Selamat ulang tahun, Malaysia

Diana from the office the other day asked me if I knew how to speak Bahasa Melayu yet, since I’ve been here almost a year. I grinned and replied, “Makan… Minum… Terima kasih!” which made her laugh and tsk at me at the same time.

But I also know specifically what to makan and minum, and whether to have it there or to go. Practical stuff. I also know how to give directions to my house in Malay (kanan, kiri) and Shin Hui was giving me a lift on the same day and, asking me to navigate for her, she said I was better than her at knowing where to go in KL and PJ. Yes, I know how to get around by myself. It took a while, but I’m such a badass commuter, which Bilqis had warned me can be super challenging. That counts for something right? An accomplishment for my first year in Malaysia?

View this post on Instagram

So early in the morning…

A post shared by Joelle Jacinto (@joellebjacinto) on

Jason, giving me a lift on a separate occasion (bless my Malaysian friends giving me lifts here and there), asked me how long I’ve been here and told him it would be a year on Saturday. He said this surprised him, he thought I had been living here for at least three years. Yes, I can’t speak Malay yet, but I guess I do give the impression I’ve been here for quite some time. And anyway, I understand context. Some context. Both in Malay and Chinese. Dui.

When I visited Singapore, Mayo asked me how was my English, because he said his was deteriorating. I said mine was still perfect, because I had Bilqis to talk to. If anything, I was starting to develop a British accent.

I have Bilqis.

I have Bilqis. Feeding the monkeys in Kuala Selangor.

Okay, so yeah, I was kidding about Chinese, I don’t understand it at all, except for this one time Silver and Jack were arguing “Yo..” (sp?) and “Meiyou…” on a loop in the car. But I’ve learned to enjoy listening to the chatter, and don’t demand a translation because I don’t have to join the conversation to enjoy it. One of the first times I hung out with a bunch of Chinese Malaysians at once, Chan was constantly trying to translate for me, bless his heart (may you all have that one friend who is just as sweet and thoughtful). I remember telling him, “It’s okay, Chan. I like listening even if I don’t understand.” Which is also why I’m not going to learn Chinese anytime soon, though I’ve recently learned how to fake participating in a Chinese conversation. Dui. Zhen ta. Shi. I can do that all year.

In the solo he choreographed for me for Dancing in Place, Jack wanted me to speak in Tagalog to replicate his own lost in translation experience when he was “wandering in Berlin.” Maybe better if I spoke in German, but it had to come out naturally and so we settled on Tagalog. However, I found that some of my text, especially in the second segment where I’m tying my hair, saying the words felt so unnatural for me. And when I watched the video back, I was like, you sound so fake, girl!

Chattering in Tagalog in Jack Kek's Strasse, Stadt Photo by Marvin Kho

Chattering in Tagalog in Jack Kek’s Strasse, Stadt
Photo by Marvin Kho

Jack’s lost in translation experience is actually exactly my experience. His city is Berlin. My city is KL. And what his dance is about, is exactly my dance. Why does my heart feel so much for a city it has only just met? It just does. And it has multiplied greatly, one year after.

On the monorail today, a girl asked me, “Hang Tuah sini?” I said yes. If she was going the wrong way, I would have said, “Tak,” and pointed at the other platform. She smiled and said, TQ. I replied, “Sama sama.”

Yes, I’m quite proud of myself. Happy anniversary to you and me, Malaysia, in a couple of days. Thank you for having me.

View this post on Instagram

Good evening, city of mine. #iloveKL

A post shared by Joelle Jacinto (@joellebjacinto) on

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s