(A friend was getting married and my mates decided to come, so a two-week tour of the country was added into the mix.)
For the most part, I was looking forward to it: seeing friends again, roughing it in the jungle, visiting favoured tourist spots and roti canai.
Then I thought about what I wouldn’t be looking forward to: dealing with Malaysians again.
I lived in Kuala Lumpur for a little over a year back in 2011.
I remember the advice of one of my father’s co-workers for living in Malaysia:
“Don’t trust anyone who’s Malaysian.”
“Don’t get drunk around them, because they’ll beat you up and steal your money first chance they get.”
“As soon as they see you, white man, they’ll try and get as much money as they can from you.”
I was supposed to work with these guys. I had to trust some of them.
I even read that Kuala Lumpur was one of the most unhelpful cities in the world, second only to New York.
My workmates in KL weren’t too much different. While they laughed at the initial advice I’d been given, they replaced it with cautionary counseling of their own.
“Always barter with the street merchants, they charge five times what they got for the item; if you do barter down and he’s still smiling, he’s still ripping you off.”
“Always ask for the meter with a taxi; when the drivers barter, they always double the meter price.”
“It’s best if you have someone who speaks Malay with you, because they’ll rip you off if they see you don’t understand.”
So I lived out my time, forever on alert of the wily Malaysians.
When I returned last April, I put my guard back up as usual.
My friends and I were setting up our new Malaysian phone numbers when a small, wrinkled gentleman shuffles up to me and asks,
“Taxi for you?”
“No.” My replies were automatic at this point. “We’re taking the train.”
“How many of you? Four?”
“Cheaper! Train is RM35 each. RM120 means RM30 each.”
The guy was actually just giving us a genuine hand. And unlike the train, he was going to take us straight to the hotel. He was probably getting a bit extra, but who cares? It was cheaper and more convenient.
A week later I had a wedding to get to. I hailed a taxi and hopped in. The driver bartered RM15 and seeing as I was running late, I accepted.
I told the driver that it was imperative that I get to the church before 10am. (To do this effectively, I used a more simple word than ‘imperative’.)
He understood, and stepped on the gas.
There was a line of cars waiting for a U-turn a few hundred metres from the church. The driver mumbled something impatiently and drove to the head of the line, cut in front of the first car, drove in front of two lanes of on-coming traffic, bringing a flowing river of cars to a screeching halt and driving off toward the church to the tune of a horn ensemble.
Despite the fact he’d charged me more than the ride was worth and he put my safety at slight risk, I tipped him an extra RM5 for his efforts.
Fast forward to my friends and me in Alor Setar in the upper north of Malaysia. We needed to find a bus to take us to Kuala Lumpur for our final night in the country.
The taxi’s wheels were still in rotation when I woman came to meet us:
“Uhh, yeah, hang on-“
We grabbed the bags and I thought the worst, but the bus leaving now was a really enticing hook for four aimless fish like ourselves.
I asked the woman for the price and she quoted the price that we’d seen on the website.
I had to laugh.
The ticket sellers of Malaysia don’t want to take all your money, they just want you to spend your money with their bus company, as opposed to the eleven others heading to KL or wherever. Even if that means stalking the taxi stands and hurrying you along like you were late for school.
I had the place all wrong before.
If you change your mindset, the exact same act is perceived in two totally different ways.
It’s all about your attitude as you go in.
If an open attitude can turn an unhelpful, cheating country into one of the more friendlier places I’ve travelled, then imagine what it can do for that idea you can’t crack, that business you’re trying to launch or the girl working at reception you’re trying to ask to coffee.
Stay positive? I know, what a load of crap that you’ve probably read time and time again in everything from ego-masturbating blogs to the Bible. But isn’t it cool when you actually experience this stuff for yourself?
So just over a month ago, many of us would’ve have cracked our eyelids open in an afternoon sun-drenched bedroom/hotel room/tent, head heavy from hangover and not yet ready for vertical alignment and thought:
Over time, younger ad kids coming out of university have talked to me about getting an internship. Some have asked for tips and other times I’m thrown my two cents at them like a passerby to a man in the street juggling hackie sacks.
Either which way, during my time studying and working I’ve picked up a few tips and walkthroughs that I think can be very helpful to the clueless intern, the timid junior or even the unsure fish-out-of-water worker.
Now, I’ve been asked for advice before, as I’m sure you all have, but in the capacity as a close friend, older brother, casual know-it-all or person mistaken for a 40 year-old who’s passing his prime and full of life wisdom.