Friday, November 14, 2008

"Drink more water, get more sleep."

This is the advice I routinely get from the locals here when I mention any non-specific malady with which I might currently be afflicted. Exhaustion, backache, funny taste in my mouth, headache, bleeding from my ears, whatever. Okay, the last one was a bit made-up, but it still amuses me. This is actually good advice on the whole, however: drink more water, get more sleep. But it's funny when it comes from people who call every sniff, sneeze, and cough "flu." Not the flu, mind you. Just flu. "I got a little bit flu today." I love it. At first, I tried to tell one of my friends that "flu" was, in fact, a very specific viral infection, influenza, that kills gobs of people every year. That didn't really work so well, so I just resigned myself to letting it go.

The word for this funky interpretation of the English language is, appropriately enough, "Manglish." It's just a blend of the words Malay and English, but it turned out to be the very prescient term manglish, which is an accurate descriptor as I've ever heard.

The word "science" is mangled into "sains" (pronounced "signs"). Two of my Malaysian-taught Korean students argued ferociously with me that the word "tuition" was absolutely pronounced "TOO-shun." The third syllable was apparently optional. Most of these things, I just happily ignore. I can't get the whole of Malaysia (and indeed much of Asia) to start calling bathrooms "bathrooms" instead of "toilets." (I do try to occasionally explain to people that the "toilet," per se, is the actual vessel into which you... er... eliminate... not the entire room.) But they all say, "I was in the toilet," to which I sometimes think to myself, "Really? Were you swimming laps in it?" But I just don't bother. The toilet thing bugs me a bit simply because it's so crude-sounding to American ears. "I'm going to the toilet." It's just not something you'd hear in polite company at all in the States, but here, it's not considered even remotely crass or impolite.

On the other side of the coin, I do constantly try to remind myself of cultural sensitivities here, not least among them using only my right hand to pass things to people. Usually this is automatic, since I'm right-handed, but sometimes it's a bit more natural to use my left hand. For example, if I extricate my wallet from my pants with my right hand and open it, I pull the money out with my left hand. Normally, it would be very fluid and natural to just hand it to the cashier with the same left hand. However, in Asian cultures, it's considered quite inconsiderate to use your left hand for this, so I actually make a point to swap the cash to my right hand before handing it over.

One other thing that's much more esoteric is the whole notion of "personal space." It's quite different in Asian cultures than in American society. Moving within a crowd is very different in the States than it is here. There's probably some sort of complex mathematical equation or chaos theory algorithm that can predict how the components (individuals) will react to one another and move within the system (the crowd). The equation would almost certainly vary from culture to culture, because when I'm in a crowd in America... say, leaving a Rockies game, or being in a crowded mall at Christmastime, I feel very much like a fish who belongs in the school. I can intuitively sense how people around me will move and shift and make my own "course corrections" without any conscious thought. Here, though, I just feel like a big awkward mackerel, trying to swim in formation with a school of herring. Sometimes it feels like people intentionally walk into my path, but that's not the case, I suspect... it's just that the crowds here interact internally very differently, but on a purely innate, subconscious level. It's just the weirdest damn thing, and probably doesn't translate very well to prose, so I'll leave it at that.

The final thought here is my attempt to post a very short video on here... because of the unique shape of the Petronas Towers, the reality of their immense height is rather betrayed in still photos and, indeed, even in real life, seeing them from afar. Standing at the base of Tower 2, however, and slowly panning the camera upwards (can you pan up? or it just a left/right thing? hmmm...) does a better job of conveying the sheer vertical rise of the buildings. I shot this last week after an early-evening rainstorm.

Over and out!


Steven said...

Chad -

Thanks for all the detail in your posts. It's almost like being there, without the humidity, traffic, "flu" and such. We're looking forward to more reports...

Friendlyreader said...

Great blog. I really enjoyed reading it.

However, I couldn't help but comment on this:
"I can't get the whole of Malaysia (and indeed much of Asia) to start calling bathrooms "bathrooms" instead of "toilets." (I do try to occasionally explain to people that the "toilet," per se, is the actual vessel into which you... er... eliminate... not the entire room.)"

"Toilet" may mean the vessel/fixture in American English, but that isn't the case in other forms of English. In many parts of the English-speaking world, it DOES mean the room.
It is perfectly acceptable to call the room a "toilet" in say, New Zealand for example. "Bathroom" on the other hand refers to the room where you take a bath/shower.

I'm always amused when people criticise "Asian" English through American/British/insert-place-of-origin tinted glasses. Just because it's different from what you're used to doesn't mean it's wrong.

Anyway, if American English can evolve from its British roots - what's to say Malaysian English isn't a dialect of its own with is own peculiar (but not incorrect) variants?

Chad M. said...

Language is indeed a fluid and ever-evolving medium, I agree with that; but I will continue to find some components of Malaysian English a source of amusement. "I was in the toilet" will always sound ridiculous and vaguely crass to me. I may look at English through American-tinted glasses, but more people speak American English than British, Australian/New Zealand, and all these other forms of English (Singlish, Manglish, etc.) COMBINED. So I'm not sorry. You can rename a "door" to any other word you want, and it's certainly legally permissible, but to me, it will always be a door.