Redang Island, from The Taaras Resort

A Trip Through Malaysian Culture

Jom-lah. Let’s get some food. On the way, see you there in 5 minutes.

Ashwin Malik
Apr 3, 2016 · 5 min read

Have you ever walked into a brick wall created from fire, water and air?

30 hours in airports and cramped aircraft from the States. Hauling your heavy luggage into the arrivals hall, you see it: Freedom. Automatic glass doors slide open as you approach, and you regret it immediately: If you’ve never experienced a sudden blast of hot (usually above 80°F) and humid (usually above 80%) air, you’re in for a surprise.

But despite that gruelling trip, Malaysia is worth it.

Trust me, I’m Malaysian. ;)

Your first stop is the capital: Kuala Lumpur. But before you get there, take note: You’ll likely encounter the infamous KL Taxi Driver, who is just as trustworthy as the average Malaysian Politician. Just take a train (avoid rush hours!) or a ride-sharing service (yes, we have technology). Here in the bustling metropolis, you’ll likely notice the sheer diversity of people around you: People of all colors and walks of life. Just listen to the way we call each other, and you’ll pick up a dizzying amount of slang words from a multitude of languages:

Boss! Mak cik! Aunty! Uncle! Ah moi! Ah beng! Ah lian! Jie jie! Tambi! Aneh! Abang! Kak! Drebar! Tok! Taukeh! Sifu! Bangang! Sayang! Kiasu Singaporean…

And the classic meaningless-sounds-added-to-words for special emphasis and emotion:

Best-lah! Awesome-sia! Hipster-nya! Boring-dohhhhh. Of course mah.

To understand Malaysian culture, it’s first necessary to understand its history: First, there were trees. Then, animals. Then, the native tribes set up shop in the land for thousands of years. The Malay people arrive later, forming kingdoms (including the famous Malacca Sultanate) only to fall under European colonialism from the 16th century onwards (the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British). The British would bring an influx of Chinese and Indian immigrants to work the rubber plantations and tin mines, sowing the seeds of the country’s racial makeup today. Malaysia gained independence in 1957, with Tunku Abdul Rahman as its first prime minister (still one of its most popular historical figures). Today, the country’s diversity is further boosted by immigrants from Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal, as well as students from places like the Middle East and Africa.

What a cultural melting pot, eh? Some smart aleck in some branding agency hired by the tourism ministry thought the same thing, and thus the greatest branding exercise in the (short) history of Malaysian branding was born:

Malaysia, Truly Asia.

Seriously, I’ve met people from all over the world who’ve sung that tune to me.

The most widespread religion is Islam, followed by Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Sikhism. So many religions, and to be fair to everyone, we decided that everybody gets work off for everybody’s festivals! Get on the highway during holiday season, however, and you’re in for some looong traffic jams. Whether it’s Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, or Christmas, there’s one set of cultural traditions common to all Malaysians:

Visit your relatives, visit your friends, and gain weight!

Malaysians love their food. And I mean really, really, really, really love their food. Who can blame them, when you’re able to choose from delicious dishes like nasi lemak, roti canai, char kuey tiao, satay, ikan bakar, lamb rendang, nasi kerabu, dim sum, bak kut teh, banana leaf… The list goes on and on, and I didn’t even mention snacks or desserts. Hobbits have nothing on Malaysians, who are able to consume food at any time of day or night if they so wish.

If you need proof, all you’d need to do is to visit their natural habitat, the Mamak Stall, where you’ll find patrons passionately discussing the consistency of their Milo, the texture of their Roti, the latest political issues, and the juiciest local gossip. Occasionally, you’ll also hear excessive screaming and shouting; Don’t worry, they’re just watching football (that’s soccer to you casuals).

Of course, food isn’t Malaysia’s only (or even primary) product. The majority of the country’s exports are tourism, petroleum, rubber, palm oil, electronics, timber, and gorgeous hunks such as Nicholas Teo, Michael Wong, Alvin Lim, Gary Khoo, and Mubin Hanafiah. The beaches and islands are perfect for a relaxing getaway, while the mountains and rainforests hide unique wildlife such as the tapir, orangutan, and ah beng (the lattermost in the urban jungle).

Malaysia isn’t perfect; we have our own share of problems. Human rights issues are present. Corruption, crime, brain drain, extremism, and a weakening currency and economy are all issues that need to be addressed. But we’re still proud of our rainforests and our of wildlife, of our land and our homes, and most of all, of our people (well, most of them).

Approach any one of us, and we’ll have you speaking like a Malaysian. Free of charge.

Anytime you want also can lah wei. No problem! We’re friends mah.

Feel free to hit the recommend button (♡ icon below) or share if you enjoyed this article! Thanks for reading! #SASEPrints

Originally published at


The official blog of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers

Ashwin Malik

Written by

I design software experiences that allow people to fly. Lead Developer at Multiply, Indianapolis.


The official blog of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers

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