Malaysia’s Cultural Diversity

For those not in the know, I was just in Malaysia for ten days.  Two things made a big impression on me while I was there. First, the people were really friendly, even by Southeast Asian standards.  Which is to say, they were uncommonly friendly, and not just because they were trying to get us to buy something.  Most people we interacted with–even the cab drivers trying to swindle us on an outrageously overpriced cab ride and the weary unenthusiastic waiters–were genuinely warm and friendly if we joked around with them, or asked them for advice (or, in the case of the waiter, ran into him after his shift while buying beers at a convenience store).  Ironically, the only person on our whole trip that left us with a bitter taste in our mouths was a beer-bellied (he didn’t like wearing shirts), stingy British guy who owned a guesthouse we stayed in. He was the only person who didn’t make us feel welcome–and he ran a guesthouse, of all places.

Second, Malaysia exemplifies the big salad bowl analogy of several different cultures, ethnicities, religions, and languages coexisting and blending to form a greater national community.  The population consists of a mix of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Bangladeshis, Arabs, and transplants from other neighboring Southeast Asian countries.  It’s hard to tell when you’re in any given place if there is really a majority of any one group.  As a result, religion, language, food, and dress vary greatly–in a neighborhood called “Little India” in Penang, you can see a mosque, a Buddhist temple, a Christian church, Chinese restaurants, Indian restaurants, store signs with Arabic script, women in saris and in burqas, and men in skullcaps–along with people dressed in Western clothing and English writing on store and traffic signs.  And it seems that all of these different cultures live alongside each other peacefully, if somewhat segmented.

In Kuala Lumpur, the heavy Islamic influence could be seen in the architecture.  Many buildings had Moorish- and Ottoman-style domes and minarets.
We also went to the fascinating Islamic Art Museum, where Tommy was a big fan of the to-scale models of important mosques around the world.  They also had a great collection of art, ceramics, jewelry, textiles, and weapons used in Islamic cultures throughout history. We weren’t supposed to take pictures, but I found that out only after I snapped a couple:

Illustrated versions of the Quran at the Islamic Museum of Art

We also saw a lot of different religious sites–fascinating for us Americans who have relatively few places of worship that are as architecturally intricate and artful as the ones in many other parts of the world.  Since I like photos that focus on people, here are some pictures that hopefully show the diversity of people in Malaysia, and the diversity of places they worship. (And p.s. I’m still trying to figure out a good way to display photos in WordPress. If you have any tips, please let me know.)

Two young girls pay respects at a Buddhist temple

A woman hanging out in the temple

More pics after the jump!

A man dozing inside a mosque
A Buddhist monk leaves a Burmese temple, while another man enters
A man worships at a Hindu temple
A woman at a Hindu temple
A man makes flower wreaths outside Batu Caves, a Hindu temple

4 thoughts on “Malaysia’s Cultural Diversity

    1. Hey Mary, thanks for your comment! I’ll be putting up some more posts about the food and beach in Malaysia, too, so check back!

  1. Hi

    Great read – sorry about my British compatriot!

    We do a lot of work for Tourism Malaysia and I’m curious to know what inspired you to come to Malaysia, what were your influencers, how you researched and planned the trip and what Malaysia could do to make the process more effective.

    I hope you can drop me a line either here or via email.

    Many thanks and keep writing!

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