One of the fascinating things about moving to a new country is the language. Or languages, in the case of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia. There's the Malay language (Bahasa Malayu) which is native to Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore as well. Malays comprise slightly over half the population. Then there are the Chinese, the second largest population group, who may well speak any or all of Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, English and others. The smallest group here are the Indians, so let's add Hindu, Punjabi, Tamil and any of 17 others to the list.
Don't take my word about it: read about it here. Fortunately for us expats, many people in Malaysia speak excellent English (impressive English!). A very large number speak very passable English. This is one of those places where it's pretty darned easy to come as an English-speaking tourist and get around just fine.
There's a vibrant English writing community, too. Novels, anthologies, and books of poetry written by
|Malaysian English language|
OK, so what's the catch? For me, the 'catch' has been coming to terms with speaking English whilst, at the same time, not speaking English. Some people use the term "Chinglish" (English influenced by Chinese) to describe it but I find it a broader, more interesting (and sometimes hopeless but always amusing when I look back at it in a later sane moment) situation. And, when you add the cultural context of "timeliness"--as if such existed here--it can be hilarious.
First, the key words you need to know: OK, OK-OK, Can, Can-Can, No-Can, No have, Finish*. I am convinced that, with the addition of some arm-waving and possibly a pencil and scrap of paper in the case of numerical negotiations or the need to exchange phone numbers, much service-related commerce in Malaysia can be completed. OK, so armed with that, let's call for service.
So. I made an appointment with the plumber, Mr Woo, for one Thursday last year. It wasn't urgent. I settled in to spend the day writing on the Tuesday immediately preceding. A blissful morning and afternoon awaited me. The phone rang.
WOO: "Come now."
ME: "Why? Have appointment for Thursday."
WOO: "Thursday no can. Come now."
ME: "OK-OK, what time?"
WOO: "Come now."
ME: "OK-OK, come now."
OUTCOME: Mr Woo arrived on Thursday two hours before the originally scheduled time. All my time waiting for him on Tuesday (informing security, locking the dogs up, peering out the window while I didn't write) was wasted. He made no comment regarding what happened on Tuesday. I am certain that if I'd asked why he hadn't come on Tuesday, he would have said "No can."
BLUEBERRY MUFFIN RM7" (RM7 is the price).
Here's how it went. (HELP = Counter Help)
HELP: “Can help you?”
ME: "Yes, I’d like a blueberry muffin."
HELP: "Blueberry muffin?"
ME (pointing): "Yes, blueberry muffin."
HELP: "No have."
ME: (pointing at muffin nearest the front of the display case and tapping on glass) "What’s that? That’s a blueberry muffin right there, with the round blue things on the top."
HELP: "No have."
ME: "Really? But what is that muffin right there, with the blue berries in it? (tapping on glass and pointing at sign next to muffin with round blue exposed blueberries)
HELP: "That LOWFATBLUEBERRY muffin.
ME: "But it's still a BLUEBERRY muffin."
HELP: "No. LOWFATBLUEBERRY muffin."
ME: (biting tongue, smiling, caving in). OK, I’ll have the LOWFATBLUEBERRY muffin. (sigh)
* Finish: A word which means 1) we're out of what you want; 2) we're out of what you want and I have no idea when there will be any more so don't ask; 3) you should have asked me last week; it's too late now, foot; 4) you're too late and I'm not helping you; 5) I don't know what you're asking for so I'm just going to let you know you aren't getting any.