Write Lah!



Unfriendly Malaysians!

“Malaysians are unfriendly!” scoffed the Englishman.

“Oh?” I said.

Perhaps I knew the reason why he thought this.

“Maybe the people you met weren’t Malaysian,” I said. “The ones you met in the restaurants and eateries were probably foreigners from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan and the Philippines. They’re not likely to be happy working in Malaysia with poor pay, bad conditions and missing their families. We, Malaysians, are actually very friendly.”

“I didn’t know you had so many foreign workers.”

There may be as many as 5 million foreign workers in Malaysia and, unless you’re a local, you can easily mistake them for Malaysians. I wonder how many other tourists shared the same thoughts about these “unfriendly Malaysians”. Of course, I’ve met friendly foreign workers too, but they seemed to be in the minority.

“We’re multiracial,” I said. “So we’re very tolerant to foreigners and those of other cultures. So we’re mostly very friendly. And, of course, we speak English too!”

“Yes. That’s a real plus.”

“It is.”

But then, as I took my leave, with all the stuff going on in Malaysia, I wondered how friendly we would continue to be.

Trump Victory – The Beginning of the End?

So Trump has won.

Arriving at KLIA from Sydney last night, I saw the ungodly news. As I wheeled my luggage to the taxi counter, I wondered what this would mean for all of us. Has the US, like Malaysia, hit its lowest point or can both countries still plumb lower, fouler depths?


As I sat in the rickety taxi, I imagined his irritating smug face on screen. What inane rhetoric and lies will this racist, bigot, anti-Muslim, misogynist, sexual predator and climate-change denier spew in his victory speech? Oh America, I wanted to moan, what have you done?

This ill-tempered man now has his finger on the nuclear button. If not war, will this bring about a new world order? A meaner, unkind place where the downtrodden are further crushed?

There is the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

Times, unfortunately, have become very interesting indeed.

Why I Wrote “So Fat Lah!”

My book talk is on today.

So why the heck did I write “So Fat Lah!” – a weight-loss book?

A fellow writer calls me “Horror-man” … so shouldn’t I be writing more dark tales, so that my gnarled fingers can probe the softest, most vulnerable parts of your brain?

In fact, the first book I ever wrote, back in 1991, was a self-help book on how to buy condos. So my start in writing was in the non-fiction arena.

I like to think that I’ve always had one foot in the fiction and the other in the non-fiction world. I think that’s okay, because I haven’t fallen over yet!

About six years ago, then living in Australia, I could literally see that obesity is a huge problem and would be a growing world-wide one. I worked out a lot then and had certain strong views: eat as much as you like, as long as you can exercise it off.

So I started writing a book based on the simple premise of energy in / energy out. But as I began to research the subject, my views began to change and ended up altering quite drastically.

I wrote and re-wrote and researched the book over several years. And when it was finally ready, I hated it.


Yes, it contained all the weight-loss information one needed. But it was boring. It was lecturing and not unlike a text book. I would dread having it published.

So I put it away.

Then sometime last year, I hit on the idea of re-writing it just for Malaysians.

As I re-wrote it, I knew this was the right thing to do. I finished it within 2 months. This was the book that I’d always wanted to write.

“You wrote it for all of us,” a friend mentioned after she had ready it.

Yes, I did.

The Friendliest Guy

A close friend died today.

It was unexpected and, for a Chinese family, it was particularly hard as it was a day before Chinese New Year.

You too have lost a close friend, a relative or even a parent.

The feeling of grief and loss, I think, is the same for all of us. Some of us will, of course, take it harder than others. But that’s just a matter of degree. The essential feeling remains unchanged.

Grief. Loss. An inexplicable numbness.

Similarly, I’m sure you too may have experienced great joy and happiness at some point in your life.

That feeling too, I’m sure, is the same for all of us.

What about desire, excitement or loneliness?

These feelings too are the same. Perhaps just a difference of degree.

So, you see. We are not so different. You and I.

In fact, we’re the same. It doesn’t matter what our skin colour may be or what religion we follow, if at all.

So let’s not look to the differences but rather our similarities.

My friend, who is now gone, had friends of every colour and creed, and you couldn’t find a kinder and friendlier guy.

He always had a smile on his face. I can see it now, reflected in yours.

So goodbye … but he’s not really gone. His spirit of generosity and kindness lives in all of us.

