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Want to celebrate diversity? Try my Malaysian Odyssey on for size!

Malaysian Odyssey – take duex: I continue to tell my 7-year-old, God has given us a wonderful planet to explore, made all the more beautiful by the grandeur of nature and the exotic differences He has imbued in all of us. Taking a trip half-way around re-affirms that lesson both to here through my posts here, but also to me as I continue to interact, learn and marvel at just how wonderfully unique all of us are.

I know, that opening was almost as “we are the world” as my post entitled “Selamat datang! Malaysia blogging by your average guy!” but fact is I get much on-the-road energy and vigor by learning and enjoying the differences we all have in common! So much so that I’ve been keeping a mental list of observations of things that are different here – and as I tell my daughter: different doesn’t mean it’s bad, wrong or silly – just different. Personally, I like many of the items I’ve listed below in no particular order:

  • Politeness is not an option – but a way of life here
  • Excellent service is not an option – but a matter of pride here
  • Industriousness is not an option – but also a matter of fact here
  • Currency – reminiscent of monopoly money, not only in their rich colroation, but also because of the variety of pictures (on the back), textures and anti-counterfeiting technologies employed
  • When you hand someone a business card and/or cash – you present it with both hands as a matter of courtesy
  • Left face – steering wheels are on the right so cars can drive on the left. Likewise, people walk on the left side of the sidewalk, hallway and stairs
  • Driving – I’m reluctant to use the word “offensive” but rather would suggest that their “not-so-defensive” driving techniques would have them all cited for aggressive automotive operation here in the States … not to mention the impact such chummy proximity of car chassises would have on insurance rates.
  • Cars – much smaller, so much so that while I suspect excellent on the gas mileage, I wonder ifthis is because some are ‘peddling’ as one would a kiddy car. Personally, I’d like to see more of their kind in our cities. That said, both my U.S. co-worker from North Carolina and I noted that we’ve only cited one pick-up truck, and that a small one
  • Shoes – make sure your sox are in good order, many homes and offices request you remove your footwear before walking about; a rule I don’t mind for many reasons;
  • Hand towels, napkins and other such things – not all that common. Some restaurants offer thin tissues – some done. Likewise, many hotels while providing ample bath towels, request you bring your own hand towel
  • Toilets – they bowls are bigger, but also have a hose-like, sprayer thingie that we in the States used to wash veggies in the kitchen … only over here they’re used instead of toilet paper. That said, the hose thingie is probably the reason most TP rolls are equipped with a shield that not only helps in tearing off the paper, but permanently settles the argument over which way the paper should roll
  • TV – if you like soccer, you’re set. Me, I’m intrigued enough, though I think some teams like Tottenham would fair better against Manchester United if they didn’t field so many dirt-lovin’ thespians
  • Diet Coke – is referred to here as “Coke Light” … which is a bit less hard to find and order than “Pepsi Light” … which is almost non-existent here, and neither that often served in restaurants
  • Sweet-n-low or Splenda? How about neither? – instead bring your own artificial sweeteners. The only game in town is Equal – and good luck as it is meted out like gold from behind the counter; and only upon request
  • Starbucks – service is excellent, but for a “venti half caff” kinda guy, it’s a bit bitter and usually requires some instruction on my part to remind them that “it is on the go” rather than “dine in” … this after teaching them what a “half caff” is, and settling on milk to go with the two packets of equal begrudgingly (but politely) surrendered
  • Cheap eats – a health inspector’s nightmare, but if you’re adventurous – you can eat like a king for a fraction of the cost
  • Straws – in the States, companies have been reducing the size of straws as a matter of pinching pennies, here in Malaysia, the straws have a diameter resembling one of ultra-those thick pencils one used to learn how to write in the first grade. Perhaps Wendy’s would sell more Frosty’s if they dispensed their drinks with these semi-hose, drink vacuum delivery systems
  • Religion – I believe Malaysia is 60% Islamic, yet I suspect even within that population there are differences as I’ve noticed different burkas based on both what appears ethnic and economic lines
  • Shorts – there’s no taboo per se, and certainly no one has made me feel inadequate or inappropriate for bearing the half-trouser during the hot, rainy season. That said, most of the locals are wearing long pants – correction, local males. Many of both genders have their arms covered though in what appears to be a silky thin fabric’d shirts and boulses, the former of which I definitely want to purchase before I return. Not only for what appears to be comfortable construction, but many are adorned in intriguing patterns that I just think are neat
  • Taxes – too high. As I noted before, Malaysians work hard, and I suspect would shop even harder if given more control over their own currency
  • Cell phones – everyone’s got at least one
  • Security – an interesting situation that depends on location and context. For example, when we dine after work, I’m warned to take my laptop with me as some criminals have devices to detect energy outputs from portables, which they’ll use to determine which car window to break and run. Then again, at a local mall (and there are many shopping malls), I see unsecured computers in kiosks all the time
  • Sleeping hours – I’ve been kidded more than once about how early I retire, 10 to 11pm being too premature for many. Of course, they’re also a bit taken aback that I’m usually busy bright and early, 5:30 AM being a bit more than they prefer … that said, perhaps that’s why the Starbucks here doesn’t open till 9am, but in contrast, doesn’t close until 11:30pm on weeknights
  • Xiè Xie versus Terima Kasih– I was politely corrected that I had incorrectly issued the Chinese thank you, when I should have employed the Malaysian – it was explained to me that I can tell by physical feature when to use which one
  • Flavors – if you’re a boring steak and potatos, play it safe kind guy (or gal) then don’t bother with the 30 hour trek. Malaysia extends a fantastic and diverse food culture for those willing to take a taste.

Anyway, those are just some of the differences. More later, but for now … enjoy some more photos I’ve locked-n-loaded for your viewing pleasure and cultural edification.

And now a parting not for my little-one: Hi sweetie, did you see how wonderfully different the World is over here? That’s why I need you to learn how to eat new foods, learn new ways of doing things and not judge people by the color of their skin or the way they talk – so one day you too can visit wonderful places and learn wonderful new things just like daddy!

Hey, same lesson goes for the rest of ya … especially those of you pondering a mission trip … perhaps more on that after I meet-up with some cool Malaysian bloggers this Sunday. Stay tuned!


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  2. Don’t know about the high taxes as taxable income starts somewhere in the region of RM2,500 (roughly). I was not taxable for the first 3 years of working life — then the next increment pushed me into the taxable bracket. Now I’m not taxable again! Also, we get tax deductions for stuff like buying books (maximum of RM1,000 per year) and computers (I think that’s every 3 years) and insurance premiums, etc. So, even if you’re taxable, after deducting all the stuff, you might not be paying much tax.

    But all restaurants charge a 5% govt tax on the bill and most also impose a 5% or 10% service charge on top of that. That’s why we usually don’t tip — I figure they’ve already tipped themselves!

    You wake at 5:30am?!?! *faints*

    Excellent service depends on where you go and who you are. Upmarket places and hotels do have good service. It’s also generally believed that foreigners get better service (perception being that they have more to spend). Actually everyone I know tends to complain that the level of service in the country leaves a lot to be desired!

  3. That is RM2,500 monthly salary… we’re not in the habit of calculating an annual figure :o )

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