Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Sabah

Malaysian musings

For those of you who know me personally, it comes as no surprise; y’all know i have become a full-blooded language geek over the years. Having said that, I feel like banging the drums for Malay speak. It’s easy to learn because most Malays I have met speak English, more or less, and are willing to help. Another advantage is that they simply adopt many words and write them just the way they are pronounced.

Some examples – i won’t give translations as it’s pretty easy to figure out the meaning: Kaunter, Bas Stesen, Lori, Imigresen, Restoran, Kari, Teh, Jem, Coklat, Sup, Kompleks, Sekolah, Kolej, Buku, Insurans, Ambulans, Kastam… I remember having a great laugh with Joy when we saw ‘EPAL’ written on a computer store at Teluk Cempedak and even more so when on the waterfront of Kuching we spotted a sign promoting Aiskrim 🙂


Something else.

Many Malay people have a jealous eye towards Singapore and its economic development while they turn a blind eye to how restrictive societies can become when money is valued higher than happiness or equated with one another and when standard of living is mistaken as quality of life. I meet people in Malaysia who are eager to live in a modern, industrialized country. It seems they want to imitate Western countries. How can they avoid to repeat the mistakes that have been made by others throughout the last centuries?

Can you imagine a European radio-broadcasting reminder telling you to stop at red lights? That is what’s happening here. While hitchhiking through Sarawak I listen to the radio repeating three times how important it is to follow the rules and to remember the three words: “Stop.At.Red!” Forgive me for saying this, I know car accidents happen on a daily basis. I am neither condoning nor encouraging anyone to ignore red lights, of course. The main reason I choose this example is that according to my experience Malay drivers are one of the most considerate and slow car drivers I have ever met in my life. Another reason I mention this particular incident is that I am reminded of the way governments in Africa try to impose a certain behaviour or adopt a model of society that works for some role-model ‘developed country’ without having the faintest idea of how to implement change. They try to influence collective conscience (Durkheim) and obviously, they are trying to do so with a sledgehammer mentality. The gap between the government and the populace is simply too big. The majority only talks about ‘the economy is good/bad’ and how strong/weak their currency is compared to Singapore/Brunei/Europe etc.

Who would be willing and able to build bridges? It is much easier to complain about corrupt politicians on the one side and to impose draconic penalties on the other.

Something else.

There are several things i absolutely love about Malay people. One is the aforementioned cruising attitude. Another is the fact that they have small gestures of daily life which show their ability to give and receive freely. E.g. that they never hand over and never receive money singlehandedly. Instead, with the fingers of the other hand they touch the giving/receiving upper or lower arm. Like that, a payment always has a wholehearted appeal. Same goes for greeting a person. After a handshake the hand goes straight to the chest area indicating that you are a welcome guest in her/his heart.

Another thing that catches my attention is how easy it is to smile at other people around here. In 9.5 out of 10 times an honest, sometimes shy sometimes beaming smile is the response. At least the places I go to the people seem to be one happy bunch. Also, if something is said that could rub someone the wrong way they are not easily offended. Most of the time a joke is made out of it. Social lubrication in the form of open smiling faces really works well here. In case it doesn’t work a cigarette is offered to blow off some steam – a modern peace pipe, one might say.

Last but not least, it is the country I feel most at home in Southeast Asia. Hitherto, I have been to Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia including Sarawak and Sabah. Part of it is the ease with which you can hitch a ride here. People are even willing to make a detour in order to bring you to remote places or to avoid getting you into potentially dangerous areas. They’re interested in how you live life, make appreciative comments about your style, buy you drinks, invite you to stay for a night at their crib etc.

I remember hitchhiking with Maarten. We had breakfast in Sipitang – where we had been brought by a young man who had had to drive back to his own house later on for ‘only’ (sic!) two hours – we ordered some mee soup and roti canai, and we sat down at a table with a muslim man. When we were almost finished he said that our meal is covered. We don’t need to pay, he has already taken care of that. ‘Terima kasih!’, our daily chorus.

Most certainly encounters like these serve as a great inspiration and motivation to develop generosity wherever i go. Giving, in any way whatsoever, makes you feel good, makes you feel wealthy, makes you feel happy. Try it. Come and see for yourself! Ehi passiko 🙂


Bhikkhus, if beings knew, as I know, the result of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would theyballow the stain of meanness to obsess them and take root in their minds. Even if it were their last morsel, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared it, if there were someone to share it with…

Itivuttaka 26



One thought on “Malaysian musings

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