Sunday, October 26, 2008

Surviving Malaysia

My first book review in ages. I felt this one was tame by my old standards. The book apparently caused a flap-of-sorts, with regards to its content and tone. And some of my words were said to have been twisted in some Bangkok Post article to pan the book, publisher and author. It was a rhetorical question...!

I didn't manage to save the print version, either. On the bright side, I made a new friend.



Different and unique
first published in The Star, 26 October 2008

Do we really need another book on Malaysiana that comes with the all-too-familiar hastily-scrawled cartoons?

With so many books on this subject already available in bookstores, I didn’t think the Malaysians-On-Malaysia collection could get any bigger. But I forget that this is the land of "We Can Make It Even Bigger!" so it’s no surprise that there is another addition to speak of.

Dos & Don’ts in Malaysia
Thirunavukkarasu Jr. Karasu
iGroup Press Co. Ltd
172 pages
Non-Fiction
ISBN: 978-974-652-039-3

3 out of 5
Dos & Don’ts in Malaysia is written by a Malaysian jack-of-all-trades and it talks about our history, the three major ethnic groups, festivals and the like with an emphasis on the dos and don’ts (thoughtfully rendered in bold) that should be observed while one is in the country.

The axiom "don’t judge a book by its cover" applies to Dos & Don’ts - even if the cover does need work. First-time visitors and long-time residents could benefit from the gems in this book, buried among the comics.

Like this country of ours, the book (and I presume, the author) is quirky in the best of ways. Example: the chapter on the early history of Malacca during the spice trade ends with the admonition, "Don’t colonise Malaysia because you want your food to taste better" - something we neglected to tell the Portuguese back then.

This, along with the many documented faux pas by visiting foreigners was why the author felt it was time for such a manual.

Interesting tidbits in this book lead me to believe that most of us don’t really know our own country - or our customs for that matter. The sections on speech and greeting conventions, weddings, marriages and funerals were particularly enlightening and I didn’t know that nasi lemak differs from state to state, nor was I aware of something called sup terbang (flying soup, but in this case it’s the drinker that flies!) in Penang. What have I been missing?

What could be disconcerting is how the author has stereotyped certain groups, like the self-centered urban Chinese, "territorial" Indian males and our notorious cabbies.

Not very attractive topics of conversation, but a survival guide on Malaysia wouldn’t be complete without these, would it?

If you overlook the uncomfortable bits, Dos & Don’ts can be an asset to local and foreigners alike. Definitely something I would refer to before attending wedding dinners and open houses, and buying gifts.

Its release is also timely, given the current strain in the country’s inter-racial relations. Isn’t it time to learn and respect the customs of others as well as our own?

Perhaps we do need another tome on Malaysiana after all - if only to remind us of how our differences make us unique.