“… and then he farted defiantly.”

As W.C. Fields so memorably said, ‘Never work with children or animals.’

Actually, I need to be careful what I say here, because Mr Toad is reading over my shoulder

and he has a very disapproving expression on his face.

So I will concentrate on the ‘not working with children’ bit, and leave animals out of it.

The defiant farter was not one of my pupils, thank goodness; it was the Head Teacher who got the full malodorous force of that one.

But I have received two crushing blows to my fragile self-esteem this week.

In Episode One, Child A points to my leg and says, ‘What’s that lump?’

As I twist around, trying to look for a lump on my leg, Child B prods at my calf and says dismissively, ‘Oh, that’s nothing – it’s just fat.’

In Episode Two, small-but-evil Child C says, ‘You have very nice, soft fingers, Miss Louise.’

‘Thank you,’ I say with a smile, totally off my guard.

‘But your hands aren’t very soft, are they?  Why is that?’ she asks guilelessly.

‘I don’t know,’ I reply, on my guard now, but too late.

‘I think it’s maybe because you’re very old,’ says disingenuous Child C, mercilessly going in for the kill.

So there you are … I’ve been called old and fat, both in the space of a week.

I’m wondering whether the school will pay for my therapy.

 

 

 

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Happy Hari Raya

Today marks the end of Ramadan, and in the true spirit of Malaysian gourmandising we decided to go to an all-you-can-eat brunch.

Our choice of venue – a prosecco and pork extravaganza – wasn’t exactly in keeping with Islamic principles, but the intention was there.

Then on to a gin palace, where behaviour deteriorated somewhat …

… not mine, I hasten to add.

They give you a bottle of gin and invite you to make a mark once you’ve had enough –

Needless to say, the bottle was well and truly empty once the crab crew got going on it, so no marking or haggling over price was necessary.

And this evening I can see fireworks going off in every direction as I look out from the balcony

This isn’t my photo … I can’t see the Petronas Towers from my window, but I’m sure you get the idea.

There are yellow and green decorations everywhere

and they are all in the shape of the little woven boxes that are filled with money and given to children at Hari Raya.

Here they are in a shop down the road – along with flaming torches, which seem to be another essential for Hari Raya –

– plus lots of bright, shiny decorations.

The guards at the gate of the condo have really got into the Ramadan spirit and decorated the guard house –

– despite the fact that they’re all Nepalese, and therefore presumably Hindu.

That’s the great thing about Malaysia; there’s a huge mix of cultures, and they all embrace everyone else’s celebrations with great enthusiasm.  So the Malays have a knees-up at Chinese New Year, and the Chinese flock to the Iftar buffets during Ramadan.

As a last word on Ramadan, I had a revelation at my final Iftar buffet last Thursday.  These buffets specialise in traditional home-style food which you don’t normally see in restaurants, and on Thursday I had some of this –

which I thought was artichoke.  But I was assured by my Malay neighbour that it was jack fruit.

I was so convinced that it was artichoke that I took a picture of the label

and looked up a translation later, and of course she was absolutely right.

So there you go, cooked jack fruit is indistinguishable from artichoke … I bet you never knew that.

So, as they say over here, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, or Happy Hari Raya – so no more Ramadan buffets until next year … sigh.

 

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Getting to grips with Manglish

Manglish is an English-based creole used in Malaysia.

They also use British English, which is considered to be a second language rather than a foreign language in Malaysia, but it is a very idiosyncratic type of British English and takes some getting used to.

For a start they use some very quaint words and expressions, which have fallen out of use in England.  For example, children are always complaining of being scolded by their parents or their teachers – whereas I don’t think a British child has used the word scolded for about a hundred years.  Likewise, they talk about plucking fruit from trees, which has a definite Shakespearean ring to it.  And I also is used where we would say me too.

Rude words and offensive words are also very different:

‘Teacher!  Jacob just say buttock to me!’

I then have to feign outrage at such atrocious language.

The rudest word of all, referred to only as the ‘s’ word, is … stupid.  It’s so shocking that a child will gasp if they hear it, or refuse to read it aloud if it crops up in one of their British reading scheme books.

Conversely, shit is not an offensive term at all, and I’ve had five year-olds who routinely exclaim ‘Oh shit, Miss Louise – I’ve broken my pencil!’

