Hello everyone! Greetings from sunny Malaysia. And by sunny, I mean that it’s bloody 95-100 every single day, plus humidity. And yes, I already got sunburned many times, including a bad one on my back that made sleeping difficult and resulting in my entire back peeling. Lovely image, yes? Anyhow, onto bigger and better things, such as telling you all where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing! Quite a few of you are wondering, but instead of telling you the easy way, I’ve decided to further confuse you with a paper entitled, “Things In Southeast Asia That Would Never Make It In America.”I hope you enjoy it. Signed,
Things In Southeast Asia That Would Never Make It In America
By Kathryn CooperThing That Would Fail: Pepsi Green
Why It Would Fail: 1. Because if you take the worst of Pepsi (otherwise known as Pepsi) and the best of Pepsi Clear, then add green food coloring, you’ve already got a product that looks and tastes 100x better than this atrocious soft drink. 2. Ummm…think about it. It’s Pepsi Green.
Thoughts: I was at a party in Thailand a few weeks ago and unfortunately came into contact with this drink. It’s sort of like a sandwich sold at Walgreens, or Pizza Hut pizza made in a seafood-centric country. You’re repulsed by the idea and don’t really want to try it, but curiosity overcomes you and you break down. Colored a sickly light mint green with a sad grey shadow, this drink has a taste that luckily can’t be described. It will never make it to America. And if you like Pepsi or don’t know what Pepsi Clear was, you should not be friends with me. Thing That Would Fail: Green Cream Soda Flavor
Why It Would Fail: Because it’s 1. “flavored” green, and that is probably not to be trusted since a color should not be allowed to be a flavor, and 2. it reminds me of Pepsi Green.
Thoughts: I don’t want to think about Pepsi Green any more. Please make it stop. Thing That Would Fail: Corporal Punishment In The Classroom
Why It Would Fail: Because it’s kind of…creepy? Yeah, they still do it in many parts of the world. No worries, it’s usually just a rap on the knuckles or hand here in Southeast Asia.
Thoughts: Oh come on, that’s nothing. Just imagine what I went through with Home School Corporal Punishment. Thing That Would Fail: The Kindness Of Everyone
Why It Would Fail: Because Americans don’t know the first thing about true, genuine kindness. Sure, I’m generalizing and admit that there are lovely people, but they’re a rarity. These folks show true altruism in my opinion. The people here have kindness and generosity ingrained in them, and it truly makes you feel both bad about yourself and like you can improve at the same time. As one woman here put it, Westerners are applauded for their kindness and are free to brag about it and hope for something in return or some kind of “good karma.” In Asia, it goes without saying that you’ll invite strangers into your home, feed them a meal, and give them a bed. I can’t tell you how many homes I’ve visited where the family has just invited me in and fed me, offered to buy me dinner, given me their house keys, offer to show me around, etc. It’s kindness that I don’t even understand and am always questioning. Why would he pay for my meal? Why would she let me sleep in her house? Why are they going out of their way to find me slippers, give me a clean towel, do my laundry, or cook for me? I feel bad accepting, but it is rude not to. They’re kind in not just their actions, but their words as well. Sure, the people here love a good laugh, but they’re just so friendly, hospitable, and happy. It’s something I know I’ll work on, but I think being here really makes you a better person.
Thoughts: I wish all Americans could experience true kindness. Thing That Would Fail: The Whole “Every Child Must Look The Same” Deal
Why It Would Fail: Because it makes an otherwise cute child look like a Commie-in-Training. Seriously. Every single child looks the same by government order. It’s worse in Thailand than it is in Malaysia, though I haven’t seen the other uniforms in other countries yet. In Thailand, the same uniform is worn throughout the country, the same regulation hair length and style is required, the same shoes and socks, etc. Given that everyone has the same black shade of hair and eye color, it really makes for cookie-cutter kid soldiers. The uniform in Malaysia is even worse—a tacky, bright blue long skirt for the girls and a white top that requires an extra-hot white shirt layer underneath the long sleeves. But at least they don’t all have to have the same haircut.
Thoughts: Kids here are creepy, but you can blame the government. Thing That Would Fail: Sketchy Old Men Hitting On Young Women Like Moi
Why It Would Fail: Oh wait this happens all the time.
Thoughts: Why It Would Fail: Success. Thing That Would Fail: The “Do What You Like And No One Will Mind Because You’re In Malaysia And People Are Fine With It” Philosophy
Why It Would Fail: Because I don’t think the “Trespassers Welcome!” sign would sell as well as the one threatening prosecution. I went camping with my Iranian buddy here who is teaching and studying in Malaysia. We boated out to an island that was NOT packed with tourists, and it was simply gorgeous. Clear waters, amazing snorkeling or diving, and cheap food. We got off the boat and simply walked to the end of the palm tree-lined, rocky, shady beach, and pitched our tent. We were totally on someone’s property. “Shouldn’t we make sure this is okay?” I asked. “It’s Malaysia. It’s okay,” said my friend. I was still worried and went off to find the owner, who, of course, also owned chalets meant to be rented out. “Is it okay if we camp there?” I asked. “Sure, no problem,” The owner replied. Nice guy, poor businessman.
