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Malaysia, February 2, 2000

The Language is English

Don't think you'll learn a word of Malay in Malaysia

His wife ain't the nicest person I've ever me!
He's fluent, but his wife isn't
Just think of this posted on your neighbour's fence!
Serious about security
I don't know a word of Malay. Now, I could blame it on the short time I've been here so far, only three days or I could blame it on my laziness, but I'd rather not. There is a simple reason I don't know a word of Malay (or Thai for that matter); everyone knows English and not just English either.

Amazing to my native English and passable Russian self, Malaysians usually know excellent Malay, of course, passable Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), and a bit of Tamil or Hindi. The Chinese and Indian Malaysians, about 40% of the population, know their own dialects better than Malay or English, understandably, though I'm just ecstatic that with the exception of the rude Chinese lady at a kiosk last night, everyone I've met is English-fluent.

Surprising, it's not just the tourist-related peoples either. Bus drivers gossip in it, little Malaysian kids tease each other in it, and even bums yell at each other in English. At first, when I heard the bums, I though they were heckling me. Only when I heard the bus driver talking to one of the passengers, and both being Malaysian, that I finally accepted the obvious.

Yes, like Hong Kong, all the store signs are bilingual, either English & Chinese, English & Malay, or all three. I kinda expect that after Thailand, though still, there were not all that many Thais outside of the tourist industry that spoke English.

I guess the British influence helps, though their Roman letter alphabet doesn't hurt. Sometimes it looks as if its Arabic in Roman letters and other times, as in the case of the 'Bas Sekolah' its tormented English. I'll let you figure out what that means too, with a hint: think yellow bus.

With all this English present in the country, I feel no guilt in not learning Malay. In fact, I'm overjoyed that I'm getting closer to Singapore, where English is the official language. I can't wait for Australia, where after three long years, I'll finally be living in a native English speaking country again.

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