Understanding Malaysians

After some careful research, I have come up with this (very incomplete) guide to my discoveries about the way Malaysians talk:


This is the big one. Malaysians love saying ‘lah’ whenever they can squeeze it in. Sometimes it’s short, sometimes it’s long.  Sometimes it’s used to emphasize a statement, occasionally it is used to bridge a verb and a subject, but mostly it’s just chucked in like a nervous tic.

‘What lah you?’ / ‘What laaaaah?’
What are you doing? / What do you mean by that? / I can’t believe you did that. / Dumbass.

‘Kacau lah you.’
You are being annoying, but it’s kind of entertaining.

‘Die lah you.’
Go to hell (in a nice way)

‘Okay lah.’

‘No lah.’

‘La la lah.’
‘Those are clams’. (Used as a reply when somebody has asked ‘what are those?’ while pointing at clams)

‘Ya lah.’

‘Whip it lah.’
Instructing somebody how to make whipped cream from fresh cream.

You get the idea. Sometimes lah will be substituted for other, similar sounding words. ‘Mah’, for example gets used, although I don’t have a clue when or why. Also used is ‘lor’ – ‘Like dat lor’ (It’s like that).

‘Last time…’

When a Malaysian is talking about something in the past they will refer to it as ‘last time’, but It doesn’t matter whether it was literally the last time they experienced whatever it is they are talking about or not.

Example: ‘Last time this roti was 80 cents.’

This means that ten years ago a piece of roti that now costs $1.50 used to cost 80 cents. It doesn’t matter that the person speaking has been to this same curry house every week for the last ten years and has seen the price slowly fluctuate, they will still use ‘last time’ in this situation. This can potentially lead to confusion for a non-Malaysian. Example when discussing the FIFA world cup: ‘Last time when England won…’

‘Can’ / ‘Caaaaaan’
‘Can’ gets thrown around all the time. It’s almost as common as ‘lah’.
Short version: ‘Yes, I can probably do this/that’
Long version: ‘Piece of piss’

‘Tapau’ (most places) / ‘Bungkus’ (at a mamak)
Translates to takeaway. Technically speaking, tapau is Hokkien and bungkus is Bahasa, but even when speaking English the word ‘Takeaway’ won’t ever be used.
“I tapau for you cos so busy lah. Why you catching eels in back garden?”

‘Damn mafaan’
Very difficult.
Person one: “Let’s take this bucket of eels and teach them how to sing”
Person two. “No lah, it’s too damn mafaan.”

Slight variations on old favourites:
These common phrases are all rather self-explanatory. Most of them take full advantage of necessity to remove unwanted words.

‘Buy one free one’ (Buy one, get one free)

‘Eat all you can’ (All you can eat)

‘What to do?’ (This situation can’t be helped. We’re just going to have to deal with it.)

‘Don’t have.’ (I’m sorry sir, but we don’t have the food/drink/clothes/visa/toilet paper that you require. There’s nothing you or anybody else can do to change that. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go back to my desk and sleep on my arm.)

‘Got or not?’ (Do you have {whatever it is on the menu that I’m pointing at})

I’m sure as I stay in Malaysia longer this list will grow. If I get enough for part two you’ll all be the FIRST to know! Even though nobody reads this blog.


Just an ordinary train

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