This will be a blog of randomness: random musings about Malaysia.
1. Highway Rest Stops – Malaysia knows how to do highway rest stops. As anyone who has young children know, when driving they give you max 5 minutes of warning about needing a toilet break. Somehow while driving on the highway here, we are always within 5 minutes of a rest stop. And they are relatively nice rest stops with some squat toilets, maybe even a KFC or Baskin Robbins, a prayer area and petrol station – they have yet to let me down. If only they applied the same principle in malls or other public areas like waterparks, where there is one bathroom for the whole place. I find it particularly bizarre that large restaurants in malls do not have their own bathrooms and you have to go trooping through the mall mid-meal for a toilet. This weekend we were enjoying some American style food at the Chili’s chain in Penang and had to take quite the jaunt mid-meal to find a toilet….hmmm.
2. Highways – while we are on highways, Malaysia has a very efficient and modern highway infrastructure. The catch is that you pay for it through tolls, which by Malaysian standards aren’t cheap. A trip to KL (2 hours) costs about $9 CDN. Yes, this does not compare to the excessive 407 charges, but where a meal can be had for just over a buck….its not cheap. But we must remember that since petrol is not taxed (and at the lovely rate of 0.65/L (Cdn)), this is how the government collects for roads. They do have a very modern system of collecting the tolls with transponders or cards that you load at gas stations and swipe – very efficient. While we are on the topic of driving, once a year you pay road tax on your vehicle. In the four months we have been in Malaysia we have been stopped at least 4 times at police checkpoints to make sure our sticker is up to date. This has particularly irked us because at least a few of those times were during long weekends causing massive traffic jams. Moral of the story….pay your road tax!
3. Malaysians love kids – yes, it is human nature to love children but Malaysians seriously love kids. When we return to Canada, our poor kids will be walking down the street and wonder why they no longer garner so much attention (eg. ladies/men will stop what they are doing to come give Gavin or Ella a tap on the head or squeeze on the cheek). It is bliss when dining at a restaurant because you can always count on having a few attentive waiters or waitresses (they notoriously overstaff everywhere here because labour is so cheap) to entertain the kids while we eat.
4. Cheap medical care – my last blog focused on the negative aspects of finding a suitable birthing facility here. However, I have found the medical care in Ipoh to be excellent and extremely cheap. You visit doctors (called “consultants”) at the private hospital where they have clinics for each specialty. Prices vary from about $12-25/visit (Cdn), with our pediatrician charging the rock bottom price of $12/visit. These low prices surprise me considering most of the doctors that work at the hospital we go to were trained internationally and drive very expensive cars. But it must be a volume business. It still feels weird to me to hand over cash after seeing a doctor, even if it is so little. Makes me appreciate Canada!
5. Domestic Help – is cheap in Malaysia and it seems to be standard practice for a Malaysian of middle class and beyond to employ a “maid”, who is usually Indonesian or Filipino. Nini has been a god send for us and after getting over the awkwardness of having someone in our home, I have come to really appreciate the help. I am completely spoiled in that she comes every day during the week for 4 hours/day. She does a mixture of cleaning, laundry and helping with the kids. She is fantastic with the kids, they adore her and she just knows what and when to do things to make my life easier. I really love when she is here while I am preparing dinner as I get to work in the kitchen alone and in peace, which I enjoy. She takes the kids out in the neighborhood most days and I think they know more people than we do. This will really be hard to give up when we return to Canada!
5. Playgrounds aplenty – you have probably noticed from our pictures that there are loads of beautiful playgrounds all over Malaysia. Kind of like the highway rest stops, no expense was spared. They are great, although you need to get out early because they are rarely shaded.
6. Million dollar idea – if you want to make a lot of money in Malaysia, you should sell queuing machines or parking ticket dispensers. Everywhere you go you have to get a number from the queue machine (pharmacy, post office, bank…)…quite civilized actually. You also have to pay to park where ever you go. It is amazing that we have yet to forget to leave a parking garage without validating (paying) our ticket and being THAT person who must reverse away from the gate. One of these days I’m sure I will be THAT person.
7. Shopping mall layouts – Stores for children are together, electronic stores are together, book stores are together…you get the idea. Paul finds this strange, but it works for me.
1. Seat belts – Check, Car seats – What are those? – Malaysians seem to be very law abiding citizens and we have always felt very safe. In fact, I often wonder why we live in a gated community. True, there are few rules to the road here, but Malaysian seem to universally wear their seat belts. For some strange reason though parents are extremely lax about children and babies in cars. At Ella’s school, I rarely see a child car seat in parent’s cars. And remember that these parents are driving lovely BMWs…so cost is not an excuse. It is very common for passengers to hold babies Brittany Spears style in the front seat and for preschoolers to wander around the vehicle while in transit. I am completely miffed about why seatbelts are taken seriously but not car seats. In fact when I pick Ella up from school in the drive-thru queue I am probably the most hated parent as I hold up the line while I buckle her into her car seat. Same applies for helmets on motorcycles…adults all wear them, but I rarely see a child with one.
2. Motorcycle accidents – Paul has seen his share of them, but I saw my first last weekend. Driving here is characterized as “anything goes” and therefore it is not surprising that there are a lot of accidents. Motorcycle accidents are particularly gruesome, especially with kids in the car.
3. 3 minute Stoplights – Malaysia has the longest stoplights on account of the 4 way system. Only, one of the 4 directions goes at a time while the other three wait. It drives you crazy when you are trying to get somewhere in a hurry. But the upshot is that you can get a lot done in those 3 minutes – text a friend, dig a sippy cup out of the diaper bag…
4. Christmas Shopping Year Round – You know how busy it is at a mall in Canada on the weekend in the month of December? Well that is every Sunday at the malls in Malaysia. Malaysians love their malls – lovely air conditioned spaces offering Western food and shops as well as traditional products. I like malls too, however the difference is that Asians have a lot higher tolerance for crowds than I do. We completely avoid the malls on Sundays where the parking lot is bumper to bumper and you can’t walk anywhere without bumping into others.
5. The Land of Bags – we have mentioned this before about how Malaysians love their bags. Some shops are catching on to the wastefulness of plastic bags and do not give them out on Saturdays. However many items get bagged and then bagged again for good measure. I bring my own bags to the grocery store and for some reason the cashier then has to add a little sticker with the grocery store name on every item I purchase. Apparently my receipt does not prove anything!?! I once heard a foreigner ask the cashier why they do this. She just kept shrugging and although he tried to explain the absurdity of it, he eventually rightfully concluded that she didn’t really care.
6. Be careful asking for help – Saving face is big in Asia. An offshoot of this is, if I ask for directions, I will always receive a response. This might sound great, but in reality it means I am often directed to the completely wrong place. We have found that if Malaysians don’t know the answer to something, instead of saying they don’t know or asking questions, they will give you an answer, any answer. Therefore you have to get good at gauging if the person really knows or if you are just being appeased with an answer for answer’s sake. Paul has found this true at work as well, which can be really frustrating. Related to this, sometimes we have found ourselves in a very inefficient queues where there are many people working, but only one person really working. We, and most North Americans used to efficiency find this frustrating and would start to show our impatience. However these situations never seem to phase Malaysians. Time has a whole different meaning in this culture.
The randomness has gone on long enough for now. I hope that I don’t come off negative about Malaysia. Every country and culture has their own way of doing things and of course we are always going to be biased towards what we are used to . Hope you enjoyed some of our observations about the ins and outs of living in Malaysia as expats.