Country and Names 101

With the American President’s recent visit to Malaysia, an issue was raised about an ungrammatical sign welcoming him to the country.


Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 11.05.32 am

The problem is not so much about grammar but a lack of awareness that some country names have the word “The” before it.

For example:

The United States of America

The Netherlands

The Philippines

Most countries don’t, including:




So we should say:

Welcome to the President of the United States of America, or

Welcome to the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Simple really.

The same applies to people’s names.

In Malaysia, we have many honorifics and, although it can get complicated, we should know how to use them. Many are bestowed either by the state or federal governments.

So we would say:

Welcome Datuk Saraswati and Tan Sri Lim

rather than:

Welcome Mrs Datuk Saraswati and Mr Tan Sri Lim

Some honorifics are hereditary.

We should write:

Dear Raja Azman and Tengku Ahmad

rather than

Dear En Raja Azman and En Tengku Ahmad

A good book on the subject of titles is Malaysia Protocol by Abdullah Ali.

I think I’m mostly right here but I’m happy to be corrected! 🙂

Farewell Ampang Park

Ampang Park was the first shopping mall in KL.

We lived not more than a couple of kilometres away. It contained rows and rows of shops, a supermarket, many boutiques and a beer garden on the roof top.

As teenagers, my brothers and I used to frequent its record shop where they would record LPs on cassettes for a fee. (For you younger folk, LPs are Long Playing Records and a 90 minute cassette would record 2 albums, one on each 45 minute side.)


My most distinct memory of Ampang Park though is scurrying there one afternoon without our mother knowing. As soon as she had left home, we boys, aged 9, 12 and 13 hurried to its toy shop and, pooling our money together, bought an Airfix World War II Gun Emplacement with plastic German and American soldiers.

Our excursion to the shopping mall was scary and I didn’t even dare thing what punishment awaited us if we were caught. We weren’t. And we had hours of fun with our new toy!

Many of us have memories of the shopping mall. Perhaps you had wandered it’s non air-conditioned corridors with your first girlfriend or boyfriend? Or bought your first typewriter, Walkman, answering machine, computer or handphone there?

Ampang Park is not the prettiest of buildings. But because of the era it which it was built, it has a fairly unique architectural-style for KL. That is why it’s a pity to demolish it to make way for a MRT station.

So shouldn’t Ampang Park be classifed as a heritage building?


“What?” you might say. “That ugly thing?”.

It’s certainly no Le Coq D’Or, is it? A beautiful building, also on Jalan Ampang, which we unfortunately was stolen from us at the dead of night.

Yet heritage is not about beauty.

If a building is of architectural or historic interest, then it should be classified as heritage and must not be demolished.

For us in 2015, the 1970s wasn’t so long ago and a building from that era might not be considered as historic, but our grandchildren or great grand children may see this differently.

They may have a different idea of architectural significance too and may think that it was a terrible thing to have allowed the destruction of an important building that was part of the fabric of Kuala Lumpur.

But I can already hear the bulldozers rumbling away in the name of progress and profits.

So farewell Ampang Park.

Thanks for the memories. KL will not be the same without you.

The Long Farewell

Today is my mother’s 85th birthday. It fills me not with happiness but with a profound sadness.

She doesn’t know it’s her birthday. She doesn’t even know she exists. 

She has suffered from Alzheimer’s for 15 years, maybe more. The  journey of how an intelligent, energetic, dominant woman has become an emaciated, pitiful figure in a hospital bed is a sorrowful one. Nor can I fully describe it even if I wanted to.

I can’t because I  wasn’t there much. I’d been living overseas and so didn’t have to see the daily ravages upon my mother. It’s a disease that has been described as “the long goodbye”. 

It seems that my siblings and I have been saying goodbye for a long time. 

There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s. No medication to reverse it. The brain just slowly disappears. 

Everything is unlearnt. 

Forgetting her way home was a first indication. Many others followed, including paranoia, mood swings and being unaware of time. 

The memory goes first, followed by the mental capacity. She clutched on tightly to the oldest memories but these too were soon whittled away, leaving only an empty shell. There followed the full deterioration of her physical capacities. 

 From a fiercely independent woman, she became totally dependent. She’s now taken care of 24 hours a day. 

There are many stories like hers. Most of them hidden. Sad and untold. 

