Hubris

After writing my rather smug little blog post yesterday about how easy it is to pick up Bahasa, I noticed that I had received a Facebook message from my local area’s Facebook page.  Glancing at it, I saw the name of my condo – Villa Flora – so I read it more closely.

Now, I know that ‘bomba’ is fire brigade – so what exactly was the problem that required a fire engine?  Obviously something to do with a pipe … leaking pipe?  … broken pipe?  And why all the exclamation marks – was it a flood of truly Biblical proportions, or just a drama queen getting hysterical about a trickle on the floor?

As I live in the high rise, I thought that I should find out what ‘ada ular masuk’ means, although living on the fifteenth floor, I’m unlikely to get washed away someone’s leaky plumbing.

Since my newfound bilinguality seemed to have let me down, I had to resort to Google Translate –

I’m clearly not quite as fluent as I thought I was – and if I’d been bitten by the snake, then serve me right for showing off.

But, on the plus side, I have learnt a very useful new word, and if I hear anyone shouting ‘ular! ular!’ in the future, I shall turn around and sprint in the opposite direction.

 

Only people with an IQ of 120+ will score 100% in this quiz

Well, after nearly 8 months in Malaysia, my Bahasa is coming on a treat – and without a single lesson, I’d like to add.  It seems that we talented linguists simply soak up the language effortlessly.

So when I came across this fiendishly difficult quiz, I simply had to have a go, and of course I scored top marks.

Have a go yourself and see how many of these Bahasa words you can understand:

  1.  Poskod
  2. Telefon
  3. Muzium
  4. Ais krim
  5. lif
  6. Sekolah
  7. biskut
  8. Restoran
  9. Lori
  10. Mesej
  11. Komputer
  12. Kaunter tiket

Don’t be disheartened if you couldn’t understand any of them – just follow the route below to Bahasa excellence:

 

Come and join me, and you too could be practically bilingual in a matter of months.

Our tea-swilling Royals

I seem to be following the Royals on a tea tour of SE Asia.

First we decided to go to a tea house in Singapore for a traditional pot of tea with all the accompanying rituals –

 

only to find that Her Majesty had already enjoyed a cuppa here several years ago.

Our tea waiter told us that HM was very complimentary about the tea, and she took time to outline all the benefits of tea drinking to the staff.  Teaching grandmothers and sucking eggs came to mind, but on the contrary, he seemed highly delighted to have been told what he presumably already knew, by such an august personage.

The ceremony involved a lot of smelling –

at various stages of the process –

and then lots of pouring into tiny cups –

and it was a very zen and relaxing experience.  But we were careful not to get too relaxed

as the rules of the tea house include ‘no lying around’.  I’m sure HM approved of that rule too, or possibly suggested it in the first place.

Then we drove up through the cloud forest to the tea plantations in the highlands in central Malaysia.  It was a strange sensation to see the clouds swirling about you as you looked out at the tea bushes.

And as it’s a chilly 24 degrees Celsius, the locals all make sure to dress appropriately –

in woolly hats

and furry boots.

And to think that the English are outdoors in shorts and t-shirts as soon as the temperature reaches doubles figures – how would Malaysians cope?

There was tea as far as the eye could see

which made us feel thirsty, so we trotted across to the tea shop – only to find that

William and Kate had already been there and given it the royal seal of approval.

So we had to try some ourselves.

It’s strange to be over 6,000 miles from Devon, but have cream teas available everywhere

Even the buildings look as though they could be somewhere in Surrey

But they do have something that hasn’t yet made it as far as England –

So I had to try some … purely in the interests of research.

I have been assured that these strawberries use specially angled mirrors to check their degree of ripeness, and once they reach the correct shade of red, they wrench themselves off the plant and hurl themselves into the nearest punnet.

A fortune awaits the entrepreneur who decides to introduce this variety into Britain – just think of the labour costs that all those Norfolk farmers will save.

 

Natural Born Killers

Have gone native and been living in the jungle for a few days.

Directions to find our particular patch of jungle were along the lines of … turn left at the stream –

cross the waterfall –

Then turn right at the fourth passionfruit tree –

and suddenly we’d arrived.

