Malaysian Hospitality

Guest Article by Andrea Zinn
Villanova University
ETA Andrea Zinn stands by her frequently difficult car
This past Friday, I was driving to an English Camp about 2.5 hours away from my town when the usual happened: my car broke down. This is not the first occurrence, and I am sure it will not be the last. My mentor thinks it’s quite comical that I only seem to break down on Fridays around prayer time (Friday is the Islamic prayer day when all men are required to go to Mosque, so this is one of the most inopportune times), and I’m always at least an hour from home. She says maybe I should pray more when I start traveling on Fridays. I can’t say I disagree.
After trying everything I could think of to solve the problem myself, I finally called the man I rent my car from and asked him what to do. He happened to have a friend in the town I was close to, so in no time at all two friendly men showed up in full prayer attire to rescue me. While stumbling through my Bahasa Melayu to try to explain the problem (car words aren’t really my prime vocabulary set), eventually we were able to jump start the car and send enough charge to the alternator to keep it running. However, I still had about a 1.5 hour drive to reach my destination.
All of my Malaysian colleagues and friends already advised me not to drive on these roads alone, as the route is mostly miles through desolate palm tree plantations. In general my colleagues are fairly overprotective of me driving anywhere alone, but I had finally convinced them I was brave enough to make the drive since it would be during broad daylight, after all.
Nevertheless, there was no way my two heroes were about to let me drive on these empty roads in a testy car… so they insisted that I take theirs instead. I tried to object in my best Bahasa Melayu (“Pasti? Pasti? Tak boleh.”), but eventually I obliged. It wasn’t until I finally reached the English camp that I realized, I’m driving a stranger’s car and I DON’T EVEN KNOW HIS NAME! I still can’t believe how kind and generous this was… I don’t even let my close friends drive my car at home, because it was the one thing my insurance company really drilled into my head when I opened up my policy at 16. Tell me the last time someone in America just handed over their nice, fancy car to a complete stranger, in exchange for an old clunker that needed to be taken to the shop.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Sabah – a state in East Malaysia – to run a 7K and visit a few other ETAs there. I took a ferry from Brunei to Sabah, and then a local speedboat from the immigration ferry station to another town about a 25 minute boat ride away. I was nervous that I wasn’t going to make it to the race on time because I would have to wait a few hours for a bus to Kota Kinabalu. However, on the speedboat I met three painters (“Like fine arts?” my friend asked. “No, like walls,” I texted back.) who were also headed to the same city. They offered me a ride with them and though it may not have been the wisest decision (sorry, Mom) I evaluated the situation to the best of my ability, judged it to be safe, and trusted them.
Not only did these friendly workers let me tag along for a 2-hour car ride, they insisted I sit in the front seat, refused to let me pay for gas, dropped me off right where the race was taking place, and bought me an energy drink when we stopped at a gas station along the way. They treated me like an old friend that they hadn’t seen in a while, and we still keep in touch.

ETA Andrea Zinn with rescuers in Sabah
This is what Malaysia is; this is altruistic Malaysian hospitality. Whether it’s your closest friend or a complete stranger, people look out for each other, and they take care of each other. If you are ever in trouble, phone calls will be made until you are situated and well on your way in less than an hour. If you stop by someone’s house at 11pm, you can bet they’ll have tea ready for you at a moment’s notice. If you develop relationships with your colleagues, they’ll be fighting to take you home for Hari Raya. And if you are willing to be friendly and open, you will be surrounded with friendship, generosity and kindness; because that is the Malaysian way.

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