The Always Evolving and Partially Unwritten Five-Year Plan

Posts tagged “Malaysian Culture

King for A Day (Or 1,825 days)

Hooray for Coronation Day!

Tomorrow Malaysia gets a new King and I get a day off! It’s this guy’s second time around, so I think he knows what to expect. I don’t know what any of that Bahasa says on the picture above, but I like his outfit and it looks very official. It was only decided a few weeks ago that this would be an official holiday, but now that it has been deemed as such, everyone gets the day off.

Little known fact for trivia fans: Malaysia is the only country in the world to have a rotating monarchy. Each of the nine sultans serves a 5-year (or 1,825 day) stint as king.

For more info read the interesting details from the local paper:

Where Are the Greener Pastures?

We all know the saying, “the grass is greener on the other side”, and never has that proven more true than now, while living in a foreign country.

First, there’s the skin tone issue.  On our first Saturday in our new apartment, we did what anyone would do in an empty home…we went shopping!  It’s amazing how much the “essentials” can add up.  I digress…

While shopping at Tesco (which is sort of like Target but not nearly as clean or cool, and far more crowded — in fact, it may be closer to Kmart), we were looking for things like shampoo, lotion, after shave, etc.  What did we find?  Moisturizing cream with “extra whitener”.  No, it wasn’t for your teeth…for your skin.  You got it…white skin here is desirable because the equatorial sun is so intense that locals tend be much darker than your typical Caucasian.  So, out come the umbrellas (not for the rain, but to block daily sun) and then there’s whitening cream in case you were over exposed.  Fortunately for us, we have good (pale) Scottish and British roots so we’re like the standard here…almost.  (DJ & Jessie, you know what I’m talking about).

Isn’t it interesting though, how hard we try in America to get darker?  Because tan is “beautiful”.  People here would be appalled that we lay in bed-like chambers indoors to get EXTRA UV exposure for more “coloring”.  Still, I do need to do something about this farmer’s tan…

Oh, just to give you an idea of how much we stick out…consider this comment from Ms. Lush, the 1st grade assistant (and native Malaysian), as she struggled to find Jenny inside the classroom (which is not a big room).

“Oh there you are, Jennifer…I couldn’t see you at first…you blended in with the walls.”  (Not meant to be mean at all, rather turned out to be really funny for both!).  By the way, Ms. Lush is awesome and extremely helpful.

Next, there is the intelligence factor.  I was having coffee with our Realtor (Melvin) and the coach for his sales team (Vincent), and we were discussing training and consulting opportunities in KL.  They were very optimistic and encouraging about my chances, especially because “people [here] will always hire Caucasian businessmen before Asian.  There is a perception that they know more…especially Americans.”

Again, it was just interesting because as I shared with them, there is a perception at home of superior intelligence among Asians (granted…that’s a broad generalization).  Melvin added, “Ahh, greener pastures, or so…”  Don’t ask what “or so” means, it’s just sort of stuck at the end of a lot of sentences here at random.  But Melvin was spot on with the reference to the old saying that seems to ring true even here and reveal that bit of human nature that says maybe we tend to want what we cannot have, for just that very reason.

Share your “greener pasture” story if you have one.  Was it true that the “other grass” turned out to be greener?

Malay Time is Not American Time

We have a friend in the US who sometimes runs on a more relaxed schedule.  She’s a teacher and a fellow rowing coach so when it comes to the classroom or practices, there’s a schedule and you better stick to it.  However, around social events her easy-going and widely-accepting personality surfaces and she shifts gears to a more relaxed approach we came to know as “Joy Time”.

For example, if we are going out to eat or having dinner at someone’s house, and she is running late we might call to see if everything is okay.  “Oh yes, I’ll be there in another 30 minutes.”  Translation: in roughly 30 minutes I will be leaving and still have the 15-minute drive before I see you.  It’s all good though, once you get familiar with the program and learn how to plan, and come on…it’s a laid-back night of grilling out and cold beverages.  What’s the rush?

Our Friends Joy and Jordan

Disclaimer: On occasion, “Joy Time” delays have been known to be attributed to the husband, Coach Jordan. I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of such statements.

Well, when we arrived in KL, it wasn’t long before we were experiencing a similar phenomenon to Joy Time, in what came to be known as “Malay Time”.  Joy, don’t worry buddy…here it’s not just social things, it’s EVERYTHING that runs on a different rhythm so it’s like in its own league.  We love you.