Our hut is just behind the palm tree, and was all made by hand from jungle materials by John, our host, a member of the Orang Asli tribe.

Seeing our potential as a pair of would-be assassins, he offered to teach us how to use a blow pipe with a poisoned dart.

These weapons have been used for hunting by his tribe for centuries, and his grandfather, father and uncle were employed by the British to kill Communists during the Malayan Insurgency.  His uncle was so successful that he received military honours and a title.

The poison is deadly – made from the rubber tree – and the weapon is accurate and silent … the perfect tool for murder.

First John’s son showed us the technique –

and then it was our turn.

Anthony’s naval upbringing hampered his progress at first.  Here he is scanning the horizon for the Spanish Armada –

But he soon got the hang of it –

although his technique did put me in mind of a boa constrictor swallowing a small mammal –

Whereas I looked more like a donkey eating an apple –

but I did manage to hit at least one bullseye on the target, so my technique must have had something going for it … possibly the flared nostrils taking in extra air.

Anthony was very keen to take a blowpipe home, but I had to point out to him that killing communists – or even Brexiteers – with a poisoned dart tends to be frowned on these days.  And while the jungle offers ideal camouflage for wielding a six-foot bamboo stick, the average British High Street doesn’t, so his chances of slipping away unobserved afterwards would be negligible.

But if anyone else fancies pincushioning a few undesirable characters, I can source the pipe and the poisoned darts from my mate, John – just tip me the wink.

Singapore Zoo

To be honest, I thought this tiger looked a bit faded … possibly due to all the hot tropical sun, I mused – 

– turns out it’s an incredibly rare white tiger … shows how much I know about nature.

Was very taken with these furry little chaps

Particularly when they walked off with their tails swaying in unison, like the inspiration for the original zebra crossing –

Baboon mother at the grooming salon keeps a firm grasp on her baby’s tail to stop him from wandering off while she has her fleas removed –

– I wasn’t surprised to learn that they share 98% of their genes with us.

As a Harry Potter fan, was delighted to see a real-life basilisk

and to learn that they are familiarly know as The Jesus Christ lizard, because of their ability to walk on water –

Caught an interesting conversation in the aviary:

‘I am looking hot this evening, though I say so myself.’

‘Hello, darlin’ – do you come here often?’

‘No.  I’m not that sort of girl.  It’s my first time actually.’

‘Do you fancy a snog?’

‘Well, ok … but no tongues.’

Slurp slurp …

‘I said – no tongues.  Clear off, you creep!’

‘Bloody women!’

Celebrate … or else!

Next week is Independence Day in Malaysia, and the flags have been appearing all week.

There was an article in the newspaper saying that any business not displaying a flag will not have its licence renewed next year – hence the zealous hoisting of flags all over the country.

I was glad to see that my condo has at least 20 flags flying

So, we won’t all be evicted and the condo razed to the ground for non-compliance.

The police station across the road will also be staying in business –

 

Keen to get into the spirit of the celebration, I decided to make my own flag, from a free insert in the local paper.

As well as nice, clear instructions for assembling your flag, there is also an explanation of the symbolism behind the design

So I now know more about the Malaysian flag than I do about the Union Jack.

In best Blue Peter style, I followed the instructions to cut –

Detach –

and roll –

 

and hey presto …

Now all I need to do is enter the #raisetheflagMY competition and claim my prize, which could be a trip to Langkawi or dinner at the Sheraton.

According to the newspaper: The photos can then be shared on social media with the hashtag #RaiseTheFlagMY, with a personalised “love note” to Malaysia, a caption to capture the love for your country.

Just need to compose my love note – but as it’s been about 40 years since I last wrote a love note, it may take me a little time to dredge up the appropriate vocabulary.

 

A week of firsts …

The new KL metro line has just opened, and we can now get a train directly into the city centre, which is very good news as the traffic can be appalling, particularly at rush hour.  So I went on my inaugural ride this week, to spend an evening in town.

There are very helpful notices, designed to encourage socially responsible behaviour –

and I couldn’t help wishing that a few of them could be displayed on the London Underground –

 

I also had my first bubble tea this week, bought by a kind friend who couldn’t believe that I’d never tried one, and to my great surprise, I loved it!

