eXotic Malaysian Facts

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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Three eXotic facts about Malaysia you might find interesting (or not) :

#1. We call our elders uncle or auntie – Being called uncle or auntie by someone who is younger than you are but not someone you’re related to, is how we show respect to our elders. When I was younger, folks I interacted with at the grocery store or post office, would call me Kak (sister). This is also a form of respect. However, in recent years, no one has called me Kak and instead, I’m now auntie 😦

#2. All Malaysians have an identity card (IC) – It’s a rite of passage that every 12 year old get their identity card (IC). Each IC has a unique identifying number (like a social security number), full name, photo, current residential address and gender (in case you can’t tell from the picture, I suppose). The IC also comes with a chip. Our IC is more important than our driver’s licence, we need it to open bank accounts, apply for a passport and most government transactions. There’s been a rumour that information from our driver’s licence would be merged with our IC so that we wouldn’t have to carry both photo IDs. So far, it’s remained that – a rumour.

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#3. Where’s the pork? If you visit Malaysia and decide to go grocery shopping, be prepared to not find pork in the meat section. That’s because in our supermarkets, there is a non-halal section, which is normally somewhere in the back of the store and this is where all the pork, pork products and products without the halal certification, is secreted away. This section would also have their own cash register, so you pay for your non-halal products there before you pay for the rest of your groceries at the regular cash registers before exiting. Alcohol is also found in this section.

Sarong

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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When you hear the word sarong, this is probably what you imagine –

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Fancy sarong wrap

However, here in Malaysia, this is what we refer to when we hear the word sarong –

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How to wear a sarong

When I was younger, I remember my dad going around the house in the evenings, wearing a sarong and a white t-shirt. At the time, the sarong was also his pyjamas. Depending on the weather, he’d either keep the white t-shirt on, or just go shirtless.

s-l225It’s perfectly acceptable to wear a sarong and a t-shirt while out and about in the neighbourhood. Muslim men wear them on the way to the mosque for prayers too, so it’s not an unusual sight. I’ve even seen sarongs being worn by ladies in the neighbourhood as they sweep up the leaves from their front yard. I’ve even worn a sarong to sleep before but stopped because I kept getting tangled up in the cloth!

The motif on the sarong that men wear are typically plain and checkered while the motif on the sarong women wear have flowers and other details plucked from nature.

Have you ever worn a sarong?

Roti Man

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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Roti translates into bread. And like newspapers, we can get our bread delivered to our house via our roti man.

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The not-so ubiquitous roti man

The roti man would deliver bread to homes and hang them on the gates. If you didn’t want any bread that day or for the next few days, you hang a sign outside your gate “No bread today!”

These days though, not many homes get their bread from the roti man, preferring instead to just head to the shops to get their own. Despite the decreasing popularity of the roti man delivering bread to homes, he’s not in danger of being extinct anytime soon. Nowadays, roti man 2.0 goes to schools or home renovation sites to sell bread and everything else that hangs on the back of his motorcycle.

Qingming

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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Qingming, or Ching Ming, was on April 4th this year. This festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day or Chinese All Soul’s Day, marks the day when the Chinese community honour their departed relatives by making offerings to them. This is a cultural festival not a religious one.

During Qingming, all varieties of food (depending on one’s preference) as well as joss stick, incense, joss paper and paper money (depending on one’s religion) are prepared prior to visiting graves.

Once at the grave sites, the tombs would be swept and grass around the area pulled up.

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iPhones for your ancestors…so that they can give you a ring??? 

Though I don’t observe Qingming, I’m always fascinated by the types of offerings that are burnt for the dearly departed. A typical offering that is burnt during this festival is paper money. Other types of offerings include model houses, electronic items and this year, even a sports car!

It is believed that all these paper items that are burnt will reach their ancestors who’ll be able to enjoy the objects in their afterlife.

Lah

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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“Don’t lah…”

“I know lah!”

“Yeah lah!”

Like Alamak, if you hear someone peppering their sentences with the word lah, you’re probably in the vicinity of a fellow-Malaysian (or Singaporean).

The word lah doesn’t translate into any word although it is used in a variety of situations – to emphasise, tease, cajole and more! I’ve heard some non-Malaysians try to sound local by including lah in their conversation. Unfortunately, their placement of lah in the conversation is not quite right! Sadly, the correct usage of lah can’t be taught because so many factors need to be considered – context or how well you know the other person you’re speaking too! most of the time, depends on the tune and also the context!

Here’s a video of the usage of lah in a variety of situations! This video is an example of its usage in Singlish (or Singapore English) which is nearly identical to Manglish (Malaysian English)! 😀

Joget

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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There are many Malaysian traditional dances and each ethnic group in Malaysia has their own dance. For Ibans, it’s the ngajat, a dance that mimics warriors in battle. For the ethnic group that originates in Sabah, it’s a dance called the sumazau.  

Ever since I was young, I was always involved in performances, most especially dances. One of the first traditional dance I learned is called the joget (joe-get). It’s a traditional dance belonging to the Malay ethnic group. It’s a couple dance and the tempo is fairly quick. A good workout! This dance is quite popular and would often be performed at international events or occasions, weddings.

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Source: Dance Malaysia

I had the opportunity to perform this dance at an event during my secondary school years. I remember we had to practice every other day until we got the complicated footwork right!

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Me focusing on my footwork

I managed to dig up a decades old photo of me doing the joget. I’m the one on the far right, focusing on my feet. The girls all wore sarongs and a baju kurung top. A baju kurung is a traditional dress.  We also had long scarves around our necks. And yes, the dance is sometimes performed barefooted.

