Sunday, 20 February 2011

Malaysia, truly paradoxical

ON THE BEAT WITH WONG CHUN WAI



Foreigners are bemused by some of our peculiarities.

An expatriate friend of mine is slowly settling down to life in Kuala Lumpur. We will just call this American, Paul.

It is his first trip to Asia and he has found it easy adjusting himself. English is widely spoken here, which means he has no problem moving around.

The easy availability of news allows Paul to closely follow events and life in Malaysia but the country remains a paradox to him.

I assure him that he is not the only one who feels that way. Even Malaysians born and bred here are still trying to figure out the many contradictions of life in Malaysia.

Well, Paul has been pretty observant and has asked me about some of our peculiarities.

Below are his observations after a month:

Malaysians are supposed to be lazy when it comes to reading. They read an average of one page a year. Okay, the latest statistics say one-and-a-half pages.

But Paul is amazed at how we have become so emotionally interlocked over a book first published over 40 years ago. We may not have produced any literary giants, except our home-grown laureates, but he is impressed by how passionate we are when it comes to literature.

Like elsewhere, money doesn’t grow on trees here but access to it is pasted on every available place on the streets.
With thousands and thousands of notices plastered all over the city – offering competitive rates with just one mobile phone number to call – Paul thinks getting loans in Malaysia is rather easy.

He’s impressed that the country is both flushed with funds and how easy it is for people to borrow cash as there’s no red tape. Even those blacklisted can borrow. It’s a great country, he says.

Malaysians are health freaks. They are so health conscious that spas and services for massages, starting from foot massages upwards, have been sprouting all over towns and cities.

Notices promoting “Honey Massage” and “Rocket Massage” are even sprayed on walls. And of course, the Malaysian service providers are super efficient, making the massages available with just a phone call.

Malaysians love debates. Every other day, someone seems to be throwing a challenge to debate with another. He feels that these guys must have great oratory skills. He thinks that this is yet another indicator of a truly democratic country.

Paul finds it hard to fathom that Malaysia has a problem with corruption. Something is not quite right as Malaysians are also so religious. His question: If everyone gets all worked up whenever religious matters are questioned, how can the country be grappling with corruption? Many seem so puritanical too.

Paul also observes that Malaysians are environmentally conscious and take great pains in loving their trees. There may not be tree huggers like in the West but he thinks we protect our environment using the full brunt of the law.

He thinks our policemen spend an awful lot of time protecting trees because he always sees them behind trees, along the roads and highways. Such dedication and love for the greens, he says.

Paul has also found out that Malaysia, which used to rely on rubber for its economic growth in early days, still tends to stretch the meaning of being on time.

He has learned that when people say “on the way” or “coming soon”, it really means they are still at home or have yet to begin their journey.

Paul has also discovered that “traffic jam” is the most convenient Malaysian excuse for not being punctual, even if the person arrives an hour late. The rule of thumb is to add another hour if it rains.

But the best part is this: Malaysians must love many things about pirates. We call unlicensed taxis “pirate taxis” and imitation DVDs, “pirated DVDs”.

Pirated DVDs are illegal but openly sold. No one would admit buying or owning one but many Malaysians seem familiar with it.

And pirated DVDs even carry messages telling Malaysians why they should NOT buy pirated DVDs, with a short trailer of a speeding car, showing you the difference in quality between an original and a pirated copy.

Malaysia is truly amazing. Paul is already in love with Malaysia after being here a month.
To know Malaysia is certainly to love Malaysia.

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