Thursday, September 22, 2011

SMS-ing on My Handphone with My Spectacles On (And Other British Things)

Malaysia was, at one point, a British Colony. They, too, faced the exploitations at the hands of Mother England and reaped the benefits of her temporary leadership. As a result of this occupation, Malaysian culture incorporates British culture in a few ways.
Firstly, Malay is a written language because of the British. That's why we've got the same alphabet and it's easy enough for Americans to learn Bahasa Melayu (There aren't any British exchange students that I know of, there's no AFS UK; I'll go into that later). If not for the British exploration, Malay might have been written in Thai characters or in its own, special alphabet, or it may have remained a spoken language until mass communication was developed. Never underestimate the power of language, especially the written word- without it, you wouldn't be reading all my fabulous rants. Haha, like anyone is reading this...
Anyway, along with helping Malaysia record her language, the British made a few impacts on it- filling in holes where there were no words, in the process introducing ideas like Western Civilization and the fork and knife and punctuality. Many words like taxi and card have been Malaysified into "teksi" and "kad" to follow the rest of the language's phonetic pronunciation. Some English words are completely phonetic, but some are not- weather due to French influence or the dialects of the spoken language, or sheer convenience. It's just easier to say (phonetically) "d'j'eet j'et?" in Rhode Island, than saying "Dear Friend, have you yet taken your meal?". That's one of my favorites to make fun of. Love you, Rhode Island!
New terms like "SMS" (texting in American English), "Handphone" (cell phone in American English), and "Spectacles" (glasses in American English) confuse me, but the Europeans get it. I still giggle when people call my glasses "Specs", it's just hilarious to actually hear that.

Besides language, Great Britain managed to impress their education system on the poor, unwitting Malaysians. Fortunately, the idea that teachers were the absolute authority and had the power to physically harm students and embarrass them as part of a cruel teaching scheme fit right in with the way Islam had integrated itself into the curriculum. Think Pink Floyd's The Wall, as I've mentioned briefly before, to get a good picture of the emotional havoc a system like this can wreak on students that become adults. Regardless of the potential for evil this system has, it seems to work for Malaysia, or, at least, they are unwilling to accept anything different so they'll have to be okay with it.

Honestly, I expected there to be a few differences because the students learn British English, but I was not anticipating the unique combination of British and Malaysian culture offered by this individual experience.

Let's go back to my speculations about why there's no AFS UK. Think about the multitudes of countries that were 'conquered' by the Mistress of the Sea. Although the sun never sets on the British Empire, you can imagine the deep-seeded distrust harbored by nations all over the world. Take the US, for example. We're taught in school about the British oppression that led us to our fantastic little Revolution, and about the socio-political wrongs that were committed against us pre-1776. In Malaysia, they're still bitter because this is also the subject of many a Sejara (History) class. It's one of the only times I don't hear the constant references to Islam. Think of India, Africa as a continent, and the countless other British exploits. Now think of having that picture of pre-modern image of the British in your head and meeting a student who has come to your country, almost mocking you- perhaps you feel that the students presence says "you may have declared your independence, but you can't keep me from studying here,". Maybe the image of the British is effected by more than actual history, though. Maybe it's also polluted with the stereotypes we've all come to know and love. These ideas of Mr. Bean and Harry Potter, the vision of poor dental hygiene and the most recent royal wedding are really not doing them much good.

If these are the reasons there's no AFS UK yet, I want to extend a personal invitation to Britain, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, saying, quite simply, "suck it up". You've had this coming for a while. Get over it. If you think pop culture has ruined your image, take a peek at American culture and it's terrible influence, making people believe that the entirety of the United States is an orgy of wealthy, fat, beautiful people getting together to gossip and shop and play Baseball and American Football and being ignorant of the rest of the world. Think of those brave Americans who venture to places where all the locals know about us are reruns of Friends. Consider, for a moment, those Americans that went to Vietnam this year. Yeah, you Brits could not have screwed anything up like we did for the Vietnamese. So please, enlighten us with your adorable accents, help out the American and European exchange students and be a bridge of knowledge for the rest of the world. UK, get yourself an AFS Office.

Speaking of Programs...
YES Abroad is starting it's applications for next year's batch! Come along, have an Adventure! Blog about it!
Here's what I posted on Facebook to advertise my favorite little Government-sponsored Exchange Student Agency;

Are you ready to begin the most incredible journey of your life? Maybe not? Just want to have something to put on your college resume that says, "Look at me, I'm amazing" ? Okay, whatever your situation, I'm through asking these silly questions claiming to simplify the complexity of your life to a few words. But honestly, don't you think the complexity that is your life needs something else? I wanted something else, too. Perhaps a year abroad would be an excellent choice. So whatever your motivations, I strongly urge you to check out this amazing program. Link in the Doobly-Doo

Speaking of things Nerdfighters say, I would like to thank John Green for doing his Book Club on the Great Gatsby- it's making it far easier to teach the book to two of the English Classes. They said they wanted challenging vocabulary and a bridge between British English and American English. Also, it's just a good book.

That's all for now, Check out YES Abroad!


  1. Haha! Great post, and the specs thing is here too...we have to remove glasses for meditation, but it took me like a week to understand because the teachers kept telling me to "removespecs" and I was like huh, interesting Tamil word!
    They had to mime at me eventually :)

  2. Hey there,

    It may be too little too late to comment, but if the British or Dutch or Portuguese did not come, Malaysia would have continued using localised Arabic script known as Jawi in which I believe you have seen it especially in Kelantan.