Saturday, 27 February 2016

To Lah or not to Lah....




I checked my baggage one more time to make sure that all my absolutely necessary things (like my favourite snacks and sweets) were in. I had called and met all my friends a day before.  The suitcases were packed. Passport and ticket checked and I was off to live in a new country for the very first time in my life.

That was the preparation I had done for this huge decision that we took in 2009. All I knew about Malaysia was the Petronas Twin Towers, which still hold this special place in my heart because I always felt an association with them.

Now that I look back, I can see clearly the phases of my settling in and I am sure everyone who moves to a new country more or less goes through the same.


 
The short lived phase. In this phase I was just plain excited like a six year old. I was excited to see
clean roads that I will drive on. All the malls that I will visit. The huge variety of food options. All the new things I would try and do. The excitement of meeting new people and making new friends.  It felt like life was a clean slate where I could write a new beginning. I could select the parts of my life I wanted this new world to know. I was super excited at the thought of not dealing with my annoying neighbours or my ex-boss. I found amusing things, for example the discovery that the Malay word for fine/penalty is Denda, toilets is Tanda and public toilets is Tandas Awam and best of all milk is Susu (which still makes me laugh), height is tinggi and thank you is Teri Ma Kasih (all these Malay words have different connotations in my mother tongue). I laughed at how all the sign boards were made by someone with extremely poor spellings; which I later came to know were in Malay language and not English.

For me, this phase lasted for only 3 days that we had spent in the hotel before moving into our own house. Our hotel was comfortable, overlooking the KLCC Twin Towers and life looked pretty smooth until we started looking for a place to rent and buy groceries. The excitement ended and started the next stage.


 When the charm of the move had worn off,  I started comparing every little thing with things back home. Cultural shock, perhaps. I constantly compared how my life was in such perfect order back home. How the people around me were so warm and friendly. This comparison was coupled with currency conversions. My mental math improved like never before. Our first shopping experience just added to the misery. Out of my love for the towers, I did my first grocery shopping from there! Imagine the bill. We were shocked at the exuberant prices. Thankfully, someone told my hubby that we shouldn't be shopping from KLCC as it is only for rich foreigners!

Comparison stage can be quite taxing. For a long time, I did not know where to draw a line. Whether to look good or feel good or eat well. Everything that was so easy back home had become impossibly expensive and somewhat complicated. I struggled hard to find the balance while entering the third, longest and most dangerous stage..... 


When I realized what had happened, I began to hate the clean slate that I so loved in the first stage. I missed everything. My family, friends, food, home, bed, the annoying neighbors, and even my ex- boss. During my first month in KL, I managed to find all my school mates from ancient times on Facebook. I even missed those people that I had not met for years. The depression doubled on special occasions. I have always loved celebrations, but on our first Eid (Muslim Festival), we did not even have a single friend. My mum sent me Eid clothes so I was naturally excited. But on the day itself, after hubby came back from prayers, we both looked at our table set with special Eid dishes that I had cooked the night before. No one was going to see it. No one called us from home as in Pakistan, Eid was the next day. We changed into our night suits and I cried myself to sleep.

During this phase, I picked up strange hobbies like cleaning an already clean house, mopping a shining floor, and doing unsuccessful food experiments. I cleaned, dusted and cooked all day and felt miserably alone all evening. The only positive outcome was that when we vacated our condominium, the owner said it was in a better condition than when we had rented it. We got a full refund of deposit without an issue. 


 Acceptance comes a bit slow. It is quite a task to accept that you need to build your world again. Literally! it is like building everything from zero. Whatever you were back home does not matter in this new place. If you were the best dressed person, your fashion sense does not appeal to the locals. If you were the heart and soul of your friends' group, now you don’t have any friends at all. Your school, your university, your work experience which were a crucial part of your social identity have no value anymore. It is very frustrating when from 'someone' you become 'no one'. But you have to accept this state and make an effort to move forward. For me reaching this stage was the toughest but I think the sooner you reach this stage, the easier is the settling process. In the first year, we just knew one more couple in the whole country - our friends from Iran who were our only outlet in those lonely days. Malaysians take their own sweet time in accepting you as a part of their social life. Most of them do not really accept you; most - not all. They will be very kind and courteous but you will not be their friend. It is not like Pakistan, where if you know that your neighbour or a colleague is a foreigner, you make sure that you make them experience all the best things about Pakistan. You need to understand how it works in the country you have moved in. The sooner you discover where you need to invest your time, the easier it is to move to the final stage.
For adapting a new culture, you need  to have an open mind to changes. A different kind of open mindedness that makes you patient and tolerant. You keep your expectations more realistic, and move towards adopting the lifestyle according to your new home country. Work with the new culture instead of resisting the change. You need to stop comparing and remember that YOU are the guest, so YOU must change. For some people this might be a threat to their identity, but if you want to settle in a new country, you must adapt to a certain extent. Trust me, it is liberating when you decide to put your ego aside and indulge into something new.

