25 October 2010

Do you make a good Malaysian?

Okay! Small break off work so I can quickly tell you about this funny story before it slips through my lazy mind.

It happened a few days back when me and my cousins Marian and Rosy were trying to get to this salon in Jubilee Hills to get Marian's hair done (Hakim's Alim - this one stylist who was there was a total dickhead by the way. I hope he reads this. Sweet receptionist though).

Anyway there was a rickshaw shortage in the city that day due to the drivers sulking about being forced to use the meter I think. So we waited and waited and waited and were on the verge of giving up when finally an old man in a gleaming chariot came riding up and halted and asked us where we wanted to go. (It was actually a rickety rick but at that stage even a rusty bicycle would've been, for us, akin to a knightly steed.)

"Jubilee Hills" we said, to which he readily agreed to go. And when we asked him how much (which is the norm because as you may have already guessed, the drivers only quote their own prices and don't use the meter so one always has to bargain first), to which he again happily replied "Free, madam!"

I asked him again because I thought I heard him wrong, but he stressed again that he would take us wherever we wanted to go free of charge. And while we were pondering over the strangeness of this kind gesture, he said "I have just one request, I'll take you to this shop where you quickly browse around for a couple of minutes. All you have to do is tell them you're from Malaysia when they ask you where you're from."

"But we're from Hyderabad" we said. Still continuing to smile peacefully he told us that was okay, we just have to lie and tell them we're from Malaysia. It seemed like a harmless enough request, and we were desperate and a free rickshaw ride!? How many times do you get that offer in a lifetime? So we said okay and off we went.

Along the way he explained that there was some South-east Asian convention in the city and certain stores expect a lot of South-east Asian tourists/shoppers and he gets some monetary compensation for every foreign shopper he brings to their shops. I knew the kind of shops he would take us to and I warned him that even though we will look, we most definitely will not be buying anything. He okayed it all.

We found ourselves in front of a fancy, high-end handicrafts shop in some posh corner of town. The three of us trooped in confidently and were welcomed with open arms. By and by, the inevitable question came - "Where are you from madam?" And horror of horrors! I discovered I could not say 'Malaysia'! I opened my mouth but nothing came out. No sound of 'Malaysia' escaped my parched lips.

The nice gentleman looked at me opening and closing my mouth but when no answer came forth, he probably thought I was just imitating a fish out of water (which I sort of was) because Malaysians do it all the time and he frequently gets Asian customers who walk into his shop and out of pure excitement start imitating a fish I guess.

Undeterred he cleared his throat and asked again. And again the mouth opened, but no sound issued forth. It was the most uncomfortable feeling in the world, and I was so close to panic I even for a second contemplated acting deaf and mute.

Now I'm not pretending to be an angel or anything. I can lie. I can twist the truth around and even sound very convincing at it. I'm in advertising after all :D But the thing is, there has to be an essence of truth in it. Give me a piece of truth to use as a core and I can wrap pretty lies around it. But unless I have that base to work on, I'm useless. I just can't do it.

Thankfully Marian came to the rescue and smoothly told him that we were from Malaysia. They aahed and told us how delighted they were to have us and raved about how much they like our country. We smiled politely and putting on the airs of moneyed tourists started browsing through their wares.

"Are you here for the convention?" they asked. This one was easy. Before anyone could answer, I shouted "NO." Maybe a little too enthusiastically but I think they were happy to see that I was not, after all, mute. (See I can be good when I have that basis of truth :))

They fawned over us, took out their best silk and cashmere and amethysts and silver and spread them out before us. Like we were royalty. Bliss! I started to enjoy myself and tried on their cashmere wraps and crystal jewelries while trying to find some excuse for not wanting to buy anything I tried on (other than not being able to afford it - which was the truth).

Lost in the loveliness of the things they threw at us, and the smell of expensive, exotic perfumes wafting in the air made us forget about our promised 2 minute browsing time. We draped the cashmere shawls around our shoulders, tried on the many bejeweled earrings...Marian got so into our roles that when she tried on an expensive silk scarf at the request of the owner, she tied it around her head like a typical Malaysian headscarf instead of around her neck which is the only way she's ever worn scarves in her entire life.

30 minutes later we reluctantly decided to leave. I had despite all good intentions also picked out a georgette saree that I could afford, and as I about to pay my bill, I heard one of the salesmen exclaim "Welcome sir! Come in come in." I glanced at the door, and I saw a group of Asian men making their way in through the door. Catching me, an Asian woman, staring, they beamed with gladness. At running into a sister in such a far-off and foreign land I suppose. They all turned and smiled at me.

I knew immediately without a doubt that they were Malaysian. Female intuition, sixth sense, divine intervention, whatever it was, I knew it was a bunch of Malaysian men smiling at me that very moment. And I panicked. I managed the quickest smile that ever passed through human lips and looked away immediately. My pulse quickened, my heart was beating against my chest, and my hands trembled as I handed the salesman my credit card. I tried to smile, told him that I just noticed the time and that I was running late for an appointment and could he please hurry up.

"Of course madam" he chirped happily. But his movements were slow and deliberate, I knew he wanted those men to come to us and start a conversation. They wanted their store to be full of happy Malaysians excitedly chattering away in Malaysian! Malaysian men meeting their countrywomen in a foreign land, convincing each other to use their Malaysian Rupiahs to buy tiny silver elephants and ridiculously expensive chairs imported from Dubai and other such nonsense.

Me and Rosy became by some magic perfect candidates for extra roles in the Night of the Living Dead. I could tell Rosy was even more terrified than I was. Marian was hanging around somewhere in the back oblivious of the danger we were in.

Then the dreaded nightmare happened. A voice, belonging to one of the wretched salesmen who I would have loved to smite down in great earnest if I had been a smaller God. But because I'm not one and only Gods can smite and I can only...kick (Karate lessons :)) no smiting happened.

Anyway, back to story. The voice rang out through the store - "Ooh what a coincidence! Madams here also from Malaysia!" And before I knew it, they'd sauntered over..I couldn't breathe. I stood there, staring at the wall, stone-faced, being the meanest person in the world because these men were sweet and all smiley-ey and beaming at us. And worse, all the salesmen the store had, about 5 of them, stood around us, beaming radiantly at this joyful union as well.

How do I explain the thoughts that went through my head at this point. It went something like this - "That's it, if they come any closer, I'm just going to come clean. I'll say 'Stop we're not Malaysian so don't come any closer and I'm really sorry but we were lying because the rickshaw guy asked us to and it seemed pretty harmless at first and we really needed to get somewhere and we were desperate but we're sorry and we'll never do it again because we suck at this and it's not a nice thing to do and I'll buy more of your nice things if you'll forgive us!!"

Then I heard it. "As Salam Alay Kum!" (Arabic for 'Peace be unto you') said a male voice. Me and Rosy steadily trembled (Hah! An oxymoron there?). Then a female voice, loud and clear, answered "Alay Kum Salaam!" Shocked I stole a furtive glance and saw the female voice belonged to Marian. What's more, it looked like she had just straightened from a little bowing of the body! She bowed while saying "Alay Kum Salaam"! I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time. Rosy and I looked at each other, too scared to laugh but too bemused by the perfect Arabic greeting to cry.

In any case, I thought that's it, we're caught, there's no way she can go beyond that. But surprisingly they switched to English. I heard them ask if we were in Hyderabad for the convention and other relatively safe questions. I thought things looked better and we may yet make a dignified exit.

Then I heard one of the men ask "Which part of Malaysia are you from?" The question even though not directed at me made me shiver to my bones, for everything I knew about Malaysia flew away like a bird the moment I heard it.

Slight pause. Then I heard Marian say bravely "Pedang."


I told the guy to hurry with my saree.

"Yes Pedang"

"Weird, I've never heard of it."

One guy was trying to wrap my saree in some flowered paper, I grabbed it "No need to wrap!" He wouldn't let go. "DON'T wrap it!" I literally screamed.

Malaysian guy to Malaysian guy: "Do you know where Pedang is?"

Second guy to first: "Nope never heard of it."

Guy stuffs my saree in brown paper bag.

