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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Go Bang, Go Lah !

No matter the context or the setting, in Malaysia, you will find 'Lah' abused in the same manner that some angry young men abuse the F-word. You are sitting in a business meeting and really going hard at somebody for making a mistake and he is almost certain to invoke 'Lah' to his defense. You are interviewing a potential candidate and asking deep, probing questions and promptly 'Lah' is uttered as an all-explaining mono-syllable. It made me wonder what is the genesis of it but no amount of extensive research could produce the meaning of this word. In fact, even a select sample of educated and not-so-educated Malaysians could not give me a satisfactory answer. So, I turned to wikipedia as the last resort only to be left even more confused. Here is the excerpt:-

"The ubiquitous word 'Lah' is used at the end of a sentence to simultaneously soften the force of the utterance and entice solidarity. Though, it can also have the opposite meaning when it is used to signal power. In addition, there are suggestions that there might be more than one Lah particle, so there may be a stressed and unstressed variant and as many as nine tonal variants, all having a special pragmatic function."

Being sufficiently bewildered, I gave up trying to find the meaning of 'Lah' and instead listed down its various forms of usage. Here you go.

'Lah' is often used to get away with having doled out an insult which, in any other part of the world, would have called for an honour killing. If you are like me who loves insulting people verbally but lacks the muscle to back it up, then Malaysia is a paradise for you. Examples of this and the real meaning:-

"You no fun, lah" - I could have a better conversation with a cow.
"Come Lah, that also you can't do" - Is there anything in this whole wide world that you could accomplish?
"Do your way, lah" - I have explained so many times in simple english but still cant get through that thick skull of yours.

'Lah' is also used to create a level playing ground despite differences in gender, social status, religious beliefs, positional power etc. This is how you will achieve this with your boss when you are out after a hard-day's work:-

"Drink, lah" - I am not in a mood to listen to your self-important speeches. Just drink.
"Cannot, lah" - If I wanted to, I could have dropped you home, but really, I have better things to do.

It works both ways. This is how your boss would sometime speak with you so that it is both a request as well as a command :-

"No good, lah" - Really, a toddler could write this report better than you. Re-write it.
"No donut for you, lah" - An increment? For a dinosaur like you? NO. Read my lips.

A very sophisticated use of 'Lah' is to put an end to an argument/debate. When used effectively, It is like the Perspective gun (AKA the point-of-view gun) from HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy which when fired at others, makes them understand the situation from your perspective. Except that instead of going 'Bang', you go, 'Lah'. Some examples:-

"Dun know orredy lah" - Arrgh, I dont know any more than what I have explained. I give up.
"Too much, lah" - I give up trying to understand your theory of life, universe and everything.

'Lah' can also be used to trivialize an otherwise important subject. For example, you have recently driven your car into the toll-booth and are staring at a hefty damage but your Malaysian friend might just respond "Ok, Lah"

A positive use of 'Lah' is to reassure. "Can, Lah" is mostly used in this manner.

Even though, I probably understand the word 'Lah' more than most Malaysians but that is simply not enough. Generations of Malaysians have (ab)used this word and it has become part of their gene-pool so much so that while they cannot consciously recall the meaning of it but are nonetheless adept at using it. And if I so much as utter it, they can sniff it from a mile's distance and cry fowl.

Do you know any other usage of 'Lah'? Don't tell me your response is "Dun know orredy, lah."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

From Stud to Dud

Alright, the title may be a bit too presumptuous. Allow me to indulge, though.

I am without wheels for over a month now. What looked like a scratch turned out to be far more than that. Further, courtesy the long importation time, my fancy car is gethering dust at a service center as it awaits its limbs. It exposed me to the KL public transportation system yet again. This post is a crib.

So, I call cabs whenever I have to go anywhere. I use two call-a-cab services. The first one is relatively professional but extremely uncouth. I have a feeling that they believe their real customers are the cab drivers. Given a choice, I would rather start my day by banging my head open than talk to the operator. Unfortunately, there is no choice, and so I call them. Here is how the very first call went (Paranthesis denote what the person really wanted to say):-

Me: I need a cab.
Operator: Wherefrom? (We can also deliver pizzas if you want)
Me: Pickup location
Operator: Going to
Me: Drop location
Operator: Ok. Bye.
Me: Huh?

Not sure of my groundings, I call them again. This time, there is a different operator on the line.

Operator: Yes.
Me: I just called for a cab but the person hung up on me.
Operator: Wherefrom?
Me: Pickup location (An apology would have been nice)
Operator: Going to
Me: Drop location (Do I have to go through it all over again?)
Operator: Ok. Bye.
Me: Oi, wait up. (Not again)
The line goes dead.

I wonder whats going on and in between I get a call from the first operator who confirms that a cab is on its way. We are halfway to office when the second operator calls me to confirm that another cab is already arrived and I better get my ass down there. I try to explain the confusion and I realize that she is not in the mood for any such explanation. I panic and switch off my phone.

Next day, thinking that I am probably black-listed at the first call-a-cab service, I find a new number and call them.

Me: Hi, I need a cab.
Operator: Now?
Me: Yes. (No, I want to book for 2017 AD)
Operator: Wherefrom?
Me: Pick up location
Operator: Where to
Me: Drop location.
Operator: Hold on
And there is music....for fifteen minutes, before she confirms a cab. Another ten minutes of waiting confirms that there is no cab in the vicinity. So, I call them back again.

Me: I was given a taxi number XXXX. I have been waiting for over 15 minutes but the cab isnt here.
Operator: You called a cab?
Me: Yeah. The number is XXXX but its not here. (How many times do I have to repeat myself?)
Operator: What was the number?
This is when I realize that I have to speak in small sentences and really slowly to get to her. Somehow, I explain the situation to her.
Me: So can you check where is the cab?
Operator: Nearby, nearby. (What an idiot. Just wait, la. Cab will be there)
Me: Can you call him up and check?
Operator: I know. Nearby, nearby.
Me: How do you know? (Like you know where each and every cab is)
Operator: Ok. I check for you. (You want to listen to music, be my guest)
Music on for 5 minutes.
Me: (I am a donkey)
Operator: Taxi nearby. Go down now.
Me: I am already down here for over half an hour now.
Operator: Ok.
The line goes dead.

The cab did arrive on the same day.

Anyhow, after being exposed to this stupidity for over a month, I have become an expert customer. I know, for example, that they dont maintain detailed database of their customers linked to their phone numbers (since I have to give my pickup and drop location every time). This also means that they cant blacklist me in the system even if they want to. So, I do get my revenge every now and then. Lets say that the cab has not arrived even after confirmation, I immediately call the same service for another cab and then take off in whichever cab arrives first. At such times, I make sure that my phone is switched off. Sometimes, on a lazy saturday afternoon, I call up an operator just to have a good old chat with her and in the process driving her nuts. Here is such a conversation:

Me: Hi, do you sell cabs?
Operator: Yes. Wherefrom?
Me: How much?
Operator: First you tell wherefrom?
Me: Does it come with four wheels?
Operator: Whats wrong with you? You want a cab or not?
Me: Yes.
Operator: Wherefrom?
Me: First how much?
Operator: Where is that?
Me: Its not a place. I asked How much?
Operator: Depends where you want to go.
Me: My office.
Operator: Where is that?

And on and on and on.