Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I'm an Other

Prologue: This blog entry started out as one thing then my mind wandered one topic flowed into the next.

I was filling out an online application for Astro TV here in Malaysia and I got to Race and for some reason I expected to see Caucasian, African, Hispanic but none of those were listed. Instead the list read Malay, Chinese, Indian, Others.

Whoa! That made it clear that I was no longer in Kansas. I'm now the foreigner. The outsider.

I have never once seen a white person in this remote village of Teluk Kumbar, Penang, Malaysia. Penang is filled with tourist but they never venture out this far. When Kelly first told me her family had a mini-market I thought it was totally supported by tourist traffic. The truth is they get their business from the locals.

Another interesting thing I saw on this form was the selections for Education.

  • Primary
  • Lower Secondary (Form 1-3)
  • Middle Secondary (Form 4-5)
  • Upper Secondary (Form 6)
  • College
  • University
  • No Formal Education

There is no mention of Masters, PhD or Post doc. In the US you would see

  • Grade School
  • Middle School
  • High School
  • College
  • Grad School
  • Post Doc
"No Formal Education" isn't even option and it assumes everyone finishes grade school. Reminds me of when I lived in the upper-class city of Holmdel, NJ. As high-school graduation approached people would ask me "What car are you getting for graduation?" These were rich kids and they were all getting new cars for graduation. It never even occurred to them to ask "Are you getting a car for graduation?"

Things are certainly different in the third world.

Today I was hungry for a Snicker's bar so I visited 6 different small mini-markets and none had it. So finally I visited a larger super-market and they had it. The Snicker bar is not a big seller in this village I'm told. Tastes are different obviously.

Speaking of tastes ... Kelly and I had lunch at Chinese restaurant this past Sunday and everyone there was Chinese. The place was jam packed and but I could not understand why the Malays and Indian population would not want to eat Chinese food. Whenever I visit a Chinese restaurant this is the way it is. But everyone wants to eat the Indian restaurants. I've actually never seen a Malay restaurant. Only the Malay hawker stands which barely qualify as a restaurant since its chairs and tables on the side of the road.

Kelly says the reason you only see Chinese at a Chinese restaurant is pork. Malays and Hindus cannot eat pork. They worry about contamination. Even if their dish has no pork it may have been cooked in a pot that was used to cook pork.

As part of some kind of Chinese celebration the Chinese stopped eating meat for about 12 days. This family had a completely different set of dishes, spoons and forks which they reserved for these 12 days each year. They had a small table set aside for those who wanted to eat meat but you had to use a different set of dishes and utensils. You also had to wash your dishes and utensils in the outside sink. All meat was removed from the house into the outside refrigerator.

Another reason the Chinese don't eat at Malay hawker stands is because of beef. Chinese tend to be Buddhist and the Buddhists do not eat beef. You might get a chicken dish but it was probably cooked on or in something that cooked beef so it would be contaminated.

So the Chinese don't eat beef and the Malays don't eat pork and this keeps them segregated. It's sad actually. The three populations, Malay, Chinese, Indian, live in peace but they like to keep to themselves and do their own things.

The Chinese refer to Malay and Indian as "the blacks" since their skin is darker. The Indians have the darkest skin of the 3 and the Chinese tend to be very light skinned. They are "the whites" in Malaysia. Malays are actually the "the browns".

Malaysia is definitely an interesting place with so much culture, food and language. It will be interesting to see how the countries evolves over time.