by Ng Li Wei
Even after a few weeks of being back in school, most of us (all of us, really) have yet to adjust to the sudden change in lifestyle. Suddenly, we’re being controlled by our clocks again and forced to face the horror of assignments, lectures and this strange feeling of having a purpose in life.
So I bet we’re all longing for the holidays to return, even if we won’t admit it. The good old days of lounging at home or going out with friends, finding the time to read books or watch movies, or if you’re lucky and have the privilege to do so – travel.
As a Malaysian and as someone who has travelled quite a lot, I’ve thought a lot about the weird things that Malaysians do only when we’re overseas – things we don’t necessarily realise we’re doing. Here are five examples. (I’m guilty of all of them.)
1. Compare the country’s climate with ours.
This happens the literal moment we leave our country’s border. It doesn’t matter if we’re in Singapore or Canada – we will compare their weather with our own. Malaysia is famous for its hot and humid climate that lasts throughout the year and, despite complaining about it 24/7 when we’re in the country, it becomes our favourite topic when we leave the country.
“It’s so cold here – I love it so much. Back in Malaysia, I’d sweat the minute I step outdoors. It’s terrible.”
“What’s the temperature today? 30 degrees? That’s tolerable. It’s been 35 every day in Malaysia ever since I was born.”
Every single time we do it, it sounds like a mixture of pride and shame at the same time. We like to boast that we can handle hot climates since our country is similar, and yet we hate that it is the way it is.
2. Speak our second or third languages more often.
Basically, we tend to speak in languages that are not our first. I’ll use myself as an example. For me, English is closest to my first language, having spoken and learnt it for so many years. Yet, when I leave the country, I find myself speaking to my family or friends in any languages except English. I use Malay when I’m in France, Mandarin when I’m in India, and dialects like Cantonese and Hokkien when I’m in Russia. (I might not have been to all of the listed countries but use your power of imagination.)
I think it has something to do with finally having a chance to speak without others being able to understand you. In Malaysia, all we can do to not have our conversations eavesdropped upon – and unfortunately understood – is to speak in hushed tones. To whisper. But in other countries, we can suddenly speak loud and proud without having that worry or caution. We can insult people’s hairstyles and compliment their attractiveness without them even blinking an eye.
3. Convert the prices of EVERYTHING to our currency.
‘Everything’ here can range from food to handbags to oil prices. Admittedly, Malaysia’s currency is not the strongest. However, this doesn’t prevent us from making the process of purchasing items more (or on rare occasions, less) painful for ourselves.
When we’re spending money in other countries, like the United States for example, it gives us an odd sense of relief when we know that we’re able to buy a large bowl of noodles for five dollars. But we won’t stop there. We’ll feel satisfied only when we’ve converted those five dollars to 20 ringgit, and are suddenly absolutely horrified at this monstrous bowl of noodles.
When the situation is reversed and we find out (after converting the price, of course) that things are cheaper, only then will we relax and start cheering and celebrating.
4. Complain about the existence or nonexistence of things.
Straight up, the one thing Malaysia doesn’t have is Clean. Toilets. It is literally impossible to find a toilet in Malaysia:
- Equipped with toilet paper
- With clean, dry floors
- That doesn’t stink
Therefore, after we enjoy the bliss of all three conditions stated above in other countries, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for us and we will never, ever stop talking about it. We’ve been transformed by this transcendent experience, so whenever we enter a public toilet back in Malaysia, we’re going to bring that topic up endlessly.
One redeeming quality that Malaysia has, I will say, is the service of providing boxes of tissues in restaurants. It’s become a common practice throughout Malaysia – at least, to the restaurants I’ve been in my very small area of Malaysia – and it really is great and something I take pride in mentioning.
But this causes me to expect the same treatment overseas as well, and I am always disheartened to find out that this is not the case. So this cues another round of complaints where after every bite in that foreign restaurant I will find the need to mention that “at least restaurants in Malaysia provide tissues for their customers”.
5. Miss Malaysian food.
Okay, I was lying about the tissue boxes. The one redeeming quality that Malaysia has is undoubtedly its food. It’s like the central hub of the world for food, the place where the various cuisines of the world can be found. You don’t have to travel the world to taste the food of every country. You can just come to Malaysia. We have it all and more, combined with our own stellar produce. We know how to make food taste good.
When I’m eating in another country, I’d get bored of the choices within three days. Where’s the roti canai? The char kuey teow? The asam laksa? Compared to what we have back in Malaysia, it really… it just can’t be compared. In Malaysia, it’s possible to have a different meal every day for an entire month.
This phenomenon presents itself as an ache in our hearts after spending more than a week abroad. Yes, you’ve enjoyed the cuisine at its origin, but there is something about the taste of Malaysia that adds an unreplicable flavour to the food. This renewed longing for Malaysian food, inevitably, pulls us back to our country. Back home.