I spent a very happy 20 minutes on the train home sucking up all the chewy bubbles from the bottom of the cup, one by one, and making very satisfactory slurping noises – whilst all the time sitting under the MRT etiquette notice …

… whoops.

On a completely different note, I also started volunteering at the local orphanage, who put out a plea for English teachers to help the pupils prepare for their exams next month.

When I arrived, I was waiting in the foyer and a boy came up to me, grabbed my hand, smacked himself on the forehead with it, then let it go and wandered off.  Oh dear, I thought, I hope they’re not all mentally disturbed.  But then another boy did the same thing, and another, and another, and I finally realised that it’s their way of greeting people.  Some kiss your hand, and others take it reverently and place it gently on their forehead, but for a lot of them, it’s snatch, smack and drop.  Oh well, they are teenage boys, I suppose.

I’ve been assigned to Ammar

who’s in the centre of this photo, along with the Warden’s two children.  Deda, incidentally, is the only girl in the place, as it’s a boys’ orphanage.

We sat in the dining room and did exam preparation

The homework session is from 8.30 until 10 pm, which seems very late to be doing schoolwork when you’re only eleven years old, but because it’s a religious institution, prayers take precedence over prep.  Not all the boys are orphans, but all have lost at least one parent or come from a very impoverished background, and they are fed and cared for, sent to school and put through university, and can then return to their home town if they wish.

The past paper exam questions that we were working through looked very familiar in style to language exam papers in England, but the content was very different.

And I wondered what British teenagers would make of this boy’s preferred reading matter –

Ammar turned out to be an ace negotiator, and we came to an agreement – well, he twisted my arm, actually – that if he finished his work early he could watch a video on my phone, and I wondered what he would choose.  Despite his religious upbringing, he chose something called ‘God of War’ involving weapons, battles, monsters and heroes …

… whoever first said ‘boys will be boys’ obviously knew what they were talking about.

 

 

Getting an inferiority complex from monkeys

I’m sick and tired of getting insolent stares from monkeys

I’ve always been under the impression that we evolved from monkeys, and not the other way around, so I don’t know what they’ve got to feel so superior about.

One minute they’re staring down their nose at you

or flaunting their crotch in a so-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it way

and then the next minute they’re scrabbling around in a rubbish bin with absolutely no self respect at all …

… I just don’t get monkeys.

And it’s not just the monkeys that try to make me feel inferior every time I go to the local park.  As I stroll lazily around there are people doing all sorts of active and/or energetic things –

some with large, dangerous looking weapons

and some without –

And then there are the men doing all sorts of manly things in the manly men’s area –

while the women sit around and watch.

But looking closely at this picture, I’ve noticed that the women watching have much the same expression on their faces as the monkeys usually have.  So perhaps it’s not disdain after all, just baffled incomprehension at the strange antics of another species.

The reign of terror continues …

My three year-old terrorists were back under the table this week.

 

But this time they built a barricade of chairs to stop me getting anywhere near them.  It was just like a scene from Les Misérables … with me as Javert, obviously.  But I quite like the idea of playing the baddie – it’s probably why I went into teaching in the first place.

Anyway, I managed to lure them out with the promise of icing some cupcakes

They absolutely loved it, and spent ages on their creations – future Bake Off contestants here, I feel sure.

Watching them at work reminded me of how sensible my rule ‘never eat anything a child has made’ is.

Child A alternately sprinked decorations onto her cake, and then sucked another handful off her fingers, while child B licked the entire surface of her iced cake before adding any decorations … presumably to ensure that the icing was at precisely the right consistency for decorating.

I have now added an extra rule to my personal rule book: ‘if any activities involve sugar, make sure you do them at the end of the class, rather than at the beginning.’  Unless, of course, you’re writing a research paper on sugar-induced frenzy in small children … in which case you will have a lot of material for your thesis by the end of the lesson.

You lumpish beef-witted puttock …

Life in the expat staff common room is certainly different.  Last week we were all given sheets of Shakespearean insults

and instructed to use them at all possible opportunities – presumably to underline our own Englishness and to enrich the students’ vocabulary.

And we all have to have our own boxing ring entry music.  This is apparently the music that is played when you – the professional boxer – walk into the ring in your shiny shorts at the beginning of the match.  It’s an unusual requirement for a language teacher, but at least I won’t have to waste time finding my signature tune should I ever decide to become a boxer in the future.

