Off to Malaysia Lah.

Hibiscus nat flower malaysiaweb 020_16A
Hibiscus. National flower, Malaysia

Yes, today I’m off to Malaysia Lah – and, as I said in my book – Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad,– it’s my favourite Asian country!

So why “lah” and why “favourite”?

To lah or not to lah that is the question. Many Malaysians add this ‘non-word’ to sentences, peppering it around , flavouring their words just as you do with the spice.

For explanations of all the meanings attributed to the word see here.

Some include these

Coaxing: Come on, lah; don’t be like that-lah; please-lah
Forceful: Shut up-lah! Get out-lah!
Apologetic: Sorry-lah
Fed up: Enough-lah!
Definite: Of course-lah; sure-lah
Agreeable: Okay-lah

We Kiwi also add a sort of non-word to many sentences – ours is ‘eh’ pronounced ‘ay’, like the letter ‘a’ and it’s used to tag question or emphasise a statement – not nearly as versatile as the Malaysian Lah!

However, my parents, clear-speaking Christchurch folk, were horrified when their North Island born grandchildren moved south with the casual ‘eh’ added to their comments and queries alike – they considered it very ‘lower-class’. It was ‘regional’ but it has slowly moved to the South Island but it’s still not so common there – and many people throughout NZ still consider it a sign of a lack of education and or money.

And, now, why ‘favourite country’? Well, my first visit to Asia, and Malaysia was in the late-90s, landing in Singapore, on my way to Thailand where I was keen to see the gold temples and Buddha’s. Malaysia was really just a two-week route north. I thought it would be ‘just another colonised country’ and gosh was I wrong!

As a Kiwi (New Zealander)I got a 3-month visa as I crossed the border, bused to Malacca and promptly fell in love with the country, the food and the people: Think Assam Pedas a spicy-sour fish for breakfast, sweet-corn ice-cream, great sights, history,  friendly people of different ethnicities and religions, and of course  their “Open Homes”.

These open homes are a truly Malaysian way of celebrating all festivals or celebrations including religious and ancient events, when everyone is invited to someone’s home for a great meal.  Staying in Malacca for ten days meant I was there for the Hari Raya celebrations (end of Ramadan) and much to my surprise was welcomed into the home of the Deputy Health Minister.

I tell much more about my time in Malaysia in my book, but to finish this blog, I can tell you I finally had to make a rush to the Malay-Thai border on the last day of that 3-month visa, hating leaving, and knowing I would return.

I’ve been back a couple of times but this is my first visit to East Malaysia (Sarawak & Sabah on Borneo) and for the next 2 months I’m looking forward to seeing both the differences and what’s similar – follow my adventures here and on social media.

Heather Hapeta: the kiwi travel writer

See here for my social media links – so you can choose how to follow my travels, the food, the creatures, and the nature of this tropical island 🙂

What language will you speak in New Zealand?

Maori, Sign language and English are all official languages in New Zealand: knowing some basic Maori will help you understand place names.  Read more here

More Funny English Signs

As sent to me in emails – wonderful, but sometimes confusing, English! Post any funny signs you have seen in the comments.

  • In a city restaurant:
    Open seven days a week and weekends.
  • In a cemetery:
    Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own
  • Tokyo hotel’s rules and regulations:
    Guests are requested not to smoke or do other disgusting behaviours in
  • On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:
    Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.
  • In a Tokyo bar:
    Special cocktails for the ladies with nuts.
  • Hotel, Yugoslavia:
    The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.
  • Dry cleaners, Bangkok:
    Drop your trousers here for the best results.
Thailand encourages us to be conservationists

food and expectations at home and when travelling

Very recently I went shopping with an Afghani family: their first shopping experience in New Zealand. It was a reminder that what we may think of as normal or usual is not always so in others eyes. I was grateful to the supermarket staff who were patient and understanding – some of my fellow shoppers were not quite the same. I managed to stop myself in giving them a lesson about racism, intolerance, and ethnocentricity. Biting my tongue is useful behaviour sometimes.

This shopping, and kiwi-language, trip led my mind to wandering –yet again – thinking of my own experiences in other cultures supermarkets. It’s not always in the really different countries that the most difficulties are encountered. I know if I go to Timbuktu (yes there really is such a place- it’s not just in a song) I will not be able to eat as I do at home and that’s fine. However in western countries somehow the food and supermarket culture shock can be greater. For some weird reason I think it should be familiar to me. Not so.

