People in Malaysia often ask me "Do you like Malaysia/Penang?" They looked surprised when I say "No". They are obviously expecting a different answer.
Penang is beautiful but it is also ugly. It has a lot of tropical vegetation and some mountains but it is also over populated and polluted. This is the first third world country I have lived in so maybe what I've experienced here is common in most third world countries simply because people are poor and they must lie, cheat and steal to make a living.
Piracy is out of control. The government puts on a show as if they are doing something about it but I see nothing happening. I've been here 2 years and there has been no change and the amount of pirated movie, music and software you can buy and yet I hear about efforts to stop piracy all the time.
The Prangin Mall and the Bukit Jambul Mall both have movie theaters. They also both have a dozen shops that sell pirated movies and the movies you can buy are the same movies that are showing so when Spiderman 3 came out, you had the choice of paying RM 10 and seeing it in the theater or paying RM 3 right for a pirated DVD which you could buy right next to the theater.
I don't understand how a dozen shops can remain open. Simply do not allow them to open. The source of the problem is the owners of the malls allowing such shops to exist. Arrest the owners, shut down the shops and keep them closed. How hard is that? I don't understand what the problem is.
Everywhere around Penang you see open markets selling pirated movies, music and software. It's not like they're underground. They are easy to find and easy to shut down.
Companies pirated logos. I saw two cafes at the mall recently that had logos that reminded me of Starbucks. In fact I thought they were Starbucks until I took a second look. Pensonic sounds and looks way too close to Panasonic. Again, I have to look twice in order to know the difference. Twiggies look just like Twinkies. Cream-O's look just like Oreos. The list goes on and on and these pirated products are not as good as the original.
It is obvious to me that the Malaysian government and police dept. are corrupt.
90% of the taxi drivers refuse to use the meters even though it's the law. They increase the price 1.5 to 2 times what it would cost with the meter. Some taxis do use the meter but it's very rare to find one of those.
Malaysia is very dangerous. People don't buckle their seat belts, back seats often don't have seat belts, people don't wear helmets when riding motorbikes and if they do, they often don't strap them on which is the same as not wearing one. I saw a motorbike accident where the woman's helmet went flying off her head. I see small children on motorbikes without helmets constantly. I see tiny babies on motorbikes. I see children standing on the front seat of cars without a seat belt. I've never seen a child seat.
Open pits on the side of the road with no curb. As I ride my bicycle just a foot or two away from a 3 or 4 foot drop into a sewage drain, I worry that a motorbike may knock into me forcing me into the drainage ditch. These sewage drains really smell bad in places.
The buses are death traps. The metal chairs will snap you in half if the bus ever has a front-end collision. The chairs and ceiling straps are falling apart. Luckily they are getting new buses next month so hopefully things will be a lot better. Yesterday the bus stopped at the gas station to fill up on some diesel but they left the engine running. I was sitting right next to the gas pump where it clearly said "Stop Engine" before pumping. The guy might as well have been smoking a cigarette while talking on his mobile phone.
People resist change. A gang visited the lot of new buses and smashed their windows. It's probably some kind of taxi-mafia fearing loss of jobs or maybe this new bus company is replacing the old one. I don't know but people resist progress when it causes job losses. They don't see it as an opportunity to re-train and find a better job. It reminds me of the Luddites who smashed factory equipment when automation was replacing the factory workers. In order to transition into a first world country, Malaysia will need to pass through many stages of change. People will resist and perhaps slow progress, but progress will happen. You can slow it but you cannot stop it.
Building standards are really low. I was at the mall and I heard some thumping behind the wall which sounded like the something was about explode. This was an old mall and I figured it was just steam passing thru pipes but then I visited the new mall and I kept seeing massive cracks in support structures. Scary stuff. It's new and falling apart already.
They must not measure things carefully because levels are always changing. It's like they'll build two sections at the same time but they meet, they discover they don't match up so there's a step up or down. At a different mall you have to step up or down before getting on the escalator because it doesn't match up. Somebody goofed. I'm constantly seeing these goofs where they have to make minor corrections with a step up or down. It doesn't give me much confidence in their ability to build safe structures.
People pollute. You can rarely find a garbage can when you need one. People toss their garbage on the street. I see it often. They have no pride. They are used to others cleaning up after them. When you are finished eating at McDonald's, you don't dispose of your own garbage. You let someone else do it for you. This is the mind set here.
I see buses and trucks spewing thick black smoke, choking me while I ride my bike. The police need to seriously pull them over and ticket them so they get maintenance. People drive with their windows shut and air-vents on circulate because they don't want to breath the smoke from the trucks and buses in front of them.
The three main populations, Malays, Chinese and Indians, are very segregated. The Malays and Muslims get financial assistance to build their temples while no one else gets such treatment. My wife's church is in the pastor's own apartment. The government will not help build a Christian church yet they will help build Muslim temples all over.
The Muslim temples like to blast their prayers over loud-speakers 3 or 4 times per day. The non-Muslims resent this. It's noise pollution to the non-Muslim. 5:30 am we are awakened by the morning prayer. No other religion is allowed to do the same. If the Christian church blasted their prayers over loud speaker, they would be fined for disturbing the peace. The citizens of Malaysia are not treated as equals. Muslims get more benefits and everyone else a second hand citizen.
There is no separation of church and state. This is quite scary since the laws of Malaysia are dictated by the Quran. Movies are censored, even at the theater. Many movies are not allowed to be shown in Malaysia for example "The 40 year old Virgin". It's sexual content is too high for Malaysia. No porn is allowed in Malaysia also though I have been offered porn under the table when nobody is around. Prostitution is not allowed but I hear it exists. Drugs are not allowed but they exist as well.
This is one crazy messed up country.
The good news is that things are getting better. I have seen a lot of progress in Penang in the two years I've been here. They are getting new buses. They will have a monorail eventually. They check my bag when I enter a theater to make sure I won't record the movie. I frequently see PSAs about how bad piracy is. They are trying hard to make Penang a better place but right now it is far from the Pearl of the Orient. I'm sure at one time it deserved that title but no more.
Once all taxis are using a meter and it becomes really hard to find pirated movies, music and software, that will be the day Malaysia becomes a first world country.