Listen and fix what is not right, it helps move us forward

  • Opinion
  • Monday, 24 Feb 2014

HAPPY Year of the Horse! The horse happens to be one of my favourite animals and a favourite pet before I came over to Malaysia and left it all behind for a life of adventure, learning and career development.

Last week, I got on Skype and chatted with my brother and his children.

I was missing home but at the same time glad I wasn’t in the terribly cold and wet weather that is plaguing the UK at the moment.

Despite being in Malaysia some 13 years, I am by no means “acclimatised” to Malaysia or its ways. This is always the issue with foreigners in other countries, whether or not they are willing to integrate, or even be able to for that matter.

In my case it’s not a case of integrating. I have learned languages, eaten everything in my path, and observed other cultures and religions, all with interest and zeal but whilst still keeping my identity. I still like being British.

What does it mean if I want to keep my “British” character?

Well, it certainly doesn’t mean eating fish and chips every day or wearing a bowler hat, catching a red bus to work in the morning or having a picture of David Beckham scoring a goal, on my bedroom wall.

It’s more about having an open mind, free spirit, acceptance of others, a sporting, outgoing and outdoor persona, maybe even a “try anything” attitude. I admit, not everyone is like that. There are plenty of people whose identity is embedded behind an almost genetic closed door.

I think from the perspective of open-mindedness, it is actually the same for many Malaysians, who are exposed to everyone else’s cultures and have friends of differing age, interest, gender, race or religion. I notice the difference between the exposed and the “sheltered.” Having a conversation with one stereotype or the other can be extremely different, not just linguistically but from the perspective of common interests or the understanding of the subject you may be discussing.

I am often misquoted or misunderstood when I speak and I can almost immediately tell when I am entering a one-way conversation, that’s a conversation where the listener already has all the answers and opinions prepared and is about to give me “advice” on my life rather than enter a lighthearted chat on a simple subject.

In such instances, I must be extremely careful when using our great British comedic weapons of sarcasm and satire, if it gets misunderstood or misinterpreted it all ends up rather uncomfortable and I have to explain myself to someone who has already “clammed up” and thinks I’m rude or that I shouldn’t have an opinion on Malaysian subjects.

In reality I don’t regard the state of the driving, the lumpy pavements, the rubbish dumps littering the city or the dodgy “not so clean” hawker stalls that must have caused one percent of the population to be off work every day, as “Malaysian” issues. I just see them as things we would fix in the UK, but it’s very interesting to hear my Malaysian friends not criticising my comments but acknowledging them and saying “well, yes, we are so used to it we perhaps don’t notice.” So at that point, it’s nice to have my British eye.

I was once reprimanded by an older gentleman when I commented that there was a lot of rubbish about. He commented that it’s because Malaysia is so big and difficult to control and that I should look at Singapore, which is cleaner because it is smaller and therefore easier to control, followed by an “aaahhh!”, which is the conversational equivalent of a checkmate in chess.

Unfortunately, when king faces king in chess it’s called stalemate and I know when I’m not going to get anywhere with a conversation, so I left the old chap to his opinions.

The fact of the matter is that if we drop litter, it is dropped, doesn’t matter how big or small your village or continent is.

I’ve also gotten into a conversation with someone who doesn’t want to say “yes, dumping piles of filthy rubbish in the countryside is bad” or “Hmmm, yes perhaps the pavements in the upmarket suburbs could be more wheelchair-friendly or pram-friendly” or “Yes, I have broken the Olympic 100m sprint record twice in my life when I had some dodgy kuey teow and had to sprint to the nearest tandas.”

I hardly think I’m being opinionated. Those issues don’t just affect me. They affect my local friends, people who fall into manholes and members of the public who get dengue when there is a pile of festering rubbish near where they live.

My biggest problem is attempting to put forward an idea in a funny or sarcastic way and finding my approach, which would be great in the UK, hit a nerve and all of a sudden I’m having a conversation with a defensive and patriotic Malaysian who thinks I am insulting their country, which of course ends the conversation very fast.

Here’s some food for thought. Most chaps out there like EPL; Malaysians are more interested in English football than Malaysian football, but if I offered you a steak-and-kidney pudding you would probably refuse point blank.

Well, it’s just the same for me. I love the countryside, I don’t like the city, I like the lake gardens but I hate the rubbish dumps along the old airport road in Kampung Baru Subang.

It’s not that I’m interested in telling anyone they are to blame or that Malaysia is no good, the fact is that these are quite small things but yet big issues at the same time and they affect everyone.

And despite my hometown being a small place by comparison to Kuala Lumpur, we grew up 30 years ago with the idea that we should complain if the infrastructure was no good and that public services were there to help.

We were taught to speak our mind, politely of course, but with courage and conviction (and most definitely without anger).

My old boss Mr Frank Fielding taught me to look at things and see if they looked right and if not, to say something or make them right. It’s what moved us forward.

Just saying “well that’s just how it is here” is actually tantamount to giving up. So it can be quite hard to get a message across here when no one wants to listen or if they get offended because they don’t understand the message, even when its delivery is both polite and eloquent.

Now back to the subject of horses. They are highly intelligent animals but are easily misunderstood.

I find horses gentle, strong and though they don’t make a lot of noise, if you pay proper attention, they can be understood quite easily.

Hopefully 2014 sees a beautiful year of the horse with big open ears, long strides to move forward and boundless horizons ahead.

> A weaver by trade and general manager by profession, Rob has been residing in Malaysia the past 10 years after moving here from England in search of adventure and professional experience. He’s a proud Hasher, a serious music lover and absent diver.

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Opinion , Accents column , Robert Plachciak


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