I’m currently swithering between Blue Monday, which has quite a swaggery, punchy feel to it, and The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, which would send my opponent the message that I’m not to be messed with.

Then this imperfectly copied worksheet turned up in the common room last week –

leading to much speculation as to what the picture is meant to be, and what exactly the words on the left say.  Any ideas anyone?

One of the teachers was going through a set of animal alphabet cards this week and was quite surprised to come across this one –

which is now pinned up on the wall.

Rather worryingly, one teacher looked at it and asked, ‘What’s wrong with it?  Is ostrich spelt wrongly?’

She obviously hasn’t watched enough David Attenborough.

And I’m very proud that there is now a photo of me on the wall in the reception area, in one of my most famous roles: wicked witch disguised as a poor old beggar woman –

Unfortunately poor old beggar women have to be brassy blondes, because that’s the only wig we have.

I was very disconcerted on Saturday when I discovered that I have something in common with small-but-evil child.  She arrived clutching a love letter, which she carried around with her all morning –

… crustacean fixation is obviously contagious.

 

The versatility of cutlery

I was very impressed a few years ago when Olivia managed to dismantle two single beds and then reassemble them in another room, using just a spoon and a knife.  It struck me then that cutlery is very much more versatile than it would have us believe; just lying there passively on a table for hours on end, waiting to be put into someone’s mouth.

So when I was faced with a dire implement-shortage this week, I remembered the bed-dismantling episode and thought – aha … cutlery.

I decided when I first arrived in KL that I was a transient, passer-through; travelling light, pocketful of dreams, leave only footprints and all that.

But the problem with travelling light is that everything looks bare and characterless, and more like a safe house in the witness protection programme than a home.  So I decided I needed to personalise my flat.

After some thought (well, very little thought, actually) I turned down the headteacher’s offer of an abandoned kitten with scabies, and decided instead to create a balcony garden.

I arrived home with plants, pots and compost –

– but no tools.

So, resourceful Barden – ever mindful of the bed dismantling – got out the cutlery and did a jolly good job of potting up the new plants –

So I now have my own personalised balcony –

As well as my statement plants from the garden centre, I also have some smaller plants given to me by kind neighbours, and am very excited to have my own pandan plant (repels cockroaches) –

and Indian borage (repels lizards) –

Now all I need is a plant that repels recalcitrant, small children, and my happiness will be complete.

 

 

A new life goal: bathing in gin

Imagine the excitement of reading a review in Time Out of a fab new cocktail bar, and then discovering that it’s just around the corner!

As soon as I’d read it, I was determined to visit The Pawn Room, but it’s one of the new, secret, speakeasy-style bars, which are very difficult to find.  In the end we had to phone them for the exact location.

‘We’re on the second floor at number 46 – but you can only come in if you can find the door.’

So we climbed the stairs and tapped the panelling in true Secret Seven style until we located the door.

 

And then it was cocktail time.

There was a lot of …

pouring –

shaking –

straining –

and muddling –

 

The ‘Big Sin’ had coconut aroma wafted all over it in a very theatrical way by the the barman just before serving and smelt like a tropical paradise –

Best cocktail name had to be Dead Poet 2 –

No idea what happened to Dead Poet 1, but he’s no longer on the menu.

But the best thing in the bar was the bath – tucked away in the corner was a genuine Hendrick’s Gin Bath –

Yeah – suck on that, Cleopatra.  I bet you’d have preferred gin to asses’ milk … if only gin had been around in 50 BC.

Cheers everyone!

 

Keeping up standards in the colonies

As a belated celebration of Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon and the whole English summer season, I hosted a Pimm’s party last night.

I had originally planned it for 4 July – but an American friend cut up rough about that … can’t think why.

I held my ground, insisting that 4 July was a perfect day for an all-things-English party, but was then struck down with food poisoning (karma, possibly).

I was surprised by how many people have never tried – and sometimes never even heard of – Pimm’s … even Brits.  And one Aussie asked ‘so what is this Tim’s exactly?’ which I found rather endearing.

