Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Ghetto Life in Malaysia, Truly Asia

I envy anthropologists and sociologists. Imagine travelling the world, researching different cultures & origins and actually getting paid for it! Wow, that’s like asking me to read a book I like and paying me thousand dollars for it!

Living with immigrants and learning how their ancestors migrated illegally, talking to ethnic communities in the most unexpected places and knowing more about their fascinating life or discovering a secret cult – a dream life.
While I hope to change my career from marketing soaps to understanding the world, here is my contribution towards my personal mission – building a one world and getting people to love everyone regardless of race, creed or colour.

Malaysia is a sociologist’s Live thriving laboratory – constant assimilation and yet differentiation based on nationality exists. One thing that strikes me is the Ghettos.

By ghetto I don’t mean the Bronx in America, but something similar - pockets of different racial ethnicities living as a separate unit – only difference is that they are still integrated into the whole.

You can see various cultures in Malaysia just by entering a supermarket for example – you will find the durian – indigenous to Malaysia, the mandarin & dragon fruit – indigenous to China, the mango & amla indigenous to India and the large plantain only found in Africa – all in one supermarket, on one shelf.
Durians – the only fruit that has gained the prestige of a mention in all hotels notices. It is not allowed in a hotel because of its really strong disgusting smell

A very clear proof of various cultures existing together are the sign boards, almost everything is in four languages – English, Malay, Chinese & Tamil.

Malays make up 50% of the population. The rest 50% consist of the Chinese, Indians and other ethnicities. A majority of the Malaysian population is Muslim.

Due to the enforced Muslim law – Sharia, all citizens have to abide to the archaic rules. Even today if a Muslim Malay unmarried girl is found with a man, she is forced to marry the guy. NGO’s have also fought for human rights when a woman was caned for consuming alcohol, which is against the Muslim law.

Beaches and bikinis don’t go together for Malay Muslim women

Though the Muslim Malays face some stringent moral policing, they also receive many grants from the Government – including unemployment grant and favourable loan rules that allows one to repay even a small loan within 15 years.

The Malay Government has preferential employment and employs Malays for all jobs. On the other hand, the Chinese & Indian have started their small businesses.

If you walk down the road every second restaurant is owned by a Chinese person. These Chinese have their ghetto areas and traditions and Chinese temples, having lived in Malaysia since many generations.
The Indians have ‘Little India’ and the Chinese have their ‘China Town’ where they can buy all things Indian & Chinese. The majority of Indian Malaysians are Tamil speaking. Many Indians settled in Malaysia moved here at least 50 to 60 years ago (just before the Indian independence) and I was surprised when a third-generation Indian taxi driver only knew how to speak Malay.

Surprisingly one thing I noticed that Indian Malays were more traditionally dressed and traditional in their thinking than the Indians in India! Maybe I still had to meet the more modern ones. 

And then you have the small but very noticeable African population. The guys live the life straight out of a hip-hop music video – swagger dripping from their clothes, bling, fast cars...mmmm. The African girls sway their booty-liscious backside and have the most outrageous hairstyles with bleached hair. You can’t help but stare at their curves. ;-)
African girls strutting their stuff in an all African club in KL

The ‘the spring onion', the women’s mohawk and the ‘palm-tree-top’ – these are just some of the ‘common’ hairstyles

The ghetto life with the yummiest African food is available in Malaysia. The food ingredients like amala, cow meat, egusi, palm oil are imported straight from Africa and the cost of importing is passed on to the African who will pay anything to eat home food when away from home.
Authentic African cuisine - I loved the Suji and egusi soup with cow meat at Manna Cafe

Africans find it very hard even to find accommodation or jobs because of the prejudices and pre-conceived notions the Muslim Malay have about Africans. Most of the African population in Malaysia are students.
Have you ever noticed that people cling to their culture more strongly especially when they are out of their country? Be it the Indian Malaysians or the Nigerian Africans. The Nigerians have rasta shops, listen to Nigerian music & watch Nigerian movies and also have their own African music radio station and all African church in Kuala Lumpur.

Ghettos exist but it’s also a mutual needs society. Malaysians do hire Africans for their football teams. Malaysians realise that there are some things that Africans can do better.
You can also see Malaysians marrying Africans. The mindset is slowly changing and more and more Malaysian women want to date and marry African men, who definitely have more swagger than the Malaysian men for sure! ;)

Since the Malaysian law does not allow non-Malaysian citizens to start a business, many Africans also marry Malaysian women so that they can set up a business in the name of their Malaysian wife and avail of a personal or house loan. Besides love marriages, you also have ‘marriage with advantages’.
The fusion of the indigenous extremely restricted Muslim Malaysians with the free-spirited large-hearted Africans is difficult to imagine, but it is happening.

An African boy with a Muslim Malay girl dressed in a hijab, chilling out at a cafe in broad daylight :-)

Whenever I see a kid of mixed origin: Malay-African, Indian-Chinese, Indian-African it brings a smile to my face. Malaysia may not be a melting pot, but it is a beautiful mosaic.

True Global Citizens. J True Integration.

Malaysia, Truly Asia. True One Love.

P.S.: Please note this post is entirely a composition of my views and you may not necessarily agree with it. However just as the comedian Russel Peter points out idiosyncrasies of different races & countries, this is my attempt and my observations. 


  1. Hey Ruth Great Read... keep writing...felt as if I was in KL with you, look forward to more from you...

  2. hey ruth surely change of profession is recommended by me.go ahead and explore the world and also get paid for it....your writing is very good, i could actually visualise the scene as it read.....beautiful ....i should take tutions from you now....reading you stuff made me wanting to go n visit malaysia. keep it up write more, want to read more from you.

  3. @ Geetanjali....:) thanks! Your motivation will keep me going for more. :)

    @ Ray - thank you and thanks to you. ;)

    @ Archana...babe!!! Thank you so much! Just trying to get back into the groove.

  4. Nice post... Nice to read about different cultures

  5. I would like to add a disclaimer to anyone who misunderstands my views and takes it in the wrong spirit:

    Please note this post is entirely a composition of my views and you may not necessarily agree with it. However just as the comedian Russel Peter points out idiosyncrasies of different races & countries, this is my attempt and my observations.