Day 17 – First Words in Bahasa Melayu

1 Kilo of Mangoes for 13 Ringgit!

Being greeted by a family selling their wares in the fruit market

What an amazing day.  A seminary friend – actually the woman who will be teaching Eric (and maybe me) the language here (Bahasa Malaysia, or Bahasa Melayu, or just B.M.) – spent the morning showing me different places to shop.  A grocery store for locals (Tai Sun’s, I think) and breakfast at a little café (dim sum at 8 AM!).  The downtown harbour’s fruit market (where I bought a kilo of mangoes, not knowing Eric had bought the same yesterday… lots of ripe mangoes to eat!).  (And, notice how our Word program corrected my spelling of harbour to the British standard.)  (And, sorry for all the parentheses!  So many thoughts!)

Then, the meat market.  I kept having to literally use my hand to close my mouth – my jaw just kept dropping.  I’ve never seen a whole plucked chicken chopped and packaged – cut off the neck, cut off the feet and claws, save the feet, cut the whole thing in half in one blow of the knife, and so on.  And in the fish market, how fast they could fillet a fish, and the orderly piles of so many kinds of fish, plus squid and then huge bins of all kinds of shellfish – clams and hermit crabs, big blue crabs and others I don’t even know how to describe.  Eric went there yesterday, his first trip, and said that as he went in the door, two rogue crabs were skittering out.  It is a lively place, with people who are the salt of the earth – so patient and kind (recognize those words from scripture?) and willing to laugh with me and practice counting in BM.

I arrived home with my finds – a kilo of thin-sliced pork (sold at room temperature… yikes!), a big rectangular broom (kind of a Swiffer, for the dust from having windows always open), and fish with fillets to cook up and the head/spine/tail with which to make soup.  Eric has a fever – one of the mom’s at the international school said something is going around, plus he just needed rest after the rush to get here and get settled.  So off I went to get the boys from school and take them on a ginger ale hunt.

We went to a familiar mall – it has something very close to a Target in it.  There was some kind of show beginning – youth with two sticks attached by a 1-metre string, with huge yo-yo’s on them.  They were doing all kinds of tricks.  I tried to find a video online of it, but have no idea what it’s called.  (This kind of thing happens a lot – not having the words to try to find out more about things we’ve seen, or eaten, or want to try.  Life without words is very tricky!)  In the end, Dante had enough watching and we went off to the Giant (a version of Target) and found, of all the sodas and juices and drinks, only one can of ginger ale.

But, during the morning shopping, I had seen a shop that had gripe water – an herbal drink that helps babies with gas and all ages with any stomach discomfort.  I was so excited to see it!  When I went to buy it, it turned out that it was a Chinese apothecary, and when I went in and spoke my rudimentary Mandarin Chinese to the ancient man who worked there – well, you can imagine his surprise.  Blonde American, buying something in his shop, speaking his language.  I wonder how often, if ever, that happens.

I think one of the biggest learnings is how gracious people are when one tries to speak their language.  I think of the U.S.A., where too often people get impatient with those whose English is not yet particularly good.  Punishing people for trying to learn and speak?  It makes no sense.  Here people honour and reward you for entering into their language.  There is a generosity of spirit that encourages moving from “my space” (you speak English, please) to theirs – it gives shared energy.

In the end of the day, I splurged and used some of our powdered cheese stores, bought from the U.S., to make mac’n’cheese (with that thin-sliced pork and steamed okra) for the boys, paired with our first Skype conversation with my mom.  Two tastes of home.  But when I tucked them into bed (about 30 times), I was still looking out over the lights of our new city.  We live in 3 places – home there, home here, and somewhere in between.  Thankfully, we still talk about all of this as an adventure, and so we remind each other that the discomfort of transition is part of a bigger picture – one that we don’t yet fully see, but that we get to experience little by little.

Malaysia Day from Signal Hill

The view of Malaysia Day fireworks from our apartment at Sabah Theological Seminary

7 responses to “Day 17 – First Words in Bahasa Melayu

  1. I’m sure the Chinese man – once he got past the initial shock of hearing Chinese coming out of your mouth – was thrilled to hear you speak Chinese. 🙂 And it’s the little things like that, especially when it’s a surprise, that will make you be accepted more quickly. (And, most likely, will help you feel more a part of KK, as well.)

  2. I asked my friend Joe who knows all the juggling / spinning stuff, and he says maybe diabolo?

  3. Wow. I’m glad to read that you are all settling in nicely. It takes a lot of courage to do what you guys have, all the more so since 2 young children are with you. Best of luck and hope to see you when you’re back in the States.

  4. imagine my shock looking at headless and footless chickens at Stop and Shop for the first time! everything is unnaturally clean in US markets. enjoy the chicken feet and the fish head! 🙂

    • Ah, Ester, helping us to see things from another perspective. How could our styro-foam-wrapped boneless skinless meat seem anything other than normal, right? With Dante today I saw a big bin of chicken feet in the fridge section of a local grocery – when his mind registered what he was seeing he jumped (just a few inches) directly sideways. It all takes getting used to. Our world is more diverse than we usually realize!

  5. Most important words – hello and thank you.

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