Did I mention that I did my version of free snorkeling? It’s called bringing your own goggles, and if you can hold your breath for long periods of time, it’s so much better than snorkeling because a.) it’s free, and b.) you can dive down without filling up your breathing pipe or feeling ear pressure. I went twice almost every day, and got to see so many fish and coral that I was literally mouthing “wow” underwater, but stopped due to that thing called seawater filling your mouth. Anyhow, I got to go out whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted, and for as long as I wanted, and all for free. I swam with schools of fish, saw bright blue mini swordfish, a manta ray, spied clown fish in sea anemone, swam with wild sea turtles, and even got to pet one while underwater. Dang.
We got free “accommodation” on another beach we went to as well. The owner of an open beach hut had no problem with us pitching our tent under the thatch roof while it rained. So generous!
Thoughts: People are so darn welcoming here. Also, I saved a ton of money by camping. Thing That Would Fail: Government-Order Religion
Why It Would Fail: Because it’s just not right. I can’t tell you how angry it makes me to see what goes on in Malaysia and many parts of the world. Yes, I knew about many of these practices before, but it’s different when you’re living in the middle of it. And please, as you read this, realize that I do not mean offense against anyone, any group of people, any religion, or any country. I have issues with several things going on here, but please understand that this is only (part of) my opinion.
I took this trip for many reasons, and a big one was to learn about other countries, other philosophies, other ways of life, other cultures. I am learning far more than I thought, and I’m doing this by volunteering and really living with people, by hearing their stories and really talking to them. As one of the families (in Malaysia) I’m staying with said, “Tourists come into Kuala Lumpur and explore a bit and think everything is fine. You’re getting the real story on the great injustices of this country.” America is rife with problems, corruption, and unfairness, but we don’t understand how lucky we truly are. In addition, we greatly misunderstand people and perhaps unfairly judge what we do not know. Yes, I know the same could be said about America, but this bit is on this area of the world.
Here’s a little background on Malaysia, a country which, it seems, no one talks about or visits much (aside from Kuala Lumpur, which is, like most cities, not representative of the actual country or its inhabitants), but that is one of the most culturally diverse places on the planet. While the U.S. is a melting pot, Malaysia is a somewhat new nation but with three distinct groups of long-standing citizens: Malaysian (Muslim), Chinese, and Indian. Population-wise, Malaysians make up about 55%, Chinese about 24%, and Indians about 8%, with the rest going to the Aborigine and other small groups (who live mostly on the island of Borneo, or East Malaysia). Though everyone here refers to themselves as “Malaysian,” Malaysians I talk about here mean Malay Muslims.
In many Western countries, especially America, we take our daily lives and liberties for granted. You really recognize this, of course, when traveling. I’m not just talking about the “we’re rich and you’re poor” mentality; I’m speaking about our opportunities, our freedoms, our choices. In America, we live in a country where we have religious freedom. Religion here is a life-consuming word, trapping millions of people into a conformist, ugly, and unfair world. Religion is not a choice in many of these countries, and it’s enforced relentlessly by the government. Malaysians are, by constitutional law, forced to be Muslim. My Iranian friend I camped with? Forced to be Muslim. In fact, he is in Malaysia teaching and studying because it’s one of only 14 countries in the world which he’s allowed to enter. I know this is nothing new, but because of where he was born, he is forced to wear certain clothes, act certain ways, and pretend to adopt a certain religion. If he does not follow the Islamic ways, he will be arrested. Luckily, Malaysia is more lax than Iran in a few ways, so at least he can be friends with females and wear shorts here.
The Malay woman must wear a hijab in the very least, but usually must cover all of the body. And you know about the extremes in the Middle East, where women must wear full covering and cannot drive or vote. Of course, most of the women here will tell you that they are not hot and are happy. Do they just deal with it because they know nothing else? Or are they lying because they have to? I know some wear a hijab and full body coverings for God and for respect. But how do we know what is ingrained and what is freedom of choice? Why must women cover up simply because of the possibility of men having indecent thoughts? Is this a sign of male power, of customs, of respect, or of something else? I do not know, but from my Iranian friend and from other Muslims, they tell me that a shocking 90% of so-called “Muslims” do not actually believe, but that they are acting because they must to avoid government action against them. Can you imagine? I try to respect cultures and religions, but how can I respect a way of life that will imprison a woman for singing or dancing? Why are men allowed to do these natural forms of expression, but not women? I am a feminist by no means, but this unfairness strikes me in quite the wrong way.
All Malaysians (non-Chinese and most non-Indian) are Muslim, as I mentioned, and by definition don’t have too many freedoms. Males and females cannot be friends with each other. I am, and always have been, a strong supporter of opposite sexes being friends with each other and learning together. I never have been a fan of single-sex schools. Sure, the students may be less distracted, but the learning styles are not as successful. Group dynamics studies have shown that females and males think in different ways, and that, when working together, more learning takes place, more original ideas are created, and a wider variety of successful solutions are created in co-ed groups versus same-sex groups. To not be able to be friends with half the world is just beyond me. I don’t know how I would survive without all of my guy friends. Now imagine if you were caught in the act of khalwat, or what’s known as “close proximity to the opposite sex.” You’d be arrested. Or, if you, as a non-Muslim, brought a Muslim to a non-Halal establishment (which makes the Halal association here huge bucks, as it costs about $1,700 per dish to get a restaurant Halal certified), you’d be arrested as well. But what wouldn’t you be arrested for? Being a male Muslim and having up to four wives. In the Malaysian constitution you’re allowed up to, but no more than, four. But no worries if you get bored with one of them. You just say a phrase that translates close to, “I divorce you” three times, and the woman must leave, and then you can get yourself a new fourth wife. With all this, you’d think one would see many Malaysian women out and about, but no, Muslim females here aren’t allowed to hang out at night, only men. This means that despite the majority of the population being Muslim, you see a fairly even mix in restaurants at night, or often even more Chinese and Indian than Malay.
The Islamic culture here affects everyone. A Muslim man or woman must have a top ranking in virtually any business. Even if they are unfit for the job, they are given this position and often perform it with complete incompetence, not because they’re stupid, but because they have no training in that particular area. Of course the government is doing this for power and to give top jobs to their own kind. Schoolchildren who are not Muslim are placed on a lower tier. Though the government goes far to boast about “1 Malaysia,” a concept meant to foster unity in all races in Malaysia, Malaysian kids are given a definite priority. School class photos require that a Muslim student be in the center of every photo, for in Malaysia and many other countries, the center is defined as the power. In school classes, world history is not taught—only Islamic history. As far as university goes, Muslim students are given top spots, and even extremely bright Chinese and Indian students—fully Malaysian for several generations—are not admitted. I have met several such students. The government will take C and D Muslim students over a straight-A non-Muslim students, and that’s just how it is. That is why those who can afford it attend the cheapest colleges and universities oversees. They are welcomed elsewhere and have quite a bit to offer. Malaysia is suffering, losing top doctors, scientists, and other young professionals every year because they know they’ll be appreciated in other countries.
People here are not angry at the religion. They’re angry at the government, which is much more unfair in ways I cannot go into right now. By no means is America a perfect place or even the best place to live, and I will be one of the first people to say that. I have not seen many other parts of the world, so how can I say what is best? We have huge problems of our own. But for the most part we can be what we want to be, do what we want to do, and fight for who we are. And that is something I will never, ever again take for granted.
Thoughts: I traveled halfway across the world to learn to appreciate America. Thing That Would Fail: Advanced Ramen Noodle Preparations
Why It Would Fail: Because we buy ramen noodles specifically because it’s easy to prepare. And cheap. On the ramen scale of ease of preparation and cost, the stuff here ranks off the charts. It all starts with the standard packet of ramen. But once you open it up, the chaos ensues. There are sometimes up to five flavor packets in a single packet. There are many questions that may pop into your head. What to do first? What to add first? Must I mix beforehand? Do I need scissors? Should I even bother making this thing? What if my Norton AntiVirus doesn’t catch all the latest risks? Should I kill my pet pigs to prevent H1N1? Are they going to make Pluto a planet again? Is Vanna White still working on Wheel of Fortune? Has Susan Lucci won an Emmy yet? Why is America’s Funniest Home Videos still on the air? Does anyone care about the Olsen Twins? Is the foaming Liquid Plumr any better than the regular, or is it just a marketing ploy? How hard would it have been to add the “b” and “e” in there so that it actually looks like legible English? Whatever happened to Elian Gonzalez?
These are just a few of the thoughts that might run through your head when confronted with a mess of a meal like this. First there’s the seasoning packet. Then there’s a secondary seasoning packet, which might contain something like fried onion bits. Then there’s a packet of sesame oil. Of chili paste. Of soya sauce. Is there any point in calling this “instant”? I might as well be cooking a 5 course meal. I mean, is the manufacturer trying to make me work? To stress me out? I might as well have a nervous breakdown at this point. Really, if dinner is this hard to prepare, I might as well just go on a fast. Actually, I don’t see the point in living anymore.
At about 40 cents a packet here versus 30 cents in the States, these complicated ramen meals just might break the bank. No longer for college students, these noodles were probably created for upper class citizens making at least a cool 3 million a year. If you’re poor, find a new food.
Thoughts: After all that, it doesn’t even taste as good as the cheap stuff back in the good ol’ U.S.
You’ll notice that I still haven’t told you what I’m doing in Malaysia. I’ll explain all of that in the next email, don’t fear. And no, I haven’t been snorkeling on an island all this time. That was just for a few days, aight?
I know the last email elicited many comments, such as, “Wow,” “Epic,” “Waste of time,” “Don’t you have a life,” “Good paper for recycling,” and other such compliments, so I tried to make this one a wee bit shorter. Sorry for the rant, but if you lived here, you would realize just how much religion affects the entire country. Other than that, I’m learning a ton here, having fun, and will go into detail about everything the next time I write you all.
Until then, keep your balloons at home, try not to get H1N1, and don’t eat as much as I’ve been eating at unlimited, pay-what-you-want Indian buffets.