Today I was walking to find a little cafe somewhere in Chinatown in the capital of Malaysia. I found the street and the little dot where my phone said it should be. But there weren’t any cafes to be found. So I turned and walked down the little alley next to my phone’s dot. Perhaps the entrance to it was on the opposite side of the building.
I love Malaysia; it feels familiar and warm and more like home than anywhere on the planet that isn’t actually my home (the US and New Brunswick, Canada.) But turning down alleys isn’t advisable here. While the large majority of people are lovely, kind, and willing to help strangers, there are still those who will rob or harass someone given the chance. And that’s a major downside. Here’s what happened to me after turning down this little alley.
A car pulled up and parked on the side of the alley, just behind me. Someone got out and slammed the door. They began walking the same way as me. I glanced to see if I should be worried about them. It was an trim, middle-aged Indian Malaysian man with glasses, dressed in a suit. I figured he was most likely a normal person. He had a sort of puzzled look when he saw me, probably wondering what a foreign girl was doing looking around an alley. I look younger than my age, so that didn’t help either I’m sure.
We both turned left at the alley’s dead end. “Where are you trying to go?” the man asked.
“Oh, I’m looking for a cafe called Merchant’s Lane.”
“Merchant’s Lane? This isn’t Merchant’s Lane.”
Of course the cafe had to have a confusing name when needing directions to find it, I thought.
“That’s just the name of it. It’s supposed to be on Petaling Four.”
He looked at my phone. “I need some kind of landmark to see where it is. Ah, there’s the temple.” He pointed to the temple mark on my phone map. “The temple is over here,” he pointed back the way we had come and to the left. “It should be across the way from the temple. Here, I will guide you.”
And he walked me back to Petaling Four, where we had started.
“Is it Jalan (malay word for road) or Lorong (malay word for lane) Petaling Four? Those can get confused.”
“It’s Lorong,” I replied as I showed him the address on my map, then looked up at the sign reading “Lorong Petaling Four” before us.
He was stumped as to why there was no cafe around too. “It’s okay,” I said, “I’ll take a look up the street and if I don’t find it, I can just go to another cafe.”
“Yeah, it should be somewhere on this street,” he agreed.
He asked where I was from and, with a touch of concern, if I was traveling alone. He was glad to hear I was in the city with my family. I thanked him for his help and wished him a good day. He replied in kind and went on his way.
I had an easy time trusting this Indian Malaysian man, despite the terrible situations we experienced with the men in Sri Lanka just a few days prior. That’s because I’ve had four months experience with the Malaysian people. To tell you that I’m excited each time we fly back will tell you that my experiences have been positive. My mom makes fun of how happy I am when I’m in Malaysia.
I love these Malaysian people. Their friendliness is only equal to those whom we met in Taiwan. Yet I’m guarded with every man I meet until I can decide if he is safe or not. This is the way you must be in just about every country, including Malaysia. The locals will say the same, including a lady I met at the cafe.
I entered the building where the cafe was supposed to be. It was a girl’s college. A man there directed me to a staircase the next building over that led to Merchant’s Lane. (He even ran out after me to make sure I found the staircase. See, people are so nice here.)
I was greeted with friendliness at the cafe and took a seat. When my food arrived, the lady next to me asked what I had ordered and if she could take a picture of it so she could remember to order it next time. The lady took her picture and asked if I came to that cafe frequently, where I was from, and if I was traveling alone. She was a friendly Chinese Malaysian who had a bit of advice for me.
After telling her that I very much liked Malaysia because of the friendly people, she was pleased and a bit surprised. “I saw one foreign girl use her camera to take a video around outside and a man ran up and stole it from her. Sometimes it’s not so safe here. You must be careful,” she warned.
This is how it is. Most Malaysians are the best people, but those stellar citizens will take you under their wing, as the Indian Malaysian man did when helping me with directions, or give you a warning in protection against that small percentage of people that you must watch out for in this country.
A huge population of Bangladeshis, Indians, Burmese, and men from Muslim nations such as Pakistan and Syria live and work in Malaysia. Malaysia is like the USA of this side of the world. People flock here for work, education, and opportunities. While I love the mixture of cultures in the Malaysian culture (Malaysian Indians, Muslim Malays, and Malaysian Chinese), there are also foreign cultures mixed in, most of which are much poorer and with less respect for life, women, and Western values than you will find from your local Malaysian.
Malaysia is a big, huge melting pot of peoples. I love to go to Malaysia because I don’t feel like a stranger or outsider when I’m there. While I wouldn’t go out at night or walk down alleys in areas I wasn’t already familiar with, it’s an amazing place to be. Every time we visit, I feel at home.