Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas and Selamat Año Nuevo 

I've been here in Kuala Lumpur for five weeks now, and one thing I notice a lot is how people (ab)use languages here. From casual conversation that mixes Malay, Chinese, English and whatever works, no matter what the speaker's native language is, to a very popular Spanish TV soap opera, you can't really get the "full Malaysian experience" if you're not multilingual, and at least functional in Bahasa Malaysia, or the Malay language. This is proving an interesting challenge, but nowhere near as difficult as, say, Arabic or Vietnamese.

In Ho Chi Minh City, where I was before coming here, most of the Internet cafes are geared towards browsers and chatters. Whatever chat program you use, whether it's ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, IRC, Paltalk, or whatever, they're set up for you. Connections aren't always speedy or reliable, but they're (almost) always there, running on very mature Pentium II and III PCs. My usual spot was run by an older lady and her family; they would always say hi and get you a glass of tea after you were settled in.

Here in KL, it's a bit different. Net cafes are gamer hangouts, with 3- or 5-piece speaker systems, large monitors and fast processors. (The cafe I'm in now has a big sign outside, "All New - 2.4 GHz processors in every PC. Come check us out.") All the latest games are on the desktop, and it's rare to come across a cafe that has office-type applications.

Compared to the typical Pentium II-300 in HCMC, these PCs are amazingly fast; I can't imagine trying to run some of the newer games on the older hardware. But because the cafes are oriented towards games here, the culture is pretty different. Casual chat - except among gameplaying competitors or teammates - is kept to a minimum. Sound levels are at maximum. And most systems are tightly locked down, so that new or updated programs - or even Windows security fixes - can't be installed. However, one of the major chains has their homepage set to windowsupdate.microsoft.com - so you can install the latest updates, reboot so that Windows knows about them, and watch GoBack revert your disk to the "official" contents. In HCMC, even in areas where you can walk past ten Net cafes in a block, there's always a feeling that one more would be a Good Thing. Here....why?

Sounds like I like Malaysia more than Vietnam? That's the case - but one of the major reasons is that here, htere is life outside the Net cafe. :-P

And to all, Selamat Hari Raya Idulfitri, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and come home safe!

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