Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

The Benefits of Living in America and Malaysia

Written by johnleemk on 6:16:25 am Feb 27, 2007.

The inspiration for my observations on America has written in to appraise some benefits of the American lifestyle that I missed:

Quoted from: Say Lee
Thanks for "crediting" me for convincing you to share your views gleaned from your recent US trip. And I've no qualms in accepting your characterizing me as an avid reader of your blog, which I'm.

Since these are your personal experiences, I can't really fault you with any of them, nor is that my intention.

But I do think you may have missed some of the more obvious pluses such as plentiful free parking, proliferation of public libraries that stay open over the weekends, free newspapers, the ubiquitous coin-operated newspaper vending machine based on the honor system (you pay for one, you take one), the freely available napkins/sauce packets (granted they are mostly ketchup) at fastfood outlets (but note that patrons only take what they need), and the relatively low price of automobiles (since these are necessities,) something close to about 10 times the average monthly salary, not to mention the many opportunities for DIY stuff, which is the best way to live affordably, including food.

This is because the labor cost is high here, which correlates closely with the standard of living, but not with DIY, which is the best way to become largely self-dependent.

And if you have been to any of the public universities in Malaysia, the security check, both at the gate and the libraries, is on par with that at any US Airport (though I may have exaggerated somewhat, but you get the point). Take the UM library for example, for a man on the street to enter the library, you need to have an official letter stating your business. Here I just waltz into the library of a local state university, look for my journal, buy a prepaid copy card, make a copy of the article, and then waltz right out. No hassle.

The point is if you are legitimate, and you do things responsibly, you can practically do anything, legally and responsibly of course.

And yes, paid food is expensive, especially with foreign exchange. For example, five of us went to the Malay Satay Hut in Portland, OR operated by a Malaysian from Ipoh a week ago and it cost us US$85/= but we got to eat assam laksa, roti canai, mee siam, Penang char kueh teow, Singapore Chilli crabs, and Hainanese chicken rice, and yes, teh tarik (perhaps minus the tarik), Malaysian foods that we have been craving since we left Malaysia.

Then again while some live to eat, still others eat to live. And then live to help others.

Thank you for pointing out all the things I missed. I think many of them were not noticed by me due to the short length of my stay — I didn't have time to visit any libraries, for example, nor did I chance upon any advertisements for cars (missing the opportunity to note the low prices — though I do note that to some extent, many models including the gas-guzzling Hummer are subsidised by the government).

The point about DIY is one I happened to notice, but forgot to mention. Yes, it's very true — in developed countries, the high cost of labour means many resort to fixing their homes themselves, unless it is absolutely necessary to hire an outside worker.

In Malaysia and many developing countries, on the other hand, you wouldn't catch a white-collar worker dead being a handyman. The plentiful cheap labour means it is often a more efficient use of these people's time to do other things, especially since they often earn much more per hour compared to the typical manual labourer.

Some benefits of the American lifestyle have been transplanted, though. I do not know about our local fast food chains like Satay King or whatnot, but many American fast food chains like McDonald's, Burger King and KFC all provide free napkins and chilli or ketchup.

Incidentally, I hardly ever see kiasu people ferreting away free ketchup or chilli from these restaurants in their pockets, though I could have just been unlucky. Some restaurants which have free tea bags and the like, however, such as the Ikea restaurant, are prey to the kiasu-infected, though.

I think that you have very neatly summarised the benefits (as I see them) of living in America and living in Malaysia. In one country, you have liberty. In another country, you have gluttony.

In one country, you have to pay much money to act like a slothful glutton - you need to shell out big bucks to hire workers to do your manual labour, and you need to shell out almost as much to get a decent meal of satay. In the other country, on the other hand, to have the liberty to do as you please, you need to dig deep into your pockets, because in this country of gluttons, it is liberty that has the pricetag.

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