On and off are both verbs in Manglish, as in:

‘Can you on the airconditioning, please?’

A whole variety of words are used much more in Manglish than in English, such as also, already, got.

Got is used all the time, and exists in a variety of tenses, including the future, I will got.

The suffix –lah is added onto words willy-nilly, and doesn’t seem to mean anything at all – maybe emphasis, but I’m not sure.  For example, a child memorably said to a fellow teacher when he found out her age:

‘So old, and not yet married-lah!’

Can and cannot – never abbreviated to can’t – are used all the time, and ‘can can‘ isn’t a dance, it’s merely a strong affirmation.  So a typical conversation in a shop might go like this:

Mend this, can?

Mend?  No, cannot-lah.

Buy new one same same, can?

New one same same, can can.

So, although I haven’t learnt much Malay yet, my Manglish is coming on a treat-lah.

 

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My first Ramadan

I knew Ramadan was going to be a big thing in Malaysia when I saw that Tesco was selling special Ramadan boxes of tissues –

Hari Raya is the Malay name for Eid, which will be celebrated next Sunday after a month of fasting.

In the daytime, it’s difficult to notice much difference, as most of the Malays carry out their fasting quietly and with little fuss.  The only difference is the appalling traffice between 5 and 7 pm when Muslims all rush home to prepare for breaking fast at the designated time.

If you’re not sure what time you can start to eat in the evening, the newspapers publish the time every day, or you can look online

This website shows us that today the morning meal must be finished before prayers which start at 5.41 am, and then the Iftar, which is the name for the meal when they break fast, can start at 7.24 pm.

I went to an Iftar meal last week with a group of women, organised by Amal, on the left, who is quite the most glamorous headscarf-wearer that I’ve ever seen – she reminded me of a cross between Liza Minelli in her heyday, and Lawrence of Arabia.

All of these women are Muslim, but come from different cultures with very different approaches to Islam, but they are all fasting for Ramadan.

I learned that Malay men can be imprisoned for a month if they are seen eating publicly during the day at Ramadan, and they also have to pay a hefty fine.  It’s not so stringent for women, as there’s a variety of reasons which exempt them from fasting; although if they don’t fast they’re expected to either make up the time later, or feed the poor instead.

But Malaysia being Malaysia, it seems that Ramadan is all about the Iftar i.e. all about the food.  There is a night food market every evening in each part of town, and all the hotels and a lot of the restaurants put on an Iftar buffet every evening, all trying to outdo each other with the splendiferous spread on offer.

So, purely in the interests of research, I went along to one yesterday evening with my dining chums Glenn and Jeff and two friends of theirs from Bangladesh –

It was a fantastic experience – I’ve never seen so much delicious food in one place before.

And it wasn’t just Malay food … there was a sushi chef

And a chef slicing raw fish and octopus, japanese-style

Plus the shellfish, of course –

– and I even impressed myself with my restraint when it came to a helping of these

… and it was a jolly small plate too.

It was a bit like waiting for New Year to strike, and as soon as 7.23 arrived, the hordes descended

I was particularly taken with the melons carved into dahlias

but I’m not sure what the strange potato-things are … I didn’t try one just in case it was a potato.

There was even a chocolate fountain

and a whole range of other yummy puddings

We eventually rolled out of the restaurant, discussing imminent diets, about two and a half hours later.

I’ve been invited to another Iftar next Thursday … can’t wait.

 

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Another dose of crabs

Returning from my whirlwind trip back to the UK last week, I had a bizarre encounter with an amorous travel agent at the airport as I waited for my cab.

Me: No, I’m not going to meet you for a glass of wine, I’m afraid.

Him: Please don’t worry, I’m afraid too.

… not exactly what I meant – oh, well.

No – my real fear was that there might have been an outbreak of crab flu, or Dutch crab disease in my absence, forcing me to lead a crab-free lifestyle from now on.  But I’m happy to report that my fears were unfounded, and last night I even managed to add to my repertoire –

– bottom right is black pepper crab … just one more example of crustacean deliciousness.

One of the claws exploded with a loud crack as I attacked it with nutcrackers and it shot goo all over me, the table and the floor.  My neighbour cleaned me up after that little accident, but I still managed to make a terrible mess –

But at least the pile of debris wasn’t so high that I couldn’t see over it

Happy days.

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