have to post this on my blog!"). If one were to dig further into the recesses of the Malaysian's mind, it would infer that this obsessive urge to photograph rests on the need for self-preservation lest they be struck from peoples' minds due to their forgetability.

If you want to strike up a friendship with the Malaysian, ask them if they would take a picture with you. Or better yet, if you could take one of them. Say cheese!

*Further material on taking pictures here.

#8 Complaining

Malaysians are renowned for their prowess at complaining. One would think complaining orally would be enough but no, Malaysians are more creative with their verbal vitriol. Newspaper articles, radio programs and entire blogs have been set up to facilitate the Malaysian's need to vent.

A peculiar aspect of their complaints is that it is always redundant in nature. "Why is it always so hot?" is one of the more ubiquitous ones despite the permanent hot and humid weather the country experiences all year round. Another example would be "@%$# what's with this traffic today!!" when they go through the same congestion every day. More recently, the increase in fuel prices has prompted Malaysians to complain in unison which they subconsciously hope will reverse the effect of dwindling supply and defy the laws of economics.

When confronted with a situation in which a Malaysian is complaining, never point out that their point is moot. Instead, say "Whoa, I never thought of it that way. You really made an insightful observation." This statement functions in two ways; it assures the Malaysian that they are intelligent and passionate about current affairs. It also allows them to feel that their rants are an enlightening social commentary which has enriched you and is not just verbal diarrhea. Once you have sufficiently inflated the ego of the Malaysian, it is acceptable for you to take advantage by asking them to do your taxes and/or edit your thesis.

June 20, 2008

#7 Mainstream Music

Essential to the Malaysian identity is his/her appreciation of mainstream or popular foreign music. What we will identify as the "standard" level Malaysian covets acts such as Kanye West, Justin Timberlake, Coldplay, Maroon 5 and Rihanna. These acts make up the musical landscape of the average music aficionado. The standard level Malaysian attends most foreign artist concerts in Malaysia and purchases or downloads the latest pop releases so he/she can tell their friends all about it ("OMG, OMG you guys SO have to hear Lil Wayne's dope new album!"). Mainstream radio stations have been known to repeat songs on rotation due to the insatiable Malaysian palate for mainstream pop. Foreign music acts now view Malaysia as a pliable market for concerts and merchandising.

If you wish to start a conversation with the standard level Malaysian, just mention how you thought Coldplay's latest album (Coldplay does not appeal only to White People) really resonates with what you're going through right now. This will immediately remind the Malaysian of his or her own situation and how they have their own soundtrack to their lives playing on their iPod while they stare wistfully out the window of their car during a traffic jam, imagining that they are acting out a scene from a movie about their lives.

Mainstream music can also be used to identify and manipulate another type of Malaysian, what we will call the "advanced" level Malaysian (urban teens and yuppies generally). The advanced level Malaysian rejects popular music ("I don't listen to mass manufactured music") and only listens to obscure or independent foreign acts ("I'm really into this French neo-classical outfit now, you wouldn't have heard of it") which have yet to permeate the local music stratosphere. This ties in with their need to feel "unique" and allows them to be "a true individual". Mentioning your adoration of any mainstream music act will cause them to respect you less.

Acceptable acts you can mention to gain "street cred" are Ingrid Michaelson, Sigur Ros, Patrick Park, Sufjan Stevens, etc. Death Cab used to be the default indie band you could reference to show your astute music knowledge but now are considered mainstream (hence not cool). Alternatively, you could pick an unknown band from MySpace which no one likes or has heard of yet, this earns you maximum points with the advanced level Malaysian. Take note that if you harbor mainstream music guilty pleasures, you must suppress all urge to reference them in public. Statements such as "I heart James Blunt!" or "I rock apple bottoms like Fergie, fo shizzle" will destroy all your hard work.

If you have no musical knowledge whatsoever but have entered a conversation with a Malaysian regarding such a topic, just say you have a soft spot for Michael Learns To Rock. No Malaysian can resist this Danish soft rock band, all Malaysians at one point in their lives have owned at least one MLTR album and sang their songs at karaoke night. Some still do.

June 19, 2008

#6 Shopping

For some cultures and people, shopping is seen as merely a utilitarian or functional activity to acquire goods, products or services.

Malaysians however, take shopping far, far more seriously. The average Malaysian spends half his time at the mall, effectively making it his or her second home. The copious amount of time spent here does not necessarily correlate with purchases made; the mere notion of shopping is enough to thrill and occupy the Malaysian for hours on end. Malls are therefore built large enough for people to spend the whole day wandering around aimlessly.

The Malaysian does not purchase items without intense scrutiny of quality and price and is a very shrewd consumer. The pinnacle of the Malaysian shopper's experience is the year end Malaysia Mega Sale where the phrase "The whole of Malaysia is on sale!" can be taken literally. This shopping frenzy caused by the sales attracts not only millions of Malaysians, but also foreigners from various countries eager to take advantage of the low prices, variety and exchange rate. This overlooked tourist attraction in fact contributes tremendously to the Malaysian economy as foreigners purchase enough goods for stores to survive until the next sale comes along.

A typical sales event sparks frenzied scenes of people shouting, jostling and rushing to gain leverage over other shoppers. An inexperienced shopper or someone unaccustomed to sales events should never enter such a situation unarmed and unprotected. Rabid shoppers will not hesitate to trample, maul or maim you should you get in their way.

Seasoned, experienced shoppers have mastered the art of shopping over time and are well informed about events even before any form of advertising appears. Expert Malaysian shoppers are wont to compare bargains they acquired and scoff at people who pay more than they did for similar items. The true Malaysian shopper lives by this golden rule; never purchase anything if it isn't on sale.

June 18, 2008

#5 Food

Malaysia'a most sacred and precious commodity is it's culinary heritage. In Malaysia; identifying the best food, cooking of food and reviewing it is considered an enlightened art form only undertaken by the most revered gastronomic connoisseurs.

Unfortunately, credibility in Malaysia is very much suspect due to the vast majority of the Malaysian public considering themselves to be leading experts on the authority of food. The smorgasbord of TV shows, media articles, blogs and the like only serve to confound the average person who merely wishes to sift through the product placements and commercialisation to determine where his tastebuds will be tantalised most.

Unbeknownst to other countries, Malaysia's two strongest forms of tourist attractions are food and shopping (a subject to be explored in future). Malaysian food is therefore one of its most noticeable exports to Western countries where ambitious chefs proceed to mangle and butcher recipes to suit the local palate thereby rendering the term "Malaysian food" redundant.

Malaysians are fiercely protective and proud of recipes which are their heritage. Attempts by their neighbours, Singapore, to claim any such delicacies as their own is often met with responses ranging from derision to outrage. One should never say to a Malaysian that the best version of a Malaysian dish you had was not eaten in Malaysia itself. Such statements are sacreligious and will result in very violent outcomes.

#4 Caucasians

In Malaysia, Caucasians hold a mythic, almost divine status among the locals. The exact reason for such idolatry could be attributed to the country's former status as a British colony, the charms of western influence or it could just be the favourable exchange rate.

Whatever it is, Caucasians know for a fact that they could be white trash or social pariahs wherever they are from but once reaching Malaysian shores, they are treated like royalty. Most Malaysians are dumbstruck when encountering a "kwailo" or "mat salleh" (colloquial terms for white man) and will go out of their way to accommodate them. The white man's origins, occupation or even appearance are not a matter of concern to the average Malaysian. To them, if you're all white you're all right.

For these reasons, Caucasians the world over flock to Malaysia (ASEAN neighbours Thailand, Singapore, etc. share the same fondness for white people) on vacation or to retire to take advantage of this white fever. Caucasians can be seen in places such as Heritage Row, Bangsar, Langkawi Island, Ampang, Hartamas and other affluent areas in Malaysia.

It is very common to see a white man dating a Malaysian female. Curiously enough, all standards and demands which a Malaysian female normally applies to the Malaysian male do not apply to white men. He is not expected to treat her like a living goddess or pay for everything when they are together. When dating a white man, the Malaysian female becomes more independent, emotionally and financially.

However the same cannot be said of the white female and Malaysian male. Such a union is unheard of and there would be catastrophic repercussions on a genealogy level if this should ever occur. The only recorded incident in modern history of an asian male-white female pairing would be Bruce Lee (not Malaysian though) and his wife Linda.

The effect white people have on Malaysians is uncanny; smiles form on reticent faces, unnatural accents develop and manners improve dramatically. This contrasts sharply with treatment of fellow Malaysians which is lukewarm at best.

Some Malaysians wish nothing but to emulate their Caucasian counterparts and even go so far as to lead pseudo-white lives, eschewing everything Malaysian despite their inherent background and culture. These Malaysians are primarily found in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia's capital).

June 15, 2008

#3 Manglish

Perhaps the most distinct and unique Malaysianism is the use of Manglish.

Manglish is a quaint colloquial style developed by Malaysia's melting pot of races (Chinese+Malay+Indian) since the country's colonialism by the British way back in the `50s.

Malaysians will have you know that Manglish is a certifiable, legitimate language of its own. Foreigners who attempt to speak Manglish are normally greeted with facetious praise.

Some common uses of Manglish:

"I'm on the way lah, on the way, on the way!"- lah is ubiquitously used and repetition is mandatory in Manglish.

"You got umbrella-ella-ella or not?"- use of got and or not is complementary and mostly to question.

"I can teach you how my milkshake is better than yours but I have to charge lor"- use of lor is mostly redundant in a grammatical sense but vital to Manglish execution.

To further illustrate use of Manglish, take this conversation for an example:

Mohammad Ali : Simon, you say want to lend me your car next week, sure or not?
Simon Khow : Your head lah, I was drunk then. Don't remember liao. Don't have, don't have.
Belen Singh : Yeah lah, Simon. I also heard you promise him. Where can like that one?
Simon Khow : What? Cannot ah? Want fight is it?
Mohammad Ali : Confucius say Chinaman with beer in hand acquires short term memory loss.

For tourists or foreigners unaccustomed to such difficult manner of speech, you must never disapprove of Manglish yet you should not attempt to imitate it. It is best that you either gaze pensively or laugh appreciatively to gain your Malaysian friend's approval and trust.

June 14, 2008

#2 Conspiracy Theories

It is a well known fact (within Malaysia) that Malaysians are generally astute about politics and government policies. Little things such as truth or logic do not hamper their explanations.

Everyone, from a coffeeshop patroning geriatric to a precocious primary schooler can spew conspiracy theories which will astound the uninitiated and they will be offended if you challenge their statements.

It is therefore most fortuitous that Malaysia is well known for mysterious incidents that cause a hullabaloo for a short amount of time then appear to be swept under the carpet soon after. It is then the conspiracy theorists move into high gear, proclaiming stories of government intervention, media whitewashing and political manoeuvring.

Malaysians are such big fans of conspiracy theories that a website (malaysia-today.net) dedicated to such material was instrumental in almost toppling the ruling government in the 2008 elections. A few months later the blog's editor was sent to prison for charges of sedition.

#1 Studying Abroad

Despite the quality of education and cultural diversity that exists in Malaysia, many families send their spawn abroad to pursue a further education. It is common to hear of so and so's neighbour going to the UK or your former classmate hopping off to Australia to enrol at a mediocre university in a costly (higher exchange rate equals more bragging rights for parents) course.

It is then required of said graduate to return home after completion of their studies whereupon they will do two things:

1. Complain (a Malaysianism to be explored at length in future)

The returning Malaysian student will state the disparity between his adopted country of four years with his country of origin. "The people in Quebec are so much more friendly!" or "Our government does nothing for the environment unlike Kevin Rudd's administration." or even "Coffee is just not the same here, sigh.". Such statements allow the subject to appear cultured and critical, in comparison to their humble locally educated counterparts. When encountering such discourse, you should nod in agreement and ask them their views on the current political climate of their adopted country at which they will respond with a blank stare.

2. Develop a peculiar indistinct accent

The typical Malaysian upon returning will suddenly acquire an accent that would baffle the most discerning anthropologist. This is to lend the subject an air of foreign sophistication and remind his/her cohorts of the (short) time they spent abroad.

Most of the time, this fabricated accent will fade transitionally with rare occasions on which it will resurface (meeting people from foreign or western countries, showing off to new acquaintances). If you desire to win this person's favor, you should commend them on their unique accent and ask them about the merits of attending an obscure university.

Note: number of years abroad correlates with number of years "authentic" accent will be retained.

If you wish to annoy a foreign graduate, just ask them why they did not attempt to secure a job and stay in said country. But if you want to gain the trust of the Malaysian, tell them they made a wise decision to return home and they will proceed to explain to you their reasons for doing so, allowing them to justify their inadequacies. This allows them to feel good about themselves and gets you in their good books.

Mission Statement

This blog aims to encapture the unique characteristics and traits of the diverse people of Malaysia by listing some of their activities, penchants, likes, dislikes, idiosyncrasies and so forth.