10 Things I’ve Learned About Living In Malaysia

Listicles are the cool thing, right? So, since I have three days off for Deepavali, I figured might as well do something productive. So, here are 10 things I’ve learned so far about living in Malaysia in no particular order.

  1. Going to the doctor when you’ve got a cold or minor illness is insanely cheap and easy compared to the U.S.

I hate going to the doctor. It’s such a hassle, and patient first is like the only place that will see you on the day you’re sick, and they cost like 50 bucks plus even with health insurance just to tell you a bunch of stuff you already know. It’s dumb. But here you can go to any doctor’s office. There’s one right across the street from my house. It only took about 15 minutes for me to be seen, on a Sunday morning. The visit was short but helpful and she didn’t prescribe me an antibiotic I didn’t need. Total cost for the visit and two prescriptions I did need in USD: $10.50. Boom.

 2. Malaysians are all about their holidays. 

Malaysia is extremely multi cultural, and because of this, they have lots of holidays. This is awesome, because it means lots of days off, and lots of fun things to celebrate at school. Of course it also means feeling bad if you forget to plan something to celebrate one at school, but I usually try to get all the major ones in. This month we had a Halloween celebration 10 days early because we also needed time to teach and celebrate Deepavali (or Diwali).

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Decorations we made at school!

3. Okay this one is a big ‘No Duh’ since like 75% of our posts are about this, but: Malaysians love their food.

People say the first thing Malaysians will ask you is if you’ve eaten. It is actually true. They will always ask if you’ve eaten, if you want to eat with them, what you ate, what you’re going to eat, if you want some of whatever they are eating. It’s awesome. Most important word in Malay: makan. (eat). Jom makan! (Let’s eat!). The funniest thing to me is that when I talk about traveling somewhere, whether it’s in Malaysia or somewhere else, and I ask people for suggestions on what to do or where to go, 9 of the 10 things they suggest are food related. This is perfect.

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4. Flying is super cheap, but getting to the airport is super expensive.

Thanks to Air Asia, flying around the region is really cheap. If you catch a good fare, you can fly with n Malaysia for $30 USD round trip, and lots and lots of places for $50-100 USD round trip. But, it costs $25 round trip to take the train out to the airport per person, and $45+ round trip to take a budget taxi. There are buses out to the airport that are cheaper, but they take longer, and you have to take a taxi to get to the bus.

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Now everyone can fly, but can they get to the airport?

5. Booze quickly falls into the luxury category.

Malaysia is, after all, a muslim country and while alcohol isn’t illegal for non-muslims to drink (there are like 50 bars within walking distance to my house), it is expensive. The duties on alcohol make even the cheap beer (tiger) seem so expensive. Also, in general the beer selection is abysmal, and the wine is even more over priced than the beer. Luckily the food is amazing, so cutting calories by not drinking alcohol is a necessity anyway.

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Unlike back home, the lines at this beer festival were so short!

6. Try all the food.

I know, I know, more about food. But see #3, like I said, it’s all about the food. Try durian, try cendol, try satay, try nasi lemak, try roti canai, try roti john, try stinky tofu (actually don’t try stinky tofu), try all (most of) the food. Why? Because it’s delicious of course. Also because you should have opinions about food here. And, I think Malaysians are more impressed if you can speak knowledgeably about their food than if you can actually speak in Bahasa Malay.

7. Get used to not wearing shoes.

I got such a kick out of this when I moved here: I didn’t have to wear shoes at work. Actually I couldn’t wear the shoes I wore to work inside. That’s considered pretty rude here. You take off your shoes when you go inside a house here. Though not most businesses or offices. But schools I suppose fall into a more comfortable environment? or maybe it’s because the floors are mostly wood? I honestly still don’t know how all the rules of etiquette on this go, but if there are shoes at the door, mine go right next to them.

8. Most locals don’t go downtown very often.

It seems like most of the people I work with spend most of their time somewhere in PJ. Petaling Jaya is the suburb of Kuala Lumpur, and it’s where most of the middle class live and hang out. Between all the SS sections, Damansara, and TTDI, there’s a lot of living to be done out that way.

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If you squint, maybe you can see the Damansara Ikea

9. People have a hard time understanding why you don’t have a maid. 

People assume if you’re white and you’re here, then you’re rich. Also I guess just everyone here has a maid. Even if you don’t have a live in maid, you have someone who comes in once a day or a few times a week. And I guess we could afford someone to come in and clean if we needed to. So people don’t understand why we don’t. It’s hard to explain that weird feeling I think a lot of Americans have where we feel weird if someone cleans up after us. This combination of feeling like I should be proving I am an independent adult and be able to clean up after myself with a feeling that I don’t want someone to come in here and judge how clean or dirty I am. So I think I try a lot harder here to keep the apartment clean, just so I can be honest when I tell people we just don’t need a maid for a 400 square foot apartment. I feel almost everyone back home is shaking their head at the idea that I could actually keep a place clean. It helps that I have a lovely husband and a very small space.

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It really is usually pretty clean

10. Malaysia is totally underrated. 

Malaysia is generally off the radar for most Americans. People either don’t know where it is, or they think it’s just Borneo, or they only know it from that Cathrine Zeta Jones movie, Entrapment. People always plan their Southeast Asia tours though Phuket, Bali, Siem Reap, and Vietnam. But Malaysia is an amazing place where English is widely spoken,  most things are new and modern, yet things are still inexpensive. Melaka and Penang are beautiful, historical places with great food, culture, and history. Sabah and Sarawak are a few of the only places in the world you can see orangutan in their natural habitat. We haven’t explored much there, but they have a feeling of quiet modernity set in a beautiful wilderness. Also everyone I meet from the Borneo side is unbelievably nice and thoughtful. There are tons of beautiful beaches. Singapore is a short flight or bus ride away, which is a great, organized, clean, fun place to visit for the weekend. After that it’s nice to get back to  a more relaxed, much less expensive place to spend most of your days. I still have a lot to learn from this lovely place, but it’s been pretty cool so far.


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