Photo: Jaggat Rashidi/Shutterstock

How to Piss Off a Malaysian

Malaysia Student Work
by Wan Phing Lim Dec 31, 2013

MALAYSIANS ARE a strange bunch — some of us are fiercely loyal to our nation, while others are more than willing to jump ship for greener pastures abroad. But we all remain proud of our homeland despite the silly corruption scandals, squat toilets, potholes that destroy our car tyres, and smelly longkangs (stormdrains) we endure for that delicious bowl of laksa.

It’s this pride that ensures we do NOT tolerate comments like:

“So, where’s Malaysia?”

Then they look into my apparently Chinese-looking face and add, “Is it in China?”

I kid you not, these are real-life conversations I’ve endured while at university abroad. I cringe at the number of times I patiently and lovingly described my homeland as a “banana-shaped peninsula stuck between Thailand and Singapore,” not even bothering to add in Sabah and Sarawak. Imagine the complication of having to explain that Borneo Island is half-Malaysian and half-Indonesian to somebody I don’t even want to be conversing with.

Oh, and don’t even mention Brunei — they’ll think it’s in the Middle East.

“Malaysia, yes! So you’re from Kuala Lampa?”

Lampa is the Hokkien word for balls, and no, our capital city Kuala Lumpur is not a confluence of testicles. It’s pronounced “loom-por,” and it’s the Malay word for mud, referring to the city’s original location at the junction of the Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang rivers.

I let out a snigger every single time I hear a non-Malay speaker proclaim Kuala Lampa (!) with such gusto and smugness at finally being able to show off their “capital cities of the world” knowledge. Yes, Kuala Loompor is our capital city, but that’s not where I’m from, thanks.

“If you’re from Malaysia…you must be Malay, right?”

Nope, I’m from Malaysia so I’m Malaysian. Malay is a race. And Malaysians are made up of other races, too, like Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Kadazans, Eurasians — ethnically distinct, but all Malaysians nonetheless.

We’re still trying to overcome racial segregation after 56 years of independence, so try not to add insult to injury by not bothering to understand the difference between race and nationality.

“Your English is so good!”

My reaction usually starts off with a very chirpy, “Oh thanks!” followed by a look of resignation that quickly takes over as I realise I have to offer an explanation and go through the we-were-a-former-British-colony story yet again.

Mind you, the recent English Proficiency Index for 2013 ranked Malaysia #11 out of 60 countries worldwide, falling under the High Proficiency category above Germany and Switzerland. In Asia, we are ranked #1, followed closely by Singapore, then India, Hong Kong, and South Korea.

Anything with with word “Malaya” in it

Malaya? MALAYA?! Someone said this to me once and it was so funny that a friend and I decided we would write to Lonely Planet to request a copy of Lonely Planet Malaya for this utterly incredulous person whose mind is clearly still stuck in World War II.

Malaya exists in in dusty history textbooks, not on Google Maps. To refer to my country as Malaya is as good as negating our independence as a nation, and as disrespectful as calling Myanmar Burma. There’s nothing that riles us up more than those who insist on using the good ol’ colonial names — imperialism is a very sensitive topic indeed.

“So boss, if I turn the lights off, will the document disappear?”

…and the plethora of blackout jokes that persisted after the General Elections of May 2013.

Considered one of the dirtiest elections in Malaysian history, several polling stations throughout the country faced electricity cuts in the middle of vote counting. During this time, extra ballot boxes appeared, resulting in the ruling party’s win. Many young and first-time voters were not just outraged, but went into depression. I even heard a story of a girl who didn’t get out of bed for four days over this incident.

And so the entire world has heard about our national embarrassment (a petition was made to the UN to intervene, and the White House even issued a statement), so please, don’t make those “if-I-turn-off-the-lights” jokes. We’ve barely recovered.

“Singapore’s better than Malaysia.”

Safer…cleaner…better…. Yes, we’re well aware of our deficiencies and our laid back tidak apa (can’t be bothered) attitude in this part of town. Our snatch thieves on motorbikes compared to the almost zero crime rate in Singapore, our smelly third-world toilets compared to the automated flushing machines in Singapore, our unreliable trains and buses compared to the shiny MRT, and our deflating Ringgit to the ever-strong Sing Dollar. We’ve heard it all and don’t want to hear it again from you.

Nobody likes to live in their neighbour’s shadow.

“Malaysian food sucks.”

The ultimate blow to any Malaysian’s pride and a surefire way to piss us off. After long bouts of homesickness and dreaming of roti telur in my bed 9,000 miles away from home in a lonely university dorm, I know what food depression is.

Malaysians are the kind of people who go on foodie road trips, driving up and down the country in search of that chicken rice plate in Ipoh or that chendol store in Penang. We are so proud of our awesome food that nobody else’s cuisine will ever be able to measure up.

Especially not Singapore’s.

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