It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's So Your Character is from Sweden ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!
It's the first So Your Character Is ... post of the year! Whoo hoo! I'm so happy to have these ladies on the blog! I had the pleasure of meeting Anna in person at Realm Makers 2017. She flew all the way from Malaysia to Reno to attend the conference!
Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.
(None of the Images are Mine)
Anna Tan grew up in Malaysia, the country that is not Singapore. She runs regular write-ins in her hometown of Penang with the Malaysian Writers Society (MYWriters) and LUMA to foster a greater sense of community amongst writers. She currently lives in Penang (the island, of course, not the mainland), but has also lived in Sarawak and Kuala Lumpur. She writes, reads, and edits, both for fun and for food.
My name is Naadhira and I am 18 years old. I live in the heart of the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. I consider myself as a part time college student and a full time reader and writer. There is a quote that I really love that goes with “Read to escape reality, write to embrace it.” And whenever I was given the chance to travel to other countries, I would enjoy throughout the time that I was given the opportunity to be there. The word wanderlust is enough to describe what I feel.
What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
Anna: Malaysia is known for its multiculturalism. Or we tell ourselves that anyway, which leads to many public holidays! Because if you celebrate one culture’s holidays, you have to celebrate the rest as well, don’t you? (Here’s a general list, though some are only observed by individual states and not the whole country.)
Off the top of my head, several famous landmarks in Malaysia are:
- The Petronas Twin Towers (Kuala Lumpur)
- Mount Kinabalu (Sabah)
- Mulu Caves (Sarawak)
- Penang Bridge (Penang) [the first one, not the second one]
- George Town (Penang) & Melaka joint UNESCO World Heritage Site
The main thing that ties Malaysia together is our obsession with food. We take road trips… to eat. We will defend to the death our favorite food stalls. And YES, our food is better than Singapore’s. 😉
|Mount Kinabalu, Sabah|
The main landmark that Malaysia is often related with is the Petronas Twin Towers. It is a main tourist attraction that offers a shopping heaven, a park that you can take a casual stroll in and an unlimited choice of food. From 1998 to 2004, it was declared to be the tallest towers in the world but it now sits on the 11th out of all. The towers has a total of 88 floors while the interior motifs are a reflection of local handicrafts and weaving patterns, while stainless steel and glass combine beautifully as Islamic patterns.
The second main landmark that makes Malaysia stand out apart from the other countries is the KL tower, short for Kuala Lumpur tower. The KL tower is a communications tower and it features an antenna that increases its height to 421 meters.
Although, Malaysia is not only famous for its tall skyscrapers, tourists would fly down there to visit some of our famous tropical islands like Redang island and Perhentian island.
(petronas twin towers)
Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Anna: Malaysia is a tropical country, just a few degrees north of the equator, so it’s hot all year round. Our seasons are hot-and-dry and hot-and-wet, also known as “when is it going to rain?” and “when is it going to stop raining?” Random note: it’s usually hot & dry during Chinese New Year up to Easter/Cheng Beng (Qingming) and rainy during Christmas. Our house & church in Sibu, Sarawak used to flood every December.
In line with that, popular local holiday spots are Cameron Highlands and Genting Highlands, or anything with “Bukit” (Hill) or Highland or Mountain in its name, because it’s cooler there. Popular hangout places are malls for the same reason. But also sometimes the beach.
|Tea plantation in Camerons|
On the other side of the Titiwangsa mountain range, the East Coast (of West Malaysia) is pretty much rural. East Malaysia (or Borneo) is also massively underdeveloped and/or overexploited by the gas and logging industries. Simplistic guide: West = urban city stuff, East = nature/rural stuff.
Naadhira: Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of the constant humid and hot weather and sunlight constantly but I do love the rain that comes around occasionally. I live for it.
I cannot deny that I love visiting the malls and head for the bookstores first before the other shops in it.
Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Anne: We’re a country of rice and noodles. Our food is a blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Thai influences.
