Mesmerising about Malaysia

17 Dec
  • If you have any more suggestions of things to do, taste, see, experience – please leave your comments below
  • I’ll most likely be in Malaysia in March/April


For some reason I have bumped into the last few months into quite some people from Malaysia, and they all agreed that the food in Malaysia is the best in Asia (even though i read that in guidebooks about other countries as well ;-). So I definitely have to sample the Malay cuisine (yummy yummy).

  • some freshly cooked noodles with seafood for breakfast with a mug of coffee?
  • or rather rice with spicey curry sauce (also breakfast)
  • Malaysia is the home of the Satay with peanut sauce – one of my all-time favourites – mmm (I’ll gain wait)
  • Depending on what type of food, you’ll eat it differently: Chinese food with chopsticks and square spoon, Malay food is eaten with the hands (except they eat rice with a spoon), washing hands is part of a restaurant visit,…
  • And depending on the group, they eat or not certain things: Hindus don’t eat beef, Muslims don’t do pork, Chines eat everything that moves, No alcohol in Malay restaurants, Chinese always order plates of food to share, Some indians are fully vegetarian, etc…
  • A friend of mine told me the best way to order was to point at the neighbour’s table and order the same ;-)
Majority of Malays are Muslim

Majority of Malays are Muslim

Actually, I should say ‘Malaysian’ cuisine, as there are (at least) three main groups in Malaysia, each with their distinct language, traditions and food… So limiting myself to only the ‘Malay’ (one of the groups) would be a miss to grasp the diversity in Malaysia

  1. The Malay are the biggest group though, they speak Malay and are muslim (i am probably generalising a bit much here, but hey). They are traditionally living in the thatched wooden stilt-houses in idyllic villages, shaded by coconut palms and plowing their paddies using buffalos.
  2. Next in order of size (of the population!) are Chinese, they speak Chinese and are usually buddhist. The trade and economical life seems to be dominated by the Chinese – so maybe I should take my Chinese phrasebook as well… The Chinese run the shops in the cities and tend sit in the shade in front of their shop in shorts, vests and sandals.
  3. Another big group are the ones of the Indian subcontinent, which are mainly Hindu or Sikh (or other religions), who speak one of the many Indian languages – but it seems that the main language to communicate between the groups is English – Oof, I’m saved. The indian group(s) are dominating the money-lending business and often seen in the police and army.
  4. a fourth ‘leftover’ group would include ‘other indigenous groups’ (as the guidebook says): e.g. there are still many tribes in Sabah & Sarawak (the Eastern part of Malaysia – Malaysian Borneo, stuck to Indonesia). Sometimes pictures show the tatooed Iban warrior in loincloth. Interesting attire.
  5. (and if you really want to be complete, there are a fair share of arabs (muslim country) and over 2 million immigrant workers from Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia & India that are working (illegally?) in the plantations, construction & service sector)
Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

One of the big challenges, even for someone coming from a complicated country like Belgiun, will be to make sense of this puzzle of different groups, languages, customs and political struggle if any? Not taking into consideration yet that Malaysia is composed of 9 royal families and a few non-royal regions/cities, who elect the king of Malaysia every 5 years (never knew kings could be elected?) Guidebook says that Malaysians are proud of their cultural mix, so one should not be too critical or probing… Hm let’s see how many doors I will get on my nose…

The pluri-cultural society makes that values as harmony, social solidarity, mutual reciprocity, morality are very important, to keep the peace in daily life. Collective decision and consensus is more important than one’s own opinion, the group is more important than the individual. Maybe I can learn something there.

in Malaysia, as in most South East Asian countries, there is also “Face“. One should not loose face or make others loose face. Public embarassment should be avoided at any price, direct criticism is never given. That could be good practice to become more diplomatic – especially with the notion of ‘rubber time’ in Malaysia…

Depending on the groups, you also greet differently (bowing, handshake, folding hands together, incline your had, saying salaam,…) and there might also be differentiation between greeting men and women (muslims). I thought in Europe it was complicated with the number of kisses (in the South), starting on which cheek? and the nordic hugging… I found ‘worse’ ;-)

Lodging seems to be very simple. Apparently every second house would offer bed and breakfast – or would know a friend or relative who does. So the system is just to knock on any door (in the countryside i suppose) and ask for a bed, and they’ll be happy to help you out. Super ;-) and a nice way to see how Malay families live.

Having a look under water...

Having a look under water...

What to do?

There were 3 different colonisers. The Dutch only left a ‘Stadhuys’ in Malaka (will go and have a look), the Portuguese were occupied building churches (and trying to keep the muslims away) but the British contributed with infrastructure (so that it was easier to exploit the tin, rubber & country). They built an extensive railroad network. So I am planning to take the train around the country – even though my Malaysian friends say I’m crazy because there is Air Asia (the local low cost airline). It is also easy to take the train to Singapore – so I will.

Friends of mine went diving in Malaysia. There are a bunch of really nice islands off the East-coast (less touristy)- and cheap (hopefully safe) diving schools. I am not sure it is my thing, but one has to try something new in life every once so often. Apparently it is beautifull to swim amidst school of fish and see the coral reefs (or was that somewhere else)?

Kuala Lumpur is the capital. Several friends have offered me suggestions for visits. I should go up the huge Petrona towers (before some plane is diverted and crashes into them?). KL (pronounce ‘kayl’) is apparently THE place to be for shopping: there are shopping malls (eg Bukit Binta, Sungai Wang and Megamall) that take more than a day just to see all the shops (size of a few football fields, and then 3 or 4 stories high). Maybe i should take my roller blades, to be quicker. Or the alternative is to go to china town for the market (to buy some ‘designer’ goods or chicken feet to suckle on ;-)

Beaches don't seem bad ;-)

Beaches don't seem bad ;-)

There seems to be a big contrast between the big cities and the countryside & beaches. So when the bricks and concrete, the noise and the people get on my nerves I’ll escape to some beach. Or treat myself to an island. Some islands that were recommended to me are Pulau Redang & Pulau Penang (I have a hunch that Pulau means island…)

On a practical level, I need to get my teeth done. I recently had the nerves of 2 teeth removed and there’s only a temporary filling in them. And this one has to be replaced by a porcellan crown. In Belgium this joke would cost over 600€ per tooth – but in Malaysia only half price and the standards are just as good or even better as in Europe. Count me in!

  • Anyone know any good dentist in Malaysia?

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