Lush with Rainforests and exotic wildlife, The state of Sarawak lies at the North-westernmost tip of Malaysian Borneo, third largest island in the world.
Kuching, (formerly Sarawak City), is known as “Cat City”, being the Malay word for “Cat”. Streaked with feline monuments, and the famous Cat Museum, Kuching is the political and cosmopolitan capital of Eastern Malaysia.
My [insert: amazing] local host, Minn, thoroughly exposed my palette to the adventures of one of the greater pan ethnic centers, giving me cooking lessons, and stimulating conversation about the cultural differences between east and west. She effectively cultivated the nature of my stay to be one of the most genuine experiences of my travels to date.
One morning, she took a group of us to get the elusive laksa, a Sarawak specialty; spicy coconut curried noodle soup, that much to the chagrin of the western palate is only served for breakfast (a la Lanzhou 牛肉面). She took us to a special laksa cafe operated out of the chef’s house, rousing us at six am to be safe (she once tried to go there at half past eight, and they were already out of laksa!). Minn drove us to her office, clocked in to work, turned on her computer and said hello to her coworkers, left her purse for show, and then sprinted out the back to take us to laksa in time- what an amazing host!
A recurring symbol of Malaysia is a large number one, often lining the pattern of the Malaysian flag. This represents Malaysia’s role as the uniting front of many ethnicities; Malay, indigenous tribes, Chinese, and Indian being the most common (not including additional subgroups of Mandarin/Cantonese, or Tamil/Punjabi). Malay Bahasa is the official language of the state, sort of the “Mandarin of Malaysia,” although English is often utilized, despite most people being fluent speakers of many languages.
Compared to the cultural identity of China, it is a refreshing take on what is means to be Malaysian. In the early summer, I partook in a conversation with a Chinese teacher in Gansu Province, where she openly admitted that she would never wear the traditional Chinese qi pao in public for fear of being taunted.
Having missed the Chinese ‘Cultural’ Revolution (in absence), Chinese Malaysians practice many traditions stacked upon generations dating back to ancient times that no long exist in mainland China. For example, the sweeping of the house during the Chinese New Year, among other relics that have long since been eradicated from the Chinese mainland, still play a major role in their cultural identity.
However, as diverted as it may be, that doesn’t mean that Malaysia completely adheres to western thought. “The problem with American men, is that they see women as equal to them. Therefore, they don’t give them any special treatment,” Minn explained one day, during a discussion on the differences in dating cultures between East and West. While each ethnic group lives in unity, relying on Malay to communicate amongst one another, that isn’t to say all views are strictly uniform in regards to ethnicity or religion☼
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