Malay Misconceptions

Today I  (jm)  had a presentation about grad schools for a change.  It was fun, I didn’t have to talk about the SAT, and people weren’t sleeping in their chairs propped up on their friend next to them (ok, that only happened once, and someone had presented something before me so I’m going to pretend it wasn’t my fault).  It was actually neat, a lot of people asked questions and I had lunch with one of the staff who was very friendly and pro-American.  She said that my little talk was so inspiring and that she was going to be dreaming about going to America now.  Right before my talk she was telling me she saw the movie Jeepers Creepers and would be scared to death to go to a small town in the US because all sorts of crazy, weird, bad things happen there.  I’ve decided that movies are kind of good but mostly bad as far as Amercian PR goes.  It’s good because all these people here see beautiful images of NYC, LA, Chicago, etc. and decide that they really want to go (they also expect to see Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise walking down the street).  However, I can’t tell you how many times they get these ideas in their heads that people run around wild with AK-47s, Uzis, and bombs tucked into their briefcases and blow people up.  And they’re seriously afraid that if they go to school in, say, Ames Iowa, that they will be dodging bullets on the way to class every day.  I now have to start each presentation with a disclaimer saying that it’s not like the movies,  and most that they most likely will not be shot on their way to the dining hall. It’s crazy.

Two of the staff members had studied abroad, one in Arizona and one in Australia, and they amused me going on and on about how hot I must find it here.  One of them said "I guess the heat is ok, if you stay inside in the air conditioning all day, and, well, all night too.  Then it’s not so bad."  The other was horrified when I said I was going to walk 20 feet to the nearest big road to hail a cab.  She insisted on calling me one because it was too hot to walk around.  At least I feel like less of a wuss because the locals find it hot here too.  It was also funny when I told them I had learned some Indonesian.  They started saying that Indonesian was much harder to speak than Malay, and one of ladies said "it’s really  hard, they use all these words that aren’t in our books!"  Well, yeah, they’ve got Malay words in the books here, not Indonesian ones, so I guess she had a point.  All in all, though, it was a good experience, hopefully Malaysia will be sending a few more PhD students our way soon.

Comments 2

  1. fazu May 17, 2005

    oh no, i see you’ve met some of the “puteri lilin” malaysians, this generation of malaysians who can’t survive without air conditioning (difficult to believe that in a LOT of malaysian homes there is no air conditioning).
    re indonesian: i have a theory about this perception of indonesian being “difficult”. some malay speakers find it difficult to read/understand indonesians because of their own limited vocabulary. with the exception of dutch words (of which a significant number is similar to english, making it easy for english-speaking malaysians to guess what they mean), regional expressions and the acronyms indonesians love to coin (puja kesuma, mendikbud etc), almost all indonesian words can be found in the Kamus Dewan and have been used in Malay literature and writing. but since a lot of malaysians do not read that much in Malay, they have difficulties recognising these words. not dissimilar to the way american english irons out a lot of irregularities and idiosycnracies of british english as more and more non-native speakers speak it, my impression is that indonesian is in many ways simpler, e.g. the reduced number of irregular plural and obscure idiomatic expressions. i could be wrong.
    am in the US now. so far i haven’t been chased by anyone with guns yet (touch wood)

  2. Julie May 17, 2005

    Hey, thanks for the comment. That’s an interesting take on the language question, sounds good to me! Glad you haven’t seen any gun-toting, cowboy-hat wearing bad guys in the streets in the US. You’ll have to convince all of your Malaysian friends when you come back here that it is indeed ok to travel there!

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