American bread and cheese caused me great consternation: the cheese was bright orange and the bread cake-like. Up and down the chilled cabinets I walked, trying to decide what was the best option – or rather the least objectionable. On a low budget to ensure I could travel for a year without working, my purse dictated the local cheese, my palate, and eyes, demanded the imported variety.

Dye is added to many American cheeses: some years ago when it was removed, cheese sales plummeted to such a degree that it was immediately put back into the recipe – this is not real cheese consumers said when confronted with the paler version. For me the exact opposite was true.

I also hated the toast being slathered with butter when eating out and a packet of crisps on my plate instead of the chips I thought I’d ordered.  Recently in Picton (NZ) with a group of Americans they were upset that their toast was delivered dry: the butter to be added by them. “Normal” is what we are used to. I love sweet honey on crumpets; my son in law likes savoury additions on them. We both think our taste the normal one, just as the Americans did with the buttered toast.

So with our kiwifruit being called’ kiwis’,(a kiwi is either a bird or a person, not a piece of fruit) bright orange cheese, waxed fruit and vegetables, along with the strangely textured bread, I found American supermarket trips a slow  and surreal.

When I arrived in The Netherlands after that trip I was in heaven. Wonderful bread, fantastic cheeses: the difficulty then became one of which to choose so once again I was walking up and down the aisle trying to decide!

Conversely Americans here find many of our habits and food strange too. Vegemite is absolutely, unbelievably, unfathomable to all the Americans I know.

“You should be sealing your roads with it darling” said one friend.

An ex-Chicago woman told me of her first supermarket expedition in Christchurch.

She started in the vegetable section. – where most entrances seem to be placed – but within a few minutes she was back out to the car and her waiting husband.

“Honey this must be the bad side of town; they only have dirty potatoes. We have to go somewhere else”

They duly drove to the next supermarket. Still the bad part of town! Only dirty potatoes again. Off to yet a third supermarket on the far side of town – dreading the weekly trip this would entail and worrying about the locality of the rented house-and knowing when they finally bought the house would be in the good part of town.

She boldly walks into this final supermarket, this must be on the best side of town; at last she will be safe. Wrong: dirty potatoes displayed there too for all to see.

She slowly realised it had nothing to do with the part of town she was in. that it was all about fresh food, not contaminated by the waxy finishes she had become used to. Now she hates to shop in Chicago with all the fruit looking very unreal with its ‘perfect’ appearance and is constantly nagging her friends into buying fresh, to make meals from scratch. I think she has become a kiwi.

Unlike our new New Zealanders, the Americans and I understood the language we were talking in. Well no, that’s not really so: our common language separates us too – but that’s another column.

Maori words to help travellers in New Zealand

Components of place names

Ordinary geographical features such as hills, rivers, cliffs, streams, mountains, the coast and adjectives describing them, such as small, big, little and long, are to be found in many place names. Here is a list so you can recognise them:

  • Au current
  • Awa river
  • Iti small, little
  • Kai one of the meanings of kai is food; in a place name it signifies a place where a particular food source was plentiful, e.g., Kaikōura, the place where crayfish (kōura) abounded and were eaten
  • Mānia plain
  • Manga stream
  • Maunga mountain
  • Moana sea, or large inland ‘sea’, e.g., Taupō
  • Motu island
  • Nui large, big
  • ō or o means ‘of’ (so does a, ā); many names begin with ō, meaning the place of so-and-so, e.g., ōkahukura, ōkiwi, ōhau, etc.
  • One sand, earth
  • Pae ridge, range
  • Papa flat
  • Poto short
  • Puke hill
  • Roa long
  • Roto lake; inside
  • Tai coast, tide
  • Wai water
  • Whanga harbour, bay

maori language: an official language in New Zealand

It’s the annual Maori Language week … time to improve your skills

Learn to pronounce Maori – one of New Zealands  official languages :

Vowels – Introduction
(There are 5 vowels in Māori. ā,ē,ī,ō,ū)
a, papa
(a – [short vowel], papa – earth)
ā, pāpā
(ā – [long vowel], pāpā – father)
e, kete
(e [short vowel], kete – kit)
ē, pēke
(ē [long vowel], bag)
i, mihi
(i – [short vowel], mihi – greeting)
ī, tītī
(ī – [long vowel], tītī – mutton bird)
o, oma
(o – [short vowel], oma – run)
ō, tō
(ō – [long vowel], tō – your)
u, huruhuru
(u – [short vowel], huruhuru – hair)
ū, tūrū
(ū – [long vowel], tūrū – chair)

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