By Ai-Leen Lim
Of course you’d know if you were back in Malaysia. You just got off a 12-hour flight, your clothes cling to your skin and the taxi driver complains about GST, RM1,200 hairdos and the flip-flop policy on fare hikes. If the journey is a long one, you’d also discuss rising crime, hudud law and traffic jams. And why people are resorting to talking kittens.
Which is why you need to take a break, and a light-hearted look at what it means to be back in the country. Just for five minutes. You can return to the ludicrous, depressing headlines tomorrow.
10 signs you’re back in Malaysia:
1. Everything—fruit, books, cakes, pirate DVDs—is wrapped in plastic. And there’s a plastic bag for the plastic wrap. And the plastic bags are pink. Sometimes orange.
2. You do everything in a shopping mall. Extra-educate the kids. Get a hair cut. Exercise the kids. Pay bills. Vaccinate the cat. Learn tae kwan do. Oh, and buy stuff.
3. Actually, if you actually listen out for it, everyone says ‘actually’ a lot. Especially when they’re giving their opinion on TV. The same goes for its Malay counterpart, ‘sebenarnya.’
4. Drinks and cakes are multi-coloured and fluorescent. The brighter the better. Shocking pink. Marigold yellow. Brown with caterpillar green bits. Striped purple with embedded red beans. Even the names are colourful: take the Michael Jackson, a drink of soyabean milk mixed with black herbal jelly.
5. Fusion is not a fad here. East-west food combos are practically a tradition. Pandan kaya chocolate chip buns. Tom yam spaghetti. Coke with ginger. Rendang pizza. Cheese pratha.
6. Anything can be ta pau-ed (doggy-bagged). In plastic bags with a pink plastic bag to carry the plastic bags in.
7. People fight to pay the restaurant bill. And it’s no longer down to who’s got the quickest reflexes, nearest wallet and longest arm. Diehard payers have evolved sophisticated strategies, like the ‘I’m just popping to the mensroom’ tactic, with detour to the till.
Meanwhile, the restaurant manager presides over the contest, like a judge:
–She gave her credit card before you start eating, so she pay.
–Reservation in his name, so he pay.
–I cannot take your money, even though you give me credit card first. He my regular customer, so what he say, I follow. Sorry ah.
8. The English signs are hilarious:
–House breaking here Wednesday morning. Please contact police if you saw something.
–Premier Lover Plums. Born to be Tasty.
–Joy of Cook Non-Stick Sauce Pot.
–Stressed? Visit Malaysia to Distress.
9. When you give up your seat for an elderly person, they don’t sit down immediately. They hover for a minute or two, while the seat cools. Fear of piles is big in these parts.
10. You don’t know your relatives’ legal names. They’re Third Uncle or Mak Ngah or Second Cousin once removed, Father’s Side. Even if your family has dispensed with tradition, you’re still left with fragments like Big Onion Sister or Uncle Boy or Porky. Which makes will-making such a chore: you have to call Fourth Aunt to ask what Tommy’s name is. And no, it’s not Tommy.
Your younger relations may think they’re doing you a favour by adopting Western names. But you’re clueless, as they did it when you were away. So you still call Winston Ah Tat. And you wonder, who’s this Chester Lim trying to friend you on Facebook.