Maybe one day, I’ll try my hand at ngajat since that’s the dance of my people 🙂

What type of dance do you wish you could learn?

Gas men

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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Gas is frequently used for cooking in most homes in Malaysia. Though an increasing number of households use electricity too. Gas is supplied to homes or restaurants in two ways – they’re delivered in canisters or via gas mains. Homes in rural areas can only get gas for cooking in canisters.

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We call these guys gas men though that’s not their official job title. They’ll pick up empty canisters from restaurants and replace with full canisters. Sometimes, gas canisters are delivered via motorcycle. Yep, it’s a sight to see these gas men on their motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic with all those gas canisters!

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Ever cooked using gas supplied in canisters?

A Famosa

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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Malacca, one of the thirteen states in Malaysia, was a Portugese colony from 1511 – 1641. To protect the colony from attacks, the Portugese built a fortress called A Famosa (The Famous).

School children all over the country would’ve visited Malacca during a school trip as it figures prominently in our history books. The last time I was there was in 2013 and even then, I was still in awe at how much history this structure has seen.

While I was researching for this post though, I came across some sources that indicate that this structure which I know is A Famosa, is not exactly A Famosa! In fact, this gate could be part of the Fortaleza de Malaca, another fortress built by the Portugese, and also could actually be called the Porta de Santiago! Now, I’m confused. And slightly bewildered.

Also, because A Famosa is such a well-known name in Malaysia, it’s also the name of a water-themed park and resort. Sorry, Portugal!  1389169610126

Tell me about the historical monuments/ buildings/ structures in your city/ country!

Congkak

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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I grew up during a time when as kids, we entertained ourselves by playing games like congkak (chong-kuck). What the heck is congkak? Well, it’s a two-person logic game played using  a papan congkak or congkak board.

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congkak board filled with marbles. 

I used to play congkak during free periods in primary school. The congkak boards were usually kept in the library and we’d sign it out and bring it back to our classrooms.

This is not unique to Malaysia though as Indonesia, Singapore and even the Philippines have their version of it.

In a congkak board, the smaller holes in the middle are called the “houses” while the two larger ones on each end are the “storehouses”. Each player sits on one side of the board and the houses facing them as well as the storehouse to their left belong to that player and vice versa. The game starts by filling each house with marbles or pebbles, the number of which corresponds to how many houses there are on the board. In this case, since there are 7 houses, you’ll need 7 marbles per house so you’ll start with a total of 49 marbles per player. The ultimate objective is to collect the most marbles (or all of them) in your storehouse! This website explains the rules far better than I do 🙂 I also came across this extremely simplified instruction manual –

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Source: Happy City Penang Project

Instead of using marbles or pebbles in congkak, you could also use cowrie shells or saga seeds to fill the houses. My preference was always for saga seeds, though they weren’t easy to obtain.

It’s been years since I’ve seen anyone, especially kids play congkak. Though I’m sure if someone’s created a congkak app, they’ll probably play it. Oh, I just googled it, apparently there’s already a congkak app.

Tell me about the childhood games you played!

Celebrating the Day of the Full Moon in the Tamil Month of Thai aka Thaipusam

Last year, a friend from Canada came to Malaysia and was in the country in time for the Thaipusam holiday. She’d already made plans to go to Batu Caves, one of the main hubs of the celebration, to observe the procession and asked me if I’d ever been. I had to confess that I’d never gone to Batu Caves to participate in the Thaipusam celebrations. Thaipusam is one of those festivals that I wish I knew more about and since the celebrations started yesterday, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share what I do know already and also what I recently found out:

#1. We get a holiday – Any festival that results in a holiday is a worthy one to celebrate, in my books. However, not all of the states in Malaysia declares Thaipusam a holiday so boo hoo to those states that have to work on Thaipusam.

#2. Batu Caves becomes a sea of people – The Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple located at Batu Caves (or Rock Caves) is one of the main places where Thaipusam is celebrated. There’ll be masses of people, locals and tourists alike. Apparently, this year, 1.6 million people are expected at Batu Caves.

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Thaipusam is dedicated to the Hindu deity, Lord Murugan. That’s him in gold.

#3. It starts with a procession – The night before Thaipusam, Hindus gather at the Sri Mahamariaman Temple along Jalan Tun HS Lee (Chinatown/ Petaling Street area). From there they will leave around midnight on a 15 kilometer (approximately 8 hour) walk. During this procession, devotees pull a golden/ silver chariot. Penang, another location that celebrates Thaipusam on a grand scale, apparently has a golden AND a silver chariot procession this year.

#4. There are piercings everywhere – During this festival, devotees choose to honour Lord Murugan by the carrying of kavadi. I’ve always thought that the kavadi refers only to the elaborate framework that is attached to the devotees bodies via hooks or piercings. Now, I know that a kavadi can also refer to a metal pot filled with milk, carried on the head or shoulders. Seeing a kavadi-bearer pierced multiple times can be pretty gruesome.

#5. Coconuts are everywhere too – A whole lot of coconut smashing goes down during Thaipusam as well. The coconut is an auspicious fruit for Hindus and apparently, the action of smashing a coconut on the street is to cleanse the street before the chariot passes through. This year, an additional one million coconuts had to be imported from Indonesia to cater for the demand during Thaipusam.

This video from National Geographic shows how Thaipusam is celebrated in Malaysia (Warning: Piercings pretty much dominate)