Popular breakfast foods include Nasi Lemak and Roti Canai. There’s also a range of kuih and pastries.
|Maggi goreng (Fried “maggi”/instant noodles)|
A selection from Nasi Kandar
The heat/spicy index shifts from CHILI IN EVERYTHING in the northern Peninsular to NO CHILI ANYWHERE somewhere around mid-Peninsular, but I don’t know enough about Johor (south) to talk about their heat preference. East Malaysia is mostly non-spicy, at least where I lived in Sarawak.
My absolute favourite dish is tomyam – in its many variations!
There’s the Malay-style tomyam, Chinese-style tomyam, and the original Thai-style tomyam, all with subtle differences in flavour and style!
Thai-style tomyam (and other dishes)
Of Malay origin, nasi lemak is frequently referred to as the national dish. It is customarily served with ikan bilis, peanuts, sliced cucumber, hard boiled eggs and sambal. Although it is often considered a breakfast dish, because of the versatility of nasi lemak in being able to be served in a variety of ways, it is commonly eaten at any time of the day.
My favourite dishes are all of the ones I have stated above. I love them all and I don’t think I can ever get bored of eating those dishes that can be prepared with a variety and with every way possible.
|Nasi lemak – this is the basic configuration: ikan bilis (anchovies) + telur (egg)|
Anna: Our national language is Malay (Bahasa Malaysia), which shares roots with Indonesian. However, English is widely spoken in urban areas and is taught in all schools. Being a Commonwealth country, we tend towards the more British interpretation of things, though that’s currently changing because most of our media now comes from America. Biscuits and cookies are interchangeable, though American biscuits are… not a thing here. Lifts and elevators are interchangeable. If you’re protesting that you didn’t do something, you’d say “where got?”, a literal translation of the Malay mana ada?
BRITISH ENGLISH VS MALAYSIAN ENGLISH 😂😂😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/lGn4hPrH7B— вяιη∂α🍃 (@brindakesavan) December 8, 2015
It’s not uncommon to mix languages (usually English, Malay, Chinese, Tamil) in a single sentence. Malaysian English (sometimes called Manglish) is mostly English words with Malay/Chinese/Indian sentence structures, depending on where you grew up. We use lah as a suffix liberally.
There’s also this:
As an example, it could go like this: “You go la!”
Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
Anna: For a typical student/working adult:
- 7am – 9am: morning jam
- [school – morning session*/work]
- 12pm – 2pm: lunch/after school jam**
- [school – afternoon session*/work]
- 5pm – 8pm: evening jam
- 8pm – 10pm: shopping time/hangout at malls
- Past 10pm: suppertime/hangout at mamak***
- Past midnight: sleep, maybe.
** School usually lets out around 1pm. Offices generally stagger lunch hours around this time. There is also a longer break on Friday afternoons for the Muslim prayers.
*** Teens & young adults tend to stay out late into the night, with malls closing at 10pm and most mamak stalls/other eateries closing between midnight – 3am. I was surprised to find that Coffee Bean/Starbucks in America closed at 8pm. Like, WHY?!
Also, whilst most of Malaysia observe the Monday – Friday school/work week, a few states under the control of Muslim-based political parties observe a Sunday – Thursday week.
Naadhira: To describe it in a general way, Malaysia is hot, full of traffic yet it is full of excitement that awaits us.
But if I would describe my day, it would probably be the same as I commute to college for most days on the weekend.
How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Anna: If USA = Christian nation, with hardline conservatives who think everything is a threat to Christianity, especially Islam; then Malaysia is an inversion = Muslim nation (never mind that the Constitution says we’re secular), with hardline conservatives who think everything is a threat to Islam, especially Christianity.
The noises coming from both these kinds of conservatives are actually pretty similar.
Mostly, Malaysians are apathetic keyboard warriors who spend most of their time complaining on facebook and face-palming at our politicians’ antics.
