Malaysia is one of our neighbors in Southeast Asia. Like the Philippines, it is worth visiting as they have wonderful attractions and the people there closely resemble us (the Malays, not Chinese and Indians) physically.
Interested in going? Here are a few things you need to know about Malaysia lest you suffer from culture shock.
Malaysia is a diverse country much like the Philippines, the main ethnic groups here are the Malays, Chinese and Indians. Therefore, the official languages spoken here are English, Bahasa (Malaysian), Chinese (either Mandarin or Hokkien) and Tamil (Indian). There are also several other ethnic groups all over the country from the Malay Peninsula to the island of Borneo where Sarawak Province is located.
Bahasa has an affinity with the Filipino language. Some of the words in its vocabulary closely mirror ours such as “bayar” (pay), “tahun” (year), “masuk” (enter) and “anak” (child/offspring). There are words they have adapted from other languages (like English) which they could not find a more native term for it.
In most places, signage is always in Malay but you will often find a lot of English used (Malaysia used to be a colony of Great Britain). The people here, especially in the cities can understand and speak English so you will have no problem conversing when getting around.
Religion and Culture:
In terms of religion, Islam is the majority religion among Malays. You will see quite a lot of mosques and madrasas (religious schools) all over the place. However, Malaysia is a secular state that recognizes religious tolerance. Non-Muslim Malays, Chinese and Indians can freely practice their faith.
In this regard, you need to be careful and sensitive on how you interact with them, especially Muslims. You may enter their places of worship but be sure to dress decently. Be also respectful to their women. Shaking hands with them is taboo. The same is true with Indians (Hindus). Keep your distance lest you antagonize them.
If there’s one best reason to go to Malaysia, it’s the food. There is not exactly a truly native Malay cuisine. Malay cuisine is a fusion of various cultures. For example, Laksa combines Chinese-style noodle dish and an Indo-Malay touch of curry and coconut milk. You will also find Chinese restaurants serving non-Chinese dishes (and vice-versa). But if there is one dish you should try, it is their national dish – Nasi Lemak which perhaps embodies everything Malaysian.
Religion has a great influence in the food. Chicken and/or fish is the “neutral” meat used. When you are eating in Indian or eateries that are Halal-certified, you will not find any beef or pork in them. Do not expect to find any alcoholic drinks either. If you are looking for such meat and drinks, go to Chinese or western establishments.
Electrical outlets in Malaysia are just like the ones in Great Britain – 3-pronged and square. It would be a good idea to bring along adapter plugs for any device you are bringing.
All in all, Malaysia is very much like the Philippines in terms of climate. The Malays in particular look like us physically that it would be hard to distinguish us from each other unless we talk. They are also very friendly. Just do not forget to be sensitive to their culture.
They also have lots of places worth visiting and you will feel right at home here. It is as if you have not left the Philippines (these will be further discussed in other articles).