A few examples of “Malay Time”:

First, on our 2nd day here we had an appointment to meet a local Realtor who was going to show us some properties for rent.  She was going to call us at 10:45am, and pick us up at 11:00am outside the hotel.  10:45am came and went.  11:00am gone.  At 11:15am I was ready to move on, and I called another Realtor.  Wrong number.  A few minutes later, I tried the first Realtor and without apology or explanation, she quickly assured me she would be there in 10-15 minutes.  Finally, at about 11:45am, we were greeted frantically at the front of the hotel and were off to see some apartments! (In the end, we chose a different property with a different Realtor who was very prompt and made a fantastic first impression.  Here’s Melvin showing us our new home!)

Melvin is NOT on Malay Time

Second, the debacle that was our luggage.  Our bags were delayed (full story here) on our flight over, and for three straight days we called the lost and found office at the airport.  We called the airlines.  We enlisted the help of Jenny’s parents to call the US offices of the airlines.  We asked our concierge at the hotel to help.  We sought help wherever we could find it just to get someone who could tell us (a) where the bags were (Were they in Singapore? Houston? Atlanta? KL waiting to be claimed?) and (b) maybe as extra credit, an estimated arrival time.  Nearly 72 hours…nothing.

Our concierge at the hotel offered no help other than what seemed like half-hearted attempts at empathy every time we returned to the hotel from being out, and on our way up to our room stopped by the desk to ask, “Any news today about luggage?”  The response was always the same, a smile and “Sorry.  Nothing today.”

We were told a hotel concierge could sometimes help track down lost or delayed bags, especially speaking the language and having first-hand, local knowledge of a process completely foreign to us.  If they ever did contact the airport on our behalf, I never knew it.  Across 72 hours, never so much as a call to the room just to say, “We contacted them again today, and sorry but no news…”


So, finally we got word from the states our bags made it. I walked down to the lobby to check and see what our friends at the concierge desk knew (3-4 different individuals working there at this point knew us by name, face, room # and possibly had our lost bag reference # memorized). Before I could start I heard, “Looking for bags, sir?”

“Yes, I am.  Have you heard any —- ”

“They are here”, he said before I could finish.

“Great!”  I said with relief.  “Here, as in the airport ‘here’, or Here as in the — ”

Cutting me short again and smiling while pointing proudly to a storage room, he said “Here.”


“Can. I. Get. Them….Please?!?!?” Failing to see the logical next step of bring the bags to us or calling, the concierge, was on Malay Time and was sufficiently pleased just to deliver the good news that the bags had made it. After I tracked him down and asked, of course.

Finally, there are a few businesses and restaurants within walking distance from the hotel.  It’s been nice to have access to good food, sundries shops, office supplies, cell phone stores and even a laundry shop to help us in the transition, especially since we had the same outfits on for several days.  But we came to find out that the vendors were on Malay Time as well, and that published open and close times were merely suggestions.

There was a UPS store, for instance, whose sign said open at 10am, that was still closed as I walked by at 10:24am (hoping to purchase a few items) with the clerk inside and paying no attention to me.  The next day, the clerk in the cell phone shop that still had not opened as of 11:45am one day, let me know later when I asked her what time they open, “uhhm, 10, I think, or 11. You know, after 11.” Roger that.

Oh, almost forgot…the shuttles!!  Our hotel shuttle took us to a mall one night, and it was scheduled to leave the hotel at 4:10pm.  At 3:50pm we asked our good man at the concierge if it was too late to reserve seats on the shuttle.  He said no, and that it would be there in about 5 minutes actually.  Cool…it’s early!  20 minutes later we inquired about the arrival time, just to make sure we hadn’t missed it, and he confirmed it was okay and just about 15 minutes away.  30 minutes later we finally caught the shuttle (an hour after first checking in).  The same driver and bus was supposed to bring us back at 8:00pm, which I confirmed with the driver twice because I didn’t want to be left behind.  By 7:55pm all twelve or so passengers from before congregated on the lawn outside the mall near the bus, where it remained woefully dark and locked until the driver showed up at 8:25pm.

To make it here I think we may have to just learn to let go a little of the sense of urgency and efficiency we have grown accustomed to as Americans.  Maybe there’s a silver lining in the void of stress that comes with being on Malay Time…