A Humorous Look at the Near-Unanimous Dislike for Walking in Malaysia

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They may be divided on many things, but Malaysians are unanimous in their dislike for walking. Sarah Rees tries to get to the bottom of the national phenomena.
Malaysians have a national allergy, a united abhorrence that remains unafected by race, religion, salary, or food references. They are all indisposed to walking.
Pavements are merely afterthoughts to the road and parking options for the desperate. Stairs are the last resort option if both escalator and lift disapoint. Legs? Well, they were created for keeping the bum in place to ensure there is always a comfy place to sit.

Like the innate nastiness of cold weather, reasonable air conditioning temperatures, or the leasure of sunbathing, walking is just something that makes no sense in the mind of the Malaysian.

“Oh, but it’s too hot”, people say when i push them to join me and my legs. “I get too sweaty. If you pressure a little more it becomes “Oh it’s too dangerous,” and once danger gets a look in, you have no chance. Horror stories are unfolded like dirty nappies, faces shine with morbid delight, and you can find yourself looked up and down with terror-soaked sadness and sympathy.

Distances are swollen incredibly in the minds of the anti-walkers. Make the mistake of asking any Malaysian how close your sought location is and they will shake their head ferociously. “Very far, too far, must take taxi.” I was once told that the station opposite my house is quite far to walk,” despite the fact I can see it from my bedroom window, with the trains literally whistling past my bed.

Eventually, many Malaysians will roll their eyes and shrug, put the whole, ghastly idea of walking down to a “foreigner thing.” If you are lucky, they might concede that walking could be acceptable when it’s faster than sitting in a solid jam ( they would still drive, mind you), and the odd few go so far as to brag “oh I walk all the time in UK/Australia/US.” But here in Malaysia? Goodness no.

The trickiest aspect for Malaysians to get their head around, however, is the mind-bendingly irrational idea of walking purely for the sake of walking. A walk that goes nowhere, achieves nothing, and ends right back where you started.

The park in my neighbourhood is packed with peole at dusk. They run, they play badminton, they ride bikes, jiggle their arms around in some curious exercise attempt, do sit-ups and push ups, and even wiggle their hips as a stereo pumps out Beyonce, but they don’t walk (unless you count those who are clearly trying to jog but their legs have given out).

A Malaysian pal of mine moved to Europe with her husband and struggled for months with the whole walking thing. Her husband would suggest a walk to the beach/park/forest/town and she would have to fight down the urge to ask why, gamely tramping along beside him , bemused by the utter pointlessness of the activity.

But-and this is a joyous but-she learnt to love it. It took her months of dragging herself along beside the hubbie with incredulity, but she got there, and it has opened up a new world of enjoyment for her.

Most recently, as Spring has no sprung in her part of the world, she sends me pictures of the beautiful parks, the trees in blossom , and her merrily pushing her little boy around for nothing more intellectual than having a walk.


I was on the verge of applauding her perseverance via email, feeling my heart lift with hope for Malaysians everywhere, when a sickening guilt rushed upon me. When did I last go for a walk?

Yes, I walk to the station, to the office, to the shop down the road, or the market on a Saturday, but when did I last walk for the sake of walking? The Malaysian mentality has crept into me! The infection has spread!

I was horrified- I had let myself down! threw on my shoes, grabbed the house key, and marched out of the condo as quickly as my little legs could carry me towards that well-stocked park.

The people ran, fished, chatted, ate pisang goreng on the lakeside and I walked among them , watching the sun slip away. My legs and brain gurgled in happiness at the leasure of pointlessness, the simple beauty to be found in de-railing the schedule for a moