Friday, July 29, 2011

Malaysia vs. USA

I have decided that in this post I am going to talk about the key points in the Malaysians life style, and how they compare to life in the USA, to give you a general feel for how life is here in Malaysia :)  But please keep in mind that I have only been here for two weeks, so some of this information might change as I learn more!

Almost all meals in Malaysia include rice.  Rice, rice, rice.  Generally, two or three dishes are served that
include shrimp, chicken, fish, or vegetables.  Then, you take some of the dish and put it on top of the rice, and using your RIGHT (very important) hand you mix the food together and enjoy.  Usually the dishes are extremely flavorful and spicy, so not much is needed to give he rice a lot of flavor.  Generally, all foods are mixed together and are never meant to be separated.  No matter what foods are served, the first step is to mix them all together.  Eating out is extremely cheap compared to the US; a family of four can eat for about $7.  Average restaurants appear to have no menus, so for me it is always a mystery as to what my parents order for me.  Another difference from the US is that there are no recipes whatsoever.  Usually whatever is in the fridge that will make an interesting combo is what is for dinner.  There are no temperature settings on the stoves, no timers, and no measuring devices.  The instructions my mom gave me to cook rice were "fill a cup with rice, and then add a little bit more, fill the water up to about the middle of your finger, and turn it on until it looks like the rice is done."  Regardless, the food turns out delicious, almost always.  The food is of course very spicy, but is not as difficult as a thought it would be.  I have actually found that I can eat more spicy food than my host parents!  I brought them hot tamales because I had heard the food in Malaysia was spicy, and half way through one piece they boy exclaimed "I can't take it!" and had to get up to throw it away.  I thought it was hilarious, and continued to finish the whole box.  My family was amazed.  I have also learned to never ask, or make assumptions, about what something is made out of.  My family was eating a lot of this type of cracker that was light brown, and I assumed it was a dessert, made of cinnamon or something like that.  However, after I took one for myself, my parents told me it was made from grounded up dried fish.  Definitely not at all what I was expecting. 

Religion is a very, very large part of life here in Malaysia.  Regardless of what religion a family is (Islam,
Buddhist, or Hindu) it is very very important.  Because I live with an Muslim family, I am currently learning the most about Islam.  The families pray five times a day during azan (a prayer is read over a loud speaker across the town) and before all meals.  Also, during school prayers are made before and after each period.  All events, outcomes, and tasks are done for or because of Allah.  Also, Ramadan is coming up shortly, and during the month no one will eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum from sun up to sun down.  Also, over the month each Muslim is required to read the entire Quran and ask forgiveness for their sins.  As of right not, I am planning on fasting alone with my family but my only concern is that I will get dehydrated without the water because I am still adjusting to the weather.  We will see how it goes!

There is no rules on the road.  At all.  To get a perfect summary on Malaysian driving please read the following article:

Families are extremely tight knit in Malaysia.  Kids spend almost no time with their friends because the families do  essentially everything together.  In the USA it is normal for the entire family to be in the house and everyone is doing different things, such as TV, video games, reading, or computer.  That is generally not the case in Malaysia, and it is rude to spend a lot of time alone in one's room.  Also, whenever a member of the family has to leave the house such as an appointment, or going to the grocery store, the whole family goes along as well.  They are also extremely close to their extended family and it is common for grandparents to be living in the house as well.  My host father has 9 siblings, so family gatherings are always massive, and a lot of fun.

Because Malaysia is a conservative countries, the rules are very different from the US.  Especially for teenage girls, like myself.  All girls must be home by six if they go out with their friends, and are not allowed to go out by themselves.  Because I am a foreigner, I must always be accompanied by a family member when I leave the house.  It is not customary for one to spend a lot of time at a friend's home because you are considered rude for using up their electricity or food.  Also, girls are not allowed to spend time alone with men, and are definitely not supposed to have boyfriends.  (However, many teens enjoy breaking this rule).  PDA is illegal, and a couple can get fined for kissing in public.  All children live in the house until their get married.  Generally, teenagers do not get jobs until they are married, and the parents are financially responsible for them until they leave, which is usually around the age of 25.  After a daughter leaves, the husband is now responsible for her finances.  In all homes, the father is the head of the home, all all decisions mus be approved by him.  Respecting the father is extremely important.

Homes are relatively similar to those of the USA, with a few exceptions.  Every house has a gate and a cement wall surrounding it, and you can easily reach over the wall and touch the house next to yours.  Shoes are never worn in the home, ad must be removed before going inside.  Most homes do not have washing machines, clothes dryers or hot water heaters, which is okay because it is so hot all the time.  The main differences are the bathrooms, which are WET all the time.  There is typically not a separate area for showering, so by the end of your shower every inch of the walls and floor are soaking wet. 
I would gladly post pictures of my home but it is currently being remodeled so everything is piled on top of the furniture and in the hallway.  However I am extremely excited for the remodel because I get to design my new room, and will somehow end up with a queen sized bed and the biggest bedroom in the house.  No idea how that managed to work out!

In Malaysia there are only 11 grades, so most are 17 when they graduate.  In high school the teachers switch
classrooms instead of the students, and you stay with the same class after form (grade) 9.  Each students gets
assigned to the science or art stream.  In the art stream you take classes such as history, civics, and economics.  In the science stream you take physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics.  The science stream has much harder classes and most homework.  The classes are arranged within the grade alphabetically, and the higher the letter, the harder the work.  Of course my school decided to place me in the A class and science stream because I have already taken all the science classes and assumed I could help the students.  But to my advantage, I am not given any text books, expected to do homework, or take the tests :)  All students are required to wear uniforms, and each uniform is symbolic to how much power one has, or what clubs they are involved in.

A lot of languages are spoken daily in Malaysia, and everyone is at least bilingual.  Everyone knows both Malay and English, and the Chinese population speaks Chinese (either Mandarin or Cantonese), and the Indian population speaks Tamil.  The Islamic religious ceremonies are performed in Arabic, and the Hindu religious ceremonies are performed in Sanskrit.

The weather is Malaysia is by far my least favorite part, as that it is hot and humid 89% of the time.  You can
hardly run outside to the trash can without sweating.  The other 11% of the time it is pouring down rain and
thundering and lightning.  However I am not alone, because I have yet to meet a local that does not hate the
weather as well.


  1. Great update girlie. Only, the link under the driving section didn't come through.

  2. Sooo excited for you!! Sounds like a great experience:)

  3. Fascinating, Sarah. So very different from life in Monte!

  4. This is an awesome post!! Thanks for all of the info. It sounds like you are having many great and interesting experiences. lol. I wish I could be there with you! Miss you! --Jacob--

  5. It was very interesting reading about their culture. Sounds like the US could use a few of their traditions. How's the language coming?
    Kay Lynn

  6. Love the updates. You are very fortunate. Hope you post some pictures next time.