Heart break and almost insurmountable difficulties are visited upon the affected families. These are stories of parental love and loss.

So today I’m not celebrating.

I’m just writing this to mark an unhappy birthday.

Ngiap, Senyap, Quiet …

As I sit in my hotel room, I can hear the grinding of construction work, and I wonder if I should change rooms to the other side of the hotel. But I don’t really want the morning sun or lose the enchanting view of the mountain. 

Life is just too full of these difficult choices!

Anyway, I’ve been in Chiang Mai for a month now and I’ve only found one Thai word that’s similar to Malay. 

‘Ngiap’ means silent. Just like Malay’s ‘senyap’!

I do like it quiet too!

The Thai language belongs to the Tai-Kadai language family with words taken from Sanskrit, Pali and Old Khmer. It’s a fairly small language family in terms of number of speakers. 

The Malay language is Austronesian which is a much larger language family. Malay is the most widely spoken Austronesian language and is the the 8th most widely spoke language in the world.

It strikes me as strange that two countries which are so close to each other have so little in common in their languages. Whereas, as I wrote in my previous post, the Filipino languages, a country which is more than 2000 kilometers away, have so many common words.

Anyway, “Selamat Sawadii kap!”

Malay and Visayan: Common Words

Having spent some time in the southern Philippines, I’ve learnt that Visayan (or Bisaya) language share many common words with the Malay language. The Filipinos I’ve met express surprise when I mention this. I’m sure many Malaysians would be surprised too.

Visayan is also known as Cebuano and you’ll find its purer form spoken on the island of Cebu. Other than the national language, which is Tagalog, Visayan is the second most widely spoken language spoke in the country. Tagalog and Malay share many common words too. I would guess, to a lesser extend,that this would be the same for some of the other Filipino languages.

Filipinos have to learn Tagalog and will also speak their local language, which might be Visayan, Ilocano, Waray, Ilongo, Bikol or one of the other hundred or more languages. Other than that they also learn American English at school. So the Philippines is a country of multi-lingual speakers.

It’s interesting too that in Visayan the word for tiger is “tigre”, whereas a harimau happens to be a demon! Also the word of milk is gatas and the word “susu” is breast!

Languages just evolve.

Anyway, here are the common words I’ve come across so far. There are, I’m sure, many others.

Melayu ….. Bisaya

Aku ….. Ako
Anak ….. Anak
Angin ….. Hangin
Api …. Apo
Asap ….. Aso
Atap ….. Atop
Atas …… Taas

Babi …. Baboy
Bahu …. Baho
Baldi ….. Baldi
Balik …. Balik
Bangun ….. Bangun
Baru ….. Bago
Batu ….. Bato
Bayar …. Bayad
Beras ….. Bugas
Berat ….. Bugat
Berita …. Balita
Buaya ….. Buaya
Basah ….. Basak
Beras …. Bugas
Bola …. Bola
Buat ….. Buhaton
Bulan ….. Bulan
Buta ….. Buta

Cermin ….. Samin

Daun ….. Dahon
Dua ….. Duha
Durian ….. Durian

Engkau ….. Ikaw
Empat ….. Upat
Enam ….. Unom

Gunting ….. Gunting

Harga ….. Halaga
Hitam ….. Itom
Hujan ….. Ulan
Hutang ….. Utang

Jalan …… Dalan

Kambing ….. Kanding
Kami ….. Kami
Ketawa …. Ketawa
Kerbau …. Kalabau
Kita ….. Kita

Langga ….. Bangga
Langit ….. Langit
Langsat ….. Langsones
Lelaki …. Lalaki
Lima ….. Lima

Mahal ….. Mahal
Mangga ….. Mangga
Manis …. Tamis
Mata ….. Mata
Minum ….. Inom

Nyamuk ….. Lamuk

Pahit ….. Pait
Payung ….. Payung
Pintu ….. Pintu
Putih …. Puti

Sabun …. Sabun
Sakit ….. Sakit
Salah ….. Sala
Sandar …… Sandiri
Senyum ….. Pahiyum

Takut ….. Hadlok
Tanam ….. Tanum
Timbang ….. Timbang
Tuwala …. Twala

It’s possible that some of the Bisaya words have come from the Tagalog, or perhaps visa versa!

You’ll find the Malay/Tagalog common words here

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