Marian (sounding indignant): "Of course there's Pedang. Our grandparents live there. We live here in Hyderabad with our parents but our grandparents live in Pedang which IS in Malaysia!"

Guy slowly takes out a shopping bag and equally slowly drops my sari in. Rosy and I wrangled the shopping bag from the lazy guy and dashed out the door, grabbing Marian along the way. It was rather rude I admit, as we didn't even give Marian a chance to bid farewell to her newfound Malaysian friends.

But something told me her farewell wouldn't be as smooth as her greeting because she doesn't know how to say 'Later' or 'See you' or even a simple 'Bye!' in Malaysian.

Once we reached the safety of the rick, we laughed till our stomachs hurt. Then Marian got angry at us. She was embarrassed because she made a fool of herself. She wanted to know why we didn't tell them that we were from Thailand or the Philippines even. She screamed that she will never ever go out with us again and that we were not worthy of being called cousins. Then we laughed some more and headed towards the salon.

Then it turned out that the salon only had that one asshole Arabic-scarf-wearing stylist so we bought some clothes at a nearby store and went home.

(Also what is it about these scarves that all wannabe hairdresser/stylist types think they should have one around some part of their snooty bodies at all times?! And snooty for what reason I haven't been able to fathom.)

Anyway, my advice to anyone who is not Malaysian who gets an offer to act Malaysian for a free rickshaw ride, say no. Its just not worth putting your heart through that kind of stress.


marian said...

Amen...people don't ever be tempted, the lies you have to create will haunt you for a long time........trust me, i know :)

Evangeline said...

Hahahahahhhaaha...Ka nui nasa ltk. Tei khan a ron soi zuai a mahse kalo hrethiam chiah lova..Oi! Nangni ho hi chu adventure hi in ngah thei bik e XD.... Anyways, Marian poh rinai daihin ' presence of mind' alo ne ka ti LOL....

Shirley said...

hahahahaha god I've been giggling hysterically. Pedang!! LOL haha - I don't think I've laughed this hard in a while. Pedang - how terribly cute.

Brilliantly written Jerusha, loved it.

Oh just Googled Pedang - its a village development committee in the Himalayas of Taplejung District in the Mechi Zone of north-eastern Nepal (can't imagine why the Malaysians had never heard of it)

Ruthu said...

LOL... Jeru! awesome post ... really well written i just feel like i was right there laughing my ass off at the way you must've panicked but i must say Marian did a good job! haha

Jerusha said...

hahaha Marian coming from the mouth of the expert how can anyone not listen to that now :))

Eva - Awi kan ngaihsan dan chu nasa tak ani Aremi nen. A panic lo char2 khawp mai, pawn a kan chhuah hnu ah chiah a buai tan. Pedang zin kan tum lo kal ve rawh hahah

Jerusha said...

Shirley & Ruthu - thank you thank you. I so wish you had been there that day, but I know Shirls would have trembled so much she would have given us away :) But yes it was hilarious. I was still laughing just writing about it.

virgochhas said...

lolzz...dats y i always said never carry alcohol if ur going home by road...a bottle or two is not worth the stress...

i hope you tell Marian that she was not making a fool of herself...wow...dats something man...i bet she'll make a good apprentice :)

nang chu ngaihna i awm lo...lolzz...i khur chhe lai vel chu live in TV in lo en i la, ka nui nghek chak...awi i zam tawh ltk, dawrnghak pa chemuang lui lai vel i han thinrim tur kha ka understand ltk..lolzzzzzz

dr_feelgood said...

How you dare!!

Anonymous said...

lols... ka nui nasa lutuk... Jerusha, Marian hi in fiamthu-video a Orpi kha em ni?

Jerusha said...

Virg - kan tluk lo khAWP Mai Bruce Lee nge nge chu. Mahse kei ai chuan Rosy la khur uih zawk haha

Dr Feelgood - haha I know. Impulsive behaviour like this just requires one to be stupid daring sometimes :)

Anonymous - ni lo e, Marian hi chu Bruce Lee kha ania, leh Hmeltha Sensiar video a SPi kha :) Orpi hi chu hemi ni hian a tel ve lo.