Naadhira: Malaysia is a federal constitutional elective monarchy and the only federation in Southeast Asia. The system of government is closely modeled on that of the Westminster parliamentary system, a legacy of British colonial rule. The head of state is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commonly referred to as the King. The King is elected to a five-year term by and from among the nine hereditary rulers of the Malay states; the other four states, which have titular Governors, do not participate in the selection.
Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
Hari Merdeka (Independence/National Day), 31 August 1957 – This is the day the Federation of Malaya (basically West Malaysia) gained independence from the British Empire.
Malaysia Day, 16 Sept 1963 – This is the day Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joined Malaya to form Malaysia. We don’t talk about the day Singapore left. LOL
The May 13 Incident, 13 May 1969 – these were the worst racial riots in Malaysia, mainly between the Chinese and the Malays. Political parties regularly bring this up as a cautionary “don’t rock the boat – you don’t want a May 13 again…” It also set into motion affirmative action policies which ended up further polarizing race relations.
On the date which is a national celebration and phenomenon, 31st August 1957 and to this day, Malaysia has gained an independent sovereign country within and become a member of the Commonwealth. Prior to this, Federation of Malaya (formerly Malay States) had been a fully self-governing British colony.
16 September is the day to commemorate the establishment of the Malaysian federation on the same date in 1963.
The 13 May 1969 incident refers to the Sino-Malay sectarian violence in Kuala Lumpur (then part of the state of Selangor), Malaysia. The riot occurred in the aftermath of the 1969 Malaysian general election when opposition parties made gains at the expense of the ruling coalition, the Alliance Party. Official reports put the number of deaths due to the riots at 196, although Western diplomatic sources at the time suggested a toll of close to 600, with most of the victims Chinese.
What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Anna: “Do you live in trees?”
To be fair, people ask that more of those from East Malaysia (even other Malaysians!!) but no, while there are rural areas across Malaysia, no one lives in trees. They do sometimes live in longhouses.
We try to keep some of these tribal type stuff in cultural shows though.
|Hunting Dance – from the Sarawak Cultural Village.|
|Another cultural dance from the Sarawak Cultural Village|
Malay = lazy
Chinese = greedy
Indians = sneaky
It’s annoying and mostly not true.
Naadhira: The soap dramas that we have airing on tv are completely irrefutable to me but some people seem to enjoy it and I have nothing against that. Everyone has their own preferences, after all.
What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Anna: I had to go google shows/movies set in Malaysia and am embarrassed that I haven’t watched most of them, so I can’t say if their portrayal was good or bad. The only one on the list I saw was Anna and the King which was actually set in Thailand but filmed in Malaysia.
In books, I’d recommend The Ghost Bride (Yangsze Choo) because I’ve actually read it; it is, however, skewed towards older/traditional Chinese-Malaysian practices and doesn’t provide a view of the general population or current cultural practices. Other famous books include The Garden of Evening Mists and The Gift of Rain, both written by Tan Twan Eng, but I have to admit that I’ve not read them because they’re historical fiction about WWII which I’m not interested in.
I’ll also sneakily add in Love in Penang and Cyberpunk: Malaysia because I’m biased. :P
If you want something Christian-based, try Drunk Before Dawn by Shirley Lees which we totally did a musical about (Spot me as part of the cast in this trailer!).
Naadhira: I find that in our local channels, I see countless shows doing voluntary work while helping out the locals in need and even some who go abroad and broadcast the hardship that the other countries are facing too.
Who are your top three favorite fictional characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
Anna: Sang Kancil and Hang Tuah!
Malaysia has a fascination with ghost/horror stories but I tend to avoid those.
Naadhira: He is a classic in the movie industry and he is none other than P. Ramlee. He was a Malaysian film actor, director, singer, songwriter, composer, and producer.
Thank you, Anna and Naadhira, for this very informative post! Come back next week for a post about the United Arab Emirates!
Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com. I'm especially looking for Cuba, Venezuela, Switzerland, Kenya, Iraq, and Egypt.
Do you have any characters from Malaysia? Did this inspire you to write a Malaysian character or set a book in Malaysia? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Anna and Naadhira? Be sure to thank them!
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