Strawberries in Malaysia come from the Cameron Highlands, the famous tea growing area where the climate is slightly cooler –

– but I have to say that they’re nowhere near as good as English strawberries – much crunchier and more acidic; there’s no fragrant lusciousness there at all.

However, despite the lack of luscious berries, a good time was had by all.

And with a very non-English twist, we went to our favourite local Chinese restaurant for dinner afterwards, where I discovered yet another ‘all time favourite dish’ – butter chicken –

plus a lot of the old favourites – marmite prawns, yam basket, salted egg squid, fried aubergine.

All in all, given the myriad opportunities for delicious feasting in Malaysia, I’ll forgive them for the slightly second-rate strawberries.

 

Don’t pee in the forest!

I went on my first jungle hike this week.

‘Don’t pee in the forest,’ Frankie said sternly as he drove us out to the jungle.

I promised that I wouldn’t, thinking that this was a very sensible rule, given all the snakes and spiders and other nasties that you wouldn’t want to find attached to your nether regions as you squatted in the jungle.

But it turns out that this has nothing to do with health and safety; you mustn’t pee in the forest because the spirits don’t like it.  And I can only say that I sympathise with them – anyone peeing in my house would be given a mop, a bucket and a very stern look, with no excuses accepted.

‘Soo Wei’s coming with us – and the good thing is that she’s a trained nurse,’ Frankie went on.

I began to feel rather anxious at this point.  How dangerous was this hike going to be, if we needed a trained nurse?

I didn’t have much time to fret about this though, as Soo Wei led the way at a cracking pace, and it was all I could do to keep up with her.

We went past rubber trees, and even found some of the cups they fix onto the trees for the latex to drip into.

They hold regular paper chases in the forest, and the marker papers are still strewn all over the ground.

The others tutted about the litter, but I thought fondly of The Railway Children and the injured hare they rescued, and took a photo.

We took a survivors’ picture on the track –

which doesn’t show how sweaty I was – before heading off to get a cold drink.

The cafe was full of locals

and some were playing carrom, a game I’d never seen before and which I can only describe as a cross between draughts and snooker.

You use a sort of puck to flick your draughtsmen into the pockets on the corners.

and there is apparently a lot of skill involved … or so the chaps in the photo told me.

And just to make me feel at home, there was the owner’s most prized possession – a genuine Manchester United towel from Old Trafford, and a television showing Wimbledon.  I could have almost been back in England … apart from the heat, the sweat and the jungle just outside the door.

Succumbing to the lure of dental tourism

I’m starting to realise that I’ve never been particularly vain;  I’ve always prioritised being healthy and in (relatively) good shape, rather than wanting to look 20 years younger than I am.

This approach to life, which I can only attribute to serendipity rather than wisdom, must have saved me shedloads of cash and endless trauma over the years – as I discovered last week, when I gave in to a moment of vanity.

My new dentist, Dr Chew, had a special offer on a super-duper teeth-whitening procedure, and he showed me the brochure with its tempting photos –

It was so much cheaper than it would be in the UK that I decided to go ahead and have it done.

The first indignity was having to wear a mouth guard that made me look as though I had a blue beak.

Just as well I’m not vain.

Then I got the Santa Claus beard look –

and finally the shades –

Then my teeth were covered in foaming white bleaching solution, which made me look as though I’d got rabies –

And finally, I settled back to wait for the magic to work, with a futuristic blue light fixed to my duck’s bill.

At first it was very boring, lying there completely still, but then my teeth started to complain.  It was the sort of pain you get if you bite on a piece of silver foil with a filling in your tooth – unpredictable, sudden and very painful.  I sat there tensed up, and either jumping with sudden pain, or wondering where the next twang was going to hit.

Finally the torture was over and Dr Chew was delighted with the results

But I spent the rest of the day twitching and whimpering as the tooth agonies continued, and had to spend 48 hours eating pale-coloured food only, and no coffee … yet more torture.

So, in short, I paid for 48 hours of torture and deprivation – but never again.

I plan to start a new trend …

 

… black is the new white.  Another glass of red wine, anyone?

 

 

Another must-do ticked off the list

No expat should pass up the opportunity to spend a couple of days in hospital in another country, just to enhance the immersive experience.

