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Living in Malaysia in 2011 is a pretty neat experience because you get to watch a country heave its way towards modernity at breakneck speeds. Malaysia is certainly not a third world country; it would be classified as a developing country. It has made a lot of progress in a short period of time and it is interesting to see how the old and new meld together. Sleek high rises stand beside street side hawker stalls, BMWs wizz by decrepit motorbikes, smartphones abound everywhere amongst a archaic systems of ledger books. As I’ve mentioned before, Malaysia is made up of three ethnic groups: Malay (Muslim), Chinese and Indian and the government spends considerable time trying to unite everyone under the “1 Malaysia” campaign. Although it seems quite harmonious, each group seems to keep to themselves. The Malays run the government and make up the bulk of the civil service. The civil service is modeled after the British colonial days and consists of a large bloated bureaucracy, whose wheels grind very slowly, inefficiently and is one of the highest per capita (1+ million civil servants in a country of 30 million). I encounter this bureaucracy when I pick up a parcel at the post office or pay my many parking tickets and get shuffled from person to person. Paul is a big fan of our Malaysian bank where he seems to require a passport for every transaction. Since Paul’s passport spends most of its time at the Canadian embassy, this can make things difficult. His passport (when he has one!) has his full name including his middle name, so therefore his bank account is set up with his middle name as well. So of course the bank cannot cash a cheque made out to “Paul Nicholson” – who is that??? And of course they will not cash a cheque made out to “Ella Nicholson” – she needs her own account. But you have to be 12 to set up an account. You get the idea… Ahhh Malaysia sometimes you drive us crazy!
One of my reflections the last couple of weeks has been the inequality in Malaysia. This was brought to the front of my mind this week as I watched our two gardeners attend to the garden. They are both older Indian gentlemen and the one man uses a brace to walk. It is excruciatingly painful to watch him hobble around our backyard weeding or trimming plants. All the more so because I am sure they are only being paid a tiny sum of money. Domestic help is very inexpensive here as well, which allows us to afford to have Nini come into the house each day. In fact, Nini is from Indonesia and the amount of foreign workers in Malaysia is quite staggering. You encounter them everywhere from the factories, to domestics, to labourers. In fact at Paul’s work site they use Nepalese workers, who are boarded here for a couple of years. Obviously these foreigners have decided to come to Malaysia to improve their financial situation, but it is disheartening to see how little they are paid. Even the teachers in Ella’s school are making very little (based on my simplistic calculation of their wage based on admission fees). Not to mention the “aunties” that help out at the school. I should take this opportunity to explain the “auntie” term here in Malaysia. Any female adult is referred to as “auntie”. When I go for a walk, the guards will call me “auntie”. When Gavin and Ella greet our neighbour she is “auntie”. I am “auntie” to our friend’s children. The ladies who clean and cook at Ella’s school are “auntie”. Back to the inquality issue… In contrast to all these workers working for small sums of money, there is definitely a high flying upper crust here who throw money at the wind. In reflecting on the inequality in Malaysia, I can’t help but think of the inequality throughout the world. I can’t help but be thankful that I am in the 1% of the population born in the wealthy Western world. And although we are certainly not rich in Malaysia, we certainly live quite comfortably.
Enough of my deep musings…. What have we been up to? After coming back from Australia, we had our next set of visitors with Barb & Eric arriving for 9 days. We took them on our now well worn tourist circuit visiting Pangkor island, the Cameron Highlands and Penang in between jaunts around Ipoh. The kids were once again happy to have the undivided attention of grandparents who would play with them on the floor for hours and indulge every desire, including “sugar” cereal, endless Tinkerbell stories and racing cars . On our many drives Eric was lucky enough to sit in the passenger seat and participate in adult conversation while Barb was a trooper relegated to the back seat with Ella and those Tinkerbell stories. It was a great week with yet another teary goodbye.
We are getting in the Christmas spirit, even though Christmas is not really celebrated here and it certainly doesn’t feel very Christmassy when it is 35 degrees out. Although we have escaped the winter weather, we haven’t escaped the flu and cold season and are currently dealing with both in our house (fun!) We are counting down the days until our Thailand holiday in Koh Samui in early December, where we will be reuniting with my brother Steve & Audrey.