The first thing that I adopted in this country was local vocabulary. If I was in Malaysia during my master's program, I would have done my thesis on localization of English words and would have thoroughly enjoyed it. 

In Malaysia, you will truly understand this old saying

"Words have different meanings in different countries" 

If you have to borrow a stapler from someone you say, "borrow me the stapler ah" and if someone wants to you lend you a stapler they will say, "I borrow you the stapler ah!". 


When you follow someone in the car, you are not following them in your car. You are sitting
in their car. So instead of saying "I can drop you or you can come with me". You simply say,

"Follow me ah!" 

You don't stamp your documents. For some odd reason you 'chop' your documents. 
The best is the minimal use of language to convey messages. I am officially in love with the way everything is either CAN or CANNOT. So instead of asking if you can take a certain door to exit, it is best to point at the door and ask “Can?” and if you can, then you "CAN" and if you cannot, then you "CANNOT". 

And all these words are accompanied by the famous 'lah' which can be best described as a spoken exclamation mark. Here is a blog to understand the use of lah and other similar expressions.


And here is a clip on Malaysian Localized English that you will enjoy!  

Seven years down the lane if you ask me today, "Can life be any better?"

I'd say, 
 
"Cannot, lah!" 
 





36 comments:

  1. ok Lah ... I really enjoy it!

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  2. loved reading it! it all sounds so familiar! having moved to malaysia almost a year ago id say I'm now getting the hang of can can and no laahhh

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  3. Thank you for reading! Lah and Can/Cannot can be very addictive.. once you start using it, there is no going back .... :)

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  4. I can relate it to my own experience of coming and settling here.. hope to see few more of your writings soon :) keep up the good work !

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  5. Obviously to Lah.. Always to Lah... You can never go wrong with Lah...
    To Lah or not to Lah isnt even a question for me anymore ;)

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  6. I am originally from Germany, and when I first moved to the US I had problems adjusting too, literally slammed the door into people's faces, and did all kinds of weird stuff. Oh well, it takes a while to adjust to any new place, so I feel with you. Blessings

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  7. Hahaha... I have so many strange experiences... but its all worth it in the end!

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  8. All I can say is: Welcome to Southeast Asia!

    I come across many expats, be it for work or leisure. I know some who don't wish to localise at all and stick to what they're familiar with, and some want to sink their feet deep in my local culture. I enjoy interacting with the latter more.

    Sorry to hear about the not-so-good phase of your journey, but I guess it is inevitable. I'm glad you've settled in.

    It's great to see through a foreigner's eyes and have a better understanding. I myself have never relocated before. I enjoyed reading your post :)

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  9. It was such a great read. I have never visited Malaysia and want to do so in the near future. It will be great to have your recommendations for places to see and stay that are at an affordable price range.

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  10. I've never made an international move but I moved to Hawaii from California for a couple of years and I can totally relate to all of these stages in the transition. Even the language/vocabulary! They say can/cannot (or no can), too. I had a hard time with the "bad grammar" at first but then I fell in love with it. In fact, I still use some of it and catch myself shortening sentences (I moved back to California. unfortunately). This really is a a great post, I can go on and on about all the things I relate to!

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  11. @girl Yes, I love to know about different cultures and pick up all fun bits from it, haha! Yes.. the phases i think are inevitable but I enjoyed them really!

    @Khansa .. Thank you. It will be great .. we should meet too, whenever you come to Malaysia. I did a post on recommended places. Let me know if you need more information ... <3

    http://diaryoftog.blogspot.sg/2015/11/travel-diary-your-trip-to-malaysia.html

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  12. Thank you Inez... I will also miss Malaysia terribly if I move to another place. (No plans though, but life is like that) Now I am almost a local and I love it :)

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  13. Thanks Mehwesh for the detailed account of your experiences at Malaysia, Sad to hear that they are courteous but not Friendly unlike Pakistanis and the EID account is really saddening, people abroad usually have their Eid while Sleeping.

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  14. Thanks Myda..but now all the blues are gone and I am well settled :)

    Thanks for dropping by :)

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  15. I always thought that Lah was a Singaporean expression only. I never thought that Malaysians also add the same syllable to their sentences. Moving is really a big challenge, congratulations for hurdling the tough beginning and succeeding well in your transition.

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  16. I have lived in Singapore for a year and I have also grown accustomed to their accent there. Attaching lah to my sentences became normal and I also became used to hearing people. I think in no time, you will also adapt to it lah. :)

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  17. Transferring residennce from one place to another is like having a new world, in which it's up for you to understand - in slowe pace or quickly as you can. I can relate to your situation because I worked in another country wherein I had to adjust for everything; from language to food...to customs and traditions. Luckily, we experienced and we successfully accepted inside our hearts.

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  18. I'm sure I would feel the same way if that was me. Migrating to a different country is a huge adjustment especially if you're doing on your own. I'm glad everything is well now and that you're doing so much better than you used to.

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  19. I really really enjoyed reading this! I love that such a small word can mean so much to a certain culture :)

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  20. I think it does take time to adjust to a new place. I like the quote worst have a different meaning in different countries and it's also a way to appreciate what you currently have.

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  21. I remember when I also moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, where I lived there for some time. At first it was all exciting but when the excitement fades and novelty becomes part of the daily grind, I started missing what I even didn't like back in Manila (where I lived for 20 years). Now, I'm glad to be home in Bacolod, where I grew up. I guess there's no place like home, really.

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  22. great to know that you've eventually settled in well! i'm singaporean (just across the causeway!) and our colloquial English is very similar. but then again I will say "i borrow your..." or "lend me your...." borrow me sounds too off....

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  23. Nice article on your journey... But where were you from in the first place? I was trying to find it in the article but I couldn't find...from friendly neighbour next door... I mean, Singapore la...

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  24. Haha!!! Those words would definitely sound funny in Hindi! Quite interesting to learn new languages and learn the variation of English across the world!!!

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  25. Tiffany Yong - Hi neighbour ... I am from Pakistan :)

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  26. Moving from one place to another. I enjoy reading this though. From lah to lah

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  27. may i know whats the meaning of "Lah" i have seeing this word from Malaysians bloggers and fb post.
    adapting to a new culture and never easy especially if you are from the different side fo the world but if you are both from an asian country or both western country it'll be easier for you and for others

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  28. I can totally relate to this post...Many of these things happen to me too when I moved out of my home country for the first time!! It is perfectly okay lah to go through this phase mah...

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  29. Lee Rosales - Lah has no meaning... it is just an expression. depends on how you use and pronounce it, it changes its meaning... a very interesting thing for any linguist to study in depth .. haha

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  30. Welcome to SouthEast Asia!!
    Colloquial English is highly practice in this part of Asia, especially Malaysia and Singapore since we were once part of an European colony. The shortening or words and invention of expressive words were the innovation of early migrants trying to communicate with all the different races using the common language of our past colonial masters.

    It is something very unique and only because our forefathers of several different races were trying their best to understand each other, thus the invention from necessity.

    I love to travel around the world and live inside real neighbourhoods to learn and understand how people live. In USA it was the same too. Because I am yellow skin, people tend to be racist as most of them had a dislike towards Chinese. Only when I tried to break the ice and spoke their language ("perfect English and without any accent" - as they so said)and living the way they do, would then there be acceptance.

    Mostly it's the fear or unknown or the generalized/ mass media influence of hatred would make majority people close off to the minority. Sadly, it's the same everywhere. It takes time to integrate and settle in. Then after, enjoy all the diversity and the differentiation the country has to offer!

    Comparison always lead to a form of envy or appreciation of what we initially had at home. But choose appreciation everyday. Because you got to experienced it first hand rather than the rest of other people who don't. :)

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  31. Thank you Pricilla for your very insightful and thoughtful comments. I know how tough it is sometimes to adjust but Malaysia has been kind to me. Not very friendly but never racist. I decided to blend into them as you said and do things they love, try their favourite foods and speak their language. I am blessed to have experienced all this as it has made me more tolerant and accepting of other peoples beliefs.

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  32. Yes Malaysian use lots of Lah in our daily communication. Every sentence will possibly end with lah. Its our slang and signature.

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