My weekend jaunt to the local private hospital cost about as much as a weekend at the Dorchester, and was considerably less fun.

The view from my room wasn’t bad

But it was still the same old bare room with hospital bed.

Mind you, the menu was considerably more exciting than the one I had to endure at the Norfolk and Norwich two years ago.

Here’s the breakfast selection

Not a hint of soggy cereal or leathery cold toast.

So I spent a very dull weekend sitting in bed reading the local papers and taking note of the more unusual stories … dog poo jelly anyone?

Luckily my suspected appendicitis turned out not to be and I got parole on Sunday night.  The doctor now thinks it was probably food poisoning – so the long list of restaurants I compiled from my hospital bed reading will have to wait a while until my gastronomic appreciation bounces back to 100%.

 

“… and then he farted defiantly.”

As W.C. Fields so memorably said, ‘Never work with children or animals.’

Actually, I need to be careful what I say here, because Mr Toad is reading over my shoulder

and he has a very disapproving expression on his face.

So I will concentrate on the ‘not working with children’ bit, and leave animals out of it.

The defiant farter was not one of my pupils, thank goodness; it was the Head Teacher who got the full malodorous force of that one.

But I have received two crushing blows to my fragile self-esteem this week.

In Episode One, Child A points to my leg and says, ‘What’s that lump?’

As I twist around, trying to look for a lump on my leg, Child B prods at my calf and says dismissively, ‘Oh, that’s nothing – it’s just fat.’

In Episode Two, small-but-evil Child C says, ‘You have very nice, soft fingers, Miss Louise.’

‘Thank you,’ I say with a smile, totally off my guard.

‘But your hands aren’t very soft, are they?  Why is that?’ she asks guilelessly.

‘I don’t know,’ I reply, on my guard now, but too late.

‘I think it’s maybe because you’re very old,’ says disingenuous Child C, mercilessly going in for the kill.

So there you are … I’ve been called old and fat, both in the space of a week.

I’m wondering whether the school will pay for my therapy.

 

 

 

Happy Hari Raya

Today marks the end of Ramadan, and in the true spirit of Malaysian gourmandising we decided to go to an all-you-can-eat brunch.

Our choice of venue – a prosecco and pork extravaganza – wasn’t exactly in keeping with Islamic principles, but the intention was there.

Then on to a gin palace, where behaviour deteriorated somewhat …

… not mine, I hasten to add.

They give you a bottle of gin and invite you to make a mark once you’ve had enough –

Needless to say, the bottle was well and truly empty once the crab crew got going on it, so no marking or haggling over price was necessary.

And this evening I can see fireworks going off in every direction as I look out from the balcony

This isn’t my photo … I can’t see the Petronas Towers from my window, but I’m sure you get the idea.

There are yellow and green decorations everywhere

and they are all in the shape of the little woven boxes that are filled with money and given to children at Hari Raya.

Here they are in a shop down the road – along with flaming torches, which seem to be another essential for Hari Raya –

– plus lots of bright, shiny decorations.

The guards at the gate of the condo have really got into the Ramadan spirit and decorated the guard house –

– despite the fact that they’re all Nepalese, and therefore presumably Hindu.

That’s the great thing about Malaysia; there’s a huge mix of cultures, and they all embrace everyone else’s celebrations with great enthusiasm.  So the Malays have a knees-up at Chinese New Year, and the Chinese flock to the Iftar buffets during Ramadan.

As a last word on Ramadan, I had a revelation at my final Iftar buffet last Thursday.  These buffets specialise in traditional home-style food which you don’t normally see in restaurants, and on Thursday I had some of this –

which I thought was artichoke.  But I was assured by my Malay neighbour that it was jack fruit.

I was so convinced that it was artichoke that I took a picture of the label

and looked up a translation later, and of course she was absolutely right.

So there you go, cooked jack fruit is indistinguishable from artichoke … I bet you never knew that.

So, as they say over here, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, or Happy Hari Raya – so no more Ramadan buffets until next year … sigh.

 

Getting to grips with Manglish

Manglish is an English-based creole used in Malaysia.

They also use British English, which is considered to be a second language rather than a foreign language in Malaysia, but it is a very idiosyncratic type of British English and takes some getting used to.

For a start they use some very quaint words and expressions, which have fallen out of use in England.  For example, children are always complaining of being scolded by their parents or their teachers – whereas I don’t think a British child has used the word scolded for about a hundred years.  Likewise, they talk about plucking fruit from trees, which has a definite Shakespearean ring to it.  And I also is used where we would say me too.

Rude words and offensive words are also very different:

‘Teacher!  Jacob just say buttock to me!’

I then have to feign outrage at such atrocious language.

The rudest word of all, referred to only as the ‘s’ word, is … stupid.  It’s so shocking that a child will gasp if they hear it, or refuse to read it aloud if it crops up in one of their British reading scheme books.

Conversely, shit is not an offensive term at all, and I’ve had five year-olds who routinely exclaim ‘Oh shit, Miss Louise – I’ve broken my pencil!’

On and off are both verbs in Manglish, as in:

‘Can you on the airconditioning, please?’

A whole variety of words are used much more in Manglish than in English, such as also, already, got.

Got is used all the time, and exists in a variety of tenses, including the future, I will got.

The suffix –lah is added onto words willy-nilly, and doesn’t seem to mean anything at all – maybe emphasis, but I’m not sure.  For example, a child memorably said to a fellow teacher when he found out her age:

‘So old, and not yet married-lah!’

Can and cannot – never abbreviated to can’t – are used all the time, and ‘can can‘ isn’t a dance, it’s merely a strong affirmation.  So a typical conversation in a shop might go like this:

Mend this, can?

Mend?  No, cannot-lah.

Buy new one same same, can?

New one same same, can can.

So, although I haven’t learnt much Malay yet, my Manglish is coming on a treat-lah.

 

My first Ramadan

I knew Ramadan was going to be a big thing in Malaysia when I saw that Tesco was selling special Ramadan boxes of tissues –

Hari Raya is the Malay name for Eid, which will be celebrated next Sunday after a month of fasting.

In the daytime, it’s difficult to notice much difference, as most of the Malays carry out their fasting quietly and with little fuss.  The only difference is the appalling traffice between 5 and 7 pm when Muslims all rush home to prepare for breaking fast at the designated time.

If you’re not sure what time you can start to eat in the evening, the newspapers publish the time every day, or you can look online

This website shows us that today the morning meal must be finished before prayers which start at 5.41 am, and then the Iftar, which is the name for the meal when they break fast, can start at 7.24 pm.

I went to an Iftar meal last week with a group of women, organised by Amal, on the left, who is quite the most glamorous headscarf-wearer that I’ve ever seen – she reminded me of a cross between Liza Minelli in her heyday, and Lawrence of Arabia.

All of these women are Muslim, but come from different cultures with very different approaches to Islam, but they are all fasting for Ramadan.

I learned that Malay men can be imprisoned for a month if they are seen eating publicly during the day at Ramadan, and they also have to pay a hefty fine.  It’s not so stringent for women, as there’s a variety of reasons which exempt them from fasting; although if they don’t fast they’re expected to either make up the time later, or feed the poor instead.

But Malaysia being Malaysia, it seems that Ramadan is all about the Iftar i.e. all about the food.  There is a night food market every evening in each part of town, and all the hotels and a lot of the restaurants put on an Iftar buffet every evening, all trying to outdo each other with the splendiferous spread on offer.

So, purely in the interests of research, I went along to one yesterday evening with my dining chums Glenn and Jeff and two friends of theirs from Bangladesh –

It was a fantastic experience – I’ve never seen so much delicious food in one place before.

And it wasn’t just Malay food … there was a sushi chef

And a chef slicing raw fish and octopus, japanese-style

Plus the shellfish, of course –

– and I even impressed myself with my restraint when it came to a helping of these

… and it was a jolly small plate too.

It was a bit like waiting for New Year to strike, and as soon as 7.23 arrived, the hordes descended

I was particularly taken with the melons carved into dahlias

but I’m not sure what the strange potato-things are … I didn’t try one just in case it was a potato.

There was even a chocolate fountain

and a whole range of other yummy puddings

We eventually rolled out of the restaurant, discussing imminent diets, about two and a half hours later.

I’ve been invited to another Iftar next Thursday … can’t wait.