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In addition to Bahasa Malaysia, a standardised version of the Malay language, and Malaysian English, Malaysia has 137 living languages. Between the natives tribes of Sabah and Sarawak, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka and other Chinese dialects, Tamil and Malaysian Tamil, one has to master more than one language to get by as a true insider. Here are some judicious phrases to use in Kuala Lumpur to help shed your innocent tourist image.

 

Breaking the Ice (Kacang)

Apa Khabar? - friendly Malay greeting for "how are you?". Often used to start a friendly conversation. When asked, reply Khabar Baik if you're fine or Khabar Buruk if you feel crap.

Terima Kasih is Malay for "thank You". Mm Koi is the Cantonese equivalent. Sieh Sieh is the Mandarin version.

Selamat Tinggal is Malay for "goodbye". Selamat Malam for "goodnight" and Selamat Pagi for "good morning".

 

Lah

Visitors might find it difficult to juggle with this commonly used expression. Yes Lah (yes), No Lah (no). It is not enough to just say Lah. You must say it with an attitude and zest that can only be cultivated through carefully observing the average Malaysian on the street. Append Lah to a verb and you should be properly indigenised in KL. For instance, say:

"Go back to hotel Lah"

Let's go Lepak Lah - let's go chill out (Lepak means "to chill")

Ree Lek Lah Bluh Duh - Relax, brother

Jangan Ten Shen Lah - Jangan (don't), Ten Shen (tension), essentially means "no stress man"

 

Aiyoh

This is a flexible term used by Malaysians to express either pain, panic or surprise. Alamak is a good substitute. It does not matter if you use it at the beginning or end of your sentence. The Malaysian Indians have a modified Aiyoh to Aiyoyo which essentially means the same thing but can be used in humorous situation as well. The Malays have a specific term for pain - Aduh. So if you trip and fall, yell Aduh for sympathy.

 

Meaning Business

Apa Harga? - this is a severely cut-down version of "how much is this or that". For an even better short-form, use Berapa?. Don't worry, you will be understood.

In Malaysia, it is crucial to be skilled in the art of bargaining. By bargaining, you get the best price for your purchase. Use Wah! Sangat Mahal Lah! for "Hey man! That's damn expensive!" Do not show fear nor rage. Bargain with a moderate amount of aggression and good humour and you will remain in one-piece and be spared superlative vulgarities.

Ladies, be demure and say Encik, Murah Sikit Boleh Kah? This means "Mister, can I get this for a little less please?". A slight batting of the eyelids and a pout would do you good when it comes to male vendors. You can try your bargaining strategies almost everywhere except super posh air-conditioned malls in which case, you can possibly trust the price tag.

 

Picking up Babes and Hunks

The young ladies of Malaysia are as beautiful as the country. So here are some pick-up lines for interested parties.

Lang Lui - this is a Cantonese expression for hot chick. Use it if you want to compliment a pretty Chinese girl. Add a whistle or wink for extra appeal. Not to be used in classy environment like 5-star hotels or business conferences because others will be inclined to think you are a pervert.

Cantik or Lawa - this is a Malay term denoting pretty or beautiful. Use it as a pretty Malay girl is sashaying by you in her Baju Kebaya or Baju Kurung (Baju means dress, Kurung and Kebaya denote different traditional designs). You get a smile in return if you're lucky.

Kacak - this means handsome. Use it if you want to tell a Malay chap that he is cute. Do not use it on Mat Rock, a generic term for skinny Malay chaps who dress in leather and zip through town in their Harley-Davidson wannabe bikes. They see themselves as the Asian equivalent of Guns 'n Roses or Aerosmith. Mat Minah usually describes the vampish female partner of the Mat Rock. She too has a thing for heavy metal and leather. Mat Rocks prefer to be Kuul (cool) rather than Kacak.

Lang Tzai - this means cute guy. Say this to a good-looking Chinese guy and you will make his day.

For the lucky ones who find love in Malaysia, try expressing your love in various Malaysian ways. To a Malay partner, Ku Cintai Mu (Koo-chin-tah-ee-moo, meaning "I love you") would send him or her over the moon. For the same effect, try Ngo Oi Lay or Wo Ai Nee on a Chinese partner. Practice your love declaration. If you think you are going to screw up, stick to "I love you". Malaysians have an excellent command of English.

 

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Learn about Malaysia

 

A Short History of Malaysia by Virginia Matheson Hooker

 

The Malays by Anthony Milner

 

The Emergence of Modern Southeast Asia by Norman Owen, David Chandler and William Roff