Sunday, August 01, 2010

Blogging from Malaysia: Hijabs, mini-skirts, and some robotics

Here are my second impressions from Malaysia (see the earlier post here): I think I'm quite stuck by strong identities expressed by the way people dress here (I'm in Selangor right now, about 20 km from Kuala Lumpur). The three groups being the Muslim Malays, the Chinese, and the Indians. It is fascinating to see women wearing hijabs and long-dresses walking side-by-side with those wearing shorts and mini-skirts. Now, this is also seen in US in UK also, but the ratio is usually quite skewed. Here we are talking roughly even numbers - at least in the shopping malls. But more importantly, no one seems to care what the other person is wearing. Perhaps this is because the boundaries are set for different identities and people are comfortable with these lines. Perhaps, a bigger problem comes in when people from the same group are fighting to define what the correct way is (that may still be the case within, for example, the Muslim population - and it can generate its own debate). I actually don't know what is the dynamic when members within these groups adopt a dress-code of the other group (yes, I know I can go and read some articles on the topic - but remember, these are my quick reflections).

Considering the burqa/niqab debates taking place from France to Syria, this pluralism regarding dress code stood out for me here. Not to mention that I caught a portion of a lingerie fashion show in the middle of a shopping mall (hey - I was just walking by, but I then I had to stop there for purely academic reasons), and it was fascinating to see many hijab-wearing women watching the show, not with a frown, but with a smile. At the same time, several of the people I've met here (from medical doctors to cab-drivers) have expressed concerns about the increasing use of religion as a wedge for political purposes. May be the times are changing - but there is also a lot of economic incentive in maintaining this harmony. Also, while we are at it, check out this article about a Malaysian reality show, Imam Muda, where the contestants vie to be the best imam. And the show is a hit! I'm sure it is just like Jersey Shore, but set in Malaysia :)

Nevertheless, I find it fascinating here that you cannot really tell who is a Malaysian - simply by their appearance.

On an unrelated note, I've now had my fill of listening to Lady Gaga here. She is everywhere. The first 30 times was okay, but now I think it is getting a bit too much.

On a positive note, I ran into a robotics shop for kids (see creative robotics) in the mall. On the one hand it was great to see kids of different age-groups completely absorbed in getting their robots working correctly (they were using lego-robots with a specific software that controlled robot's movements). On the other hand, we all know from Caprica and Battlestar Galactica, what happens in the future. So here are pictures of some kids that may screw-up our future :)

More from Malaysia later...

And yes, my luggage eventually arrived. Thanks for asking.


Ricky said...

That is pretty fascinating that other cultures that are not allowed to wear skirts, walk around with other girls that wear something that is banned from their culture.

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