Experiencing the Difference of Malaysian Culture

I have had four trips to Malaysia working for a customer in Kulim Hi-Tech Park since May of this year. My trips are usually ranging from 3 to 4 weeks depending on the amount of work that needs to be done. 

In all of these four trips, I have always stayed in Penang since it is quite close to Kulim where the customer site is situated and it’s also where the airport and many of the hotels are located.

Penang is mostly known as the highly urbanized island located on the northwest of Malaysia but it may also refer to the whole state of Penang which would include not only the island itself but also parts of the mainland called Seberang Perai.

Kulim, on the other hand, is a town in the state of Kedah located on the northwest edge of mainland Malaysia near Penang. To get to Kulim from Penang takes about 45 minutes by car going through a 13.5 km bridge connecting the island to the mainland known as the Penang Bridge.

Having worked for several weeks in these locations in Malaysia would certainly not be enough to acquire everything there is to know about this country. But from my limited experience, I could point out several distinct characteristics that distinguish Malaysia from the Philippines.


Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country and Islam is considered the state religion unlike the Philippines which is a Christian country.

As I work in our customer’s site I noticed that every Friday, most employees would be gone for an hour and a half after lunch. I was told that it was prayer time for those whose religion was Islam.

But not all people are Muslims though. One engineer I worked with was a Malaysian-Chinese and he was Catholic. While another one who was always wearing a turban who I thought was Muslim was actually Hindu. He was a Malaysian-Indian. Still majority of the people (more than 60%) are Muslims so it’s not common to see pork in meals since Islam forbids eating pork.

Racial Diversity

I have always thought there were a lot of Chinese, Indians and Koreans in the Philippines. But their number doesn’t really bring as much racial diversity as different ethnic groups would here in Malaysia.

If someone were to ask me to pick a photo to represent a Malaysian, I would have to bring him three photos. I would show one that looks like a Filipino (many Malaysians thought I was one of them and would speak to me in Malay), another one with Chinese features and still another one who is Indian.

Peace and Order

I don’t have the statistics to back this claim but I would venture to guess that Malaysia is a lot more peaceful than the Philippines. For one, they do not have rebel groups fighting the government all the time like we have.

I have never been to a public transport so I cannot say for certain how safe it is but based from what I read, there’s the same kind of petty crimes happening in Kuala Lumpur as they have in Manila. Pickpockets are always roaming around looking for unsuspecting victims. Most Malaysians lament the rising rate of petty crimes in their country.

But these petty crimes are nothing compared to violent crimes such as kidnapping, murder, rape and others that are the headlines of TV primetime news every day in the Philippines.

Economy and Poverty

One reason that may explain why Malaysia is a more peaceful country is because they are relatively well-off. Poverty is very low in this country. We all know how lack of resources can drive people to do crazy things just to survive.

From what I saw, there are no homeless children or families wandering the streets as oppose to Manila where homelessness has been a problem for many poor families. There wasn’t any neighborhood too poor to look like a “squatter’s area”. Everybody seemed to have their own house and their own car. That’s why taxi drivers earn money only from foreigners because very few locals would need a taxi ride since they all have cars.

Oil Prices

Gasoline price in Malaysia is around 60% of what it cost in the Philippines. This is mainly because of government subsidies which they pay for using revenue from oil exports.


Of course, food is different depending on where you eat. Indians, Chinese and Malaysians have different ways of cooking their meals so you get to enjoy a wide variety of dishes.

Penang is actually called the food capital of Malaysia because of the variety and quality of the food they serve. It is most famous for great tasting but really cheap street food. I have tried several of them and they did not disappoint. Sometimes I even feel like I enjoy Malaysian food so much that I should just import some of their recipe to start a restaurant business.

Lessons to Learn

These are just some of the striking differences between the two countries. I think we have much to learn from Malaysia knowing how successful they have been in ways that the Philippines have not.

Malaysians look up to Singapore and dream of a day when they will be as prosperous as their wealthy neighbor. We, on the other hand given our enormous challenge to alleviate poverty, should want to follow the footsteps of Malaysia in ways that have proven effective for them in growing their economy in order to bring the number of poor people to minimum.

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