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Malaysia, February 8, 2000

The Women Are As Diverse As The Country

Malaysian women dress from head to toe in sheets or shorts.

Love that plaid match!
Even her feet are covered!
The full range of Malay conservatism
Take your pick, liberal to strict
I bet she's the next Higgins!
Sporty Spice, Chinese style
Two Chinese Malays decide what to cook for dinner.
Family first for these women
When I stepped off the train in Penang, I was shocked, though not by what you'd think. Since I always thought of Arabs as Muslim, it was odd for me to see Asians dressed in the full shawl reserved for Muslim women, but not as odd as the scantly clad Chinese wandering by me.

Here in Malaysia, there is an amazing mix of Muslim Malays, Buddhist Chinese, and Hindu (or Muslim) Indians, which is most evident in the way the young ladies dress. First, the Malays, depending if they are Muslim, which most are, and how strict they follow religious codes, which most closely adhere to, dress in various degrees of the full-body sheet.

I've seen the complete cover-up, where even the eyes are covered by a shielding weave, hiding the lady underneath from the prying eyes of men, yet allowing her (limited) vision. This is rare though, with the usual Muslim Malay dress being very conservative, all covered except the feet and hands, though in Western shirts and jeans, with a headscarf to hide the temptation-inducing hair. The non-Muslim Malay women dress like all SE Asian women, conservative yet still slightly sexy.

The Indian women, following the customs of the homeland they left recently or several generations ago, are usually clad in a loose shirt and pants. It's the rare Indian I've seen in either full cover-up or bare shouldered.

In China, the Chinese women dressed in pants and shirts too, with the rare woman in a dress. Actually, thinking about it more, I can only remember one woman wearing a dress the whole time I was there. Of course, a dress and a bicycle don't mix too well.

The Chinese decent Malaysians don't have this worry and that might be one of the many reasons they do wear skirts. Short skirts too! Maybe they are trying to offset the conservative Malays and Indians, or maybe that's how any quasi-liberal society's girls dress today. Either way, they do make an odd mix with the Muslim Malays.

Personally, I'm shocked by how much the Chinese girls show. Reminding me of Russian women, the Chinese decent Malaysians do not hesitate to show off their long, sexy legs, in either short skirts or shorts, turning heads as they walk by, sometimes even mine. Unfortunately, although both the non-Muslim Malays and Chinese Malaysians prefer tight tops, bras, usually padded, do show a slight, um, cleavage advantage to the Malays.

With all that showing, ya'd think that the Chinese girls might be Russian in their attitudes too. This is definitely not the case, with the much-vaulted yet very suffocating 'Asian Values,' on the scene.

Promoting a family first attitude, your average Chinese, or any SE Asian for that matter, usually lives at home until they marry, sometime soon after university studies. Then they stick around Ma & Pa for life, returning home for every holiday and definitely spending the all-important Lunar (or Chinese) New Year with family.

In this value set, there are no kids living alone, unless at a university dorm that closes at 22:00. There is no pre-marital hanky panky either, with kids who really want to have fun renting hotels by the hour, which oddly enough, doesn't have such the bad reputation as it does in America.

Also, since a traditional family is the apex of life, single parents, gay couples, and divorces are all 'foreigner problems' somehow imported and polluting to pure SE Asia. Okay, polluting everywhere but liberal Thailand which feels that what one does in the privacy of one's own home is their business.

I've tried to figure out this 'Asian Value' thing for the last five months, but I am still confused. As I attempted to point out to a Chinese Malaysian and his girlfriend on the train from Penang to KL, renting your own apartment and cohabiting with either your girlfriend or another single guy, would be so much more fun and cheaper than living in the hotel employee dorms they were residing in while interning at a hotel in Penang.

He would have nothing of it, constantly repeating that it wasn't done like that in Malaysia, and pointing out that his meals were prepared and his room cleaned in the dorms. I then introduced the concepts of cooking himself, eating at one of the many super-cheap cafes, no-curfew nights, and sleepover freedom to persuade him, all to no avail.

With such a mental block to new ideas, I wonder how Chinese Malaysians ever got out of those Beijing pants into short shorts, and how they are able to stay in such revealing outfits. By the way he spoke, and they way the kids act (there was a mass exodus from the clubs at exactly 23:45 Saturday night, with the clubs themselves shutting down at 3:00), Asian Values are here to stay.

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