February 24, 2009

#57 Extra Tuition

Malaysians are an enlightened lot. Such is the continuous need for edification that any Malaysian is readily available to absorb knowledge from the grapevine or the Internet as well as dispense expert advice to anyone willing to listen. The source of their information may not be completely legitimate but no one pores over tiny details like credence.

It is also a necessity to enrol Malaysian children in private or public tuition from ages as young as 7. You might think this is typical of demanding and pedantic, over-achieving parents but really, it's quite the norm for any Malaysian parent. Because Malaysians can't stand the fact that their kids aren't developing at the same rate as everyone else who's learning the same syllabus from the same materials taught by teachers from school at their after work jobs.

Public tuition centers cater to groups of students who attend classes in the evenings, absorbing expert insight and surveying their fellow classmates (this is a plus point of tuition centers if you're from an all boy/girl school). Public tuition centers boast experienced tutors who have lists of accolades and achievements unfamiliar to most but always profess to have tips on topics in the major exams. These claims are sometimes proven true due to the high probability of topics being repeated by exam preparators drawing inspiration from ancient and predictable syllabus material.

Parents who can afford to, spring for private tuition. Private tutors can leave a lasting image on their students. Some deliver results. Some deliver mediocrity. Some deliver beatings. Private tutors often do not come from educational backgrounds. They're normally comprised of overeducated but underpaid individuals looking to gain an extra buck and to impose their sanctimony on unsuspecting children. Occasionally these tutors will relate stories of their school days and missed opportunities which led them to where they currently are. This is a recommended form of punishment for students to be used by tutors who don't condone violence but wish to inflict narcolepsy through nostalgia trips.

The period in which major examination results are released is always an exciting time for everyone involved. This is when everyone gets to see the fruits of their labor. Tuition centers will be quick to publicise successful individuals in promotional materials or think of new ways to recruit students. Private tutors will either become elusive or increase their teaching rates. In the long run, it's all worth it because these extra classes, intensive tuition, mental torture and grade inflation all result in more and more educated individuals who eventually contribute to the country's brain drain or statistics of the national unemployment rate.

February 15, 2009

#56 Maggi Mee

Malaysia has been said (and self-proclaimed) to be a gourmet paradise by many a tourist, culinary expert and gourmand. It is therefore ironic that one particular dish stands out as a Malaysian trademark due to its ubiquity and omnipresence: Maggi Mee.

Maggi noodles
are a brand of instant noodles manufactured by the brand Nestle. However, given the pervasiveness of the Maggi brand, all kinds of instant noodles are known colloquially and collectively as Maggi Mee.

Much like Badminton is the unofficial national sport of Malaysia, it can be said that Maggi Mee is a national dish and anyone who is Malaysian has consumed Maggi Mee at least once in their lifetime. No single social stratum in Malaysia can be indifferent to the temptation of Maggi Mee. Given its instantaneous nature and convenience, Malaysians have come to accept Maggi Mee as a staple form of nourishment on account of its high Monosodium glutamate levels.

Given the creative nature of Malaysian food proprietors in Malaysia, Maggi Mee has evolved and now comes in several culinary forms. Among the most popular would be the Maggi Goreng; fried Maggi noodles which adorn the table of mamak stalls across the country. Some people apply their own form of inventiveness and preference by half-cooking their Maggi within half the recommended time. These experiments are brought on by acquired tastes and peculiar idiosyncrasies, to be sure. Such is the affinity Malaysian people have for Maggi Mee that they would pay money to enjoy this dish at eateries despite the ease of which they could prepare one at home themselves.

Maggi Mee is one of the few items that remain impervious and ever-present throughout economic uncertainty and cultural confluence. And if you ever run out of ideas for gifts for your Malaysian friends overseas, present them with a box of Maggi (must be made in Malaysia). They will be overjoyed and reminisce about their struggling days as a a student, surviving on a pack of Maggi a day and their attempts to beat the luggage weight limit at the airport because of the Maggi supply they attempted to lug back overseas.

If the Malaysian person you purvey the box of Maggi with is still indeed a student, you will be seen as a Messiah. This is because Maggi Mee takes on considerably more value (sale, barter trade with fellow students) on foreign soil. This act of grace can then be used to leverage favours for future benefit, such as asking them to transport items back to Malaysia for you during their semester break.

February 3, 2009

#55 Open House

One of the more charming Malaysian concepts is the "Open House" which is held during the various cultural or religious festivals held throughout the year. Basically it entails the host welcoming friends, family and freeloaders to visit and dine at their humble abode as a gesture of goodwill and to get into people's good graces.

Typically, Open Houses in Malaysia can be divided into two categories. One; is the layman's open house where the usual assortment of Malaysians attend and proceed to make small talk about the lack of traffic and the catered food. If the food is prepared personally by the host, this gives you another topic of conversation. It'll be the same stuff you encounter in other open houses but make sure you add some chutzpah to the compliments to really sell it. Alcohol, if served, will help facilitate the bland conversation and inspire a performance or two.

The second type of open house is of greater magnitude and draws a smorgasbord of visitors armed with tupperware eager to assist in adding to the merriment of the proceedings. These open houses are the ones held by public figures, specifically those in public service. Politicians far and wide hold these open houses to meet and greet the community which they so nobly serve and graciously remind them of such. The community, ever eager to repay the favour, will respond in kind by getting the most out the visit. Political ideologies or party allegiances are secondary when it comes to kiasuism, to be sure.

Whatever the case may be, it's always interesting to witness Malaysians in their natural element when you combine the elements of free food, scarcity and queueing. It's no wonder then that the open house is a unique and longstanding Malaysian tradition, it brings out the best in them.