Sunday, October 14, 2007

First posting from Jakarta

Just a quick two postings from other blogs --> on the middle column, Interesting Read section.

The first one is an old post by Marina Mahatir - the daughter of Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. She posted it in January this year, but since the similarity (or difference) between Indonesians and Malaysians is currently a hot topic, it's worth it to revisit her view.

Another one is written by David Lavoie, a Canadian teacher living in Malaysia, on the New Straits Times. Some light and humorous observations about some Malaysians' quirkiness, of which a few is shared by some Indonesians.

In case the link is not working anymore, here's what David wrote.

DAVID LAVOIE: The puzzling quirkiness of some Malaysians
The New Straits Times, Thursday, October 11, 2007

I have to admit that I love it. I enjoy Malaysia very much and I think that Malaysians are fine, fine people. They are warm, friendly, interesting and hospitable. But some of the things they do puzzle me enormously.

What follows are, and probably always will be to me, some of the mysteries of Malaysia. Alang-alang mandi, biar sampai basah; alang-alang berdakwat, biar sampai hitam.

Mystery number one, why do many Malaysians swim in such a bizarre way? Don’t get me wrong, a number of the Malaysians I see every day in my condominium pool are superb swimmers, but the majority employ a strong scooping motion of the arms along with a vigorous frog-like kick which takes them completely underwater for a metre or two. Then they shoot to the surface, desperately suck in a strangled gasp of air and disappear under the surface again, despair in their goggled eyes.

It’s a slow, slow method of swimming and it seems to require an enormous expenditure of energy as well as the risk of serious oxygen deprivation. I may be wrong, but I always thought, silly me, the whole purpose of swimming was to stay on the surface where the oxygen is.

How about roads? It amazes me that Malaysians can build fine-looking roads so quickly, but why, within a month, are they plagued with potholes the size of the Grand Canyon? Wouldn’t it be cheaper, and easier on cars, to put down a proper road base first before laying on the black-top?

Actually I’ve got a theory. I’ve decided that this is all some sort of gigantic Malaysian lottery. Those guys on the side of the road pretending to walk along? They’re really bookies taking bets on which car will hit the hole hardest. When you smack into one, they chortle and money surreptitiously changes hands.

What about double-parking? I realise that Kuala Lumpur, in particular, is plagued with too many cars and not nearly enough parking spaces. The problem seems the same in kind, if not in degree of intensity, elsewhere. I understand why people double-park.

What I don’t get is, where are all the people whose cars are parked on the inside? Why aren’t they outraged?

As a matter of fact, where are all the people who have boxed in other drivers gone as well? Why isn’t there mayhem? Stationary road rage? Wild screaming matches? Where have all the drivers been spirited off to? Extraterrestrials perhaps? This is one of the mysteries of the age.

Why, in so many public toilets, are washbasins, cabinets and urinals numbered? This, I really don’t get. I mean, it’s not like when I pay my 20 or 30 sen, the attendant says: “You are assigned to urinal No 3. Wash your hands in washbasin No 5.”

Is there a mysterious purpose for these numbers or is it just a peculiar Malaysian fetish for order?

Why do all those guys on motorcycles wear their jackets backwards? What’s the point?

Is it to cut down the wind in your progress? To keep you dry in case of rain, to keep your clothes clean? Does it keep you warmer?

I suspect a combination of many factors here, but, if so, that, too, is a mystery.

If it’s to keep your clothes clean, for instance, that means that you are perfectly clean as you approach people, but a mess when you turn around to leave.

I’ve decided that since I will probably never figure this one out, it must be a uniquely Malaysian fashion statement.

Why do Malaysians consider public streets and sidewalks an extension of their front yard or business? Restaurants block sidewalks with extra chairs and tables during peak hours. Businesses expand onto the same sidewalk with a maze of tables and shelves of merchandise.

Best of all are the home parties that block entire streets to vehicular traffic. I have to admit that I sort of like and admire this one.

You need room for your party? Why not put up a tent in the street? Cars can always back up and take an alternate route. It’s so liberated.

Why do Malaysians use plates?

I had to come here before I ate my first meal off a banana leaf and the beauty of it brought tears to my eyes.

If we all ate every meal off banana leaves, no one would ever have to wash a dish again (a chore I hate). It’s too beautiful.

Why, Malaysia could become the world’s largest exporter of banana leaves! Of course, I haven’t quite figured out what to do about laksa.

So there they are, just a few of the mysteries that keep me fascinated with this wonderful country.

Maybe I’ll stick around for a while. After all, I’ve obviously got a lot to learn, lah.

David Lavoie is a retired Canadian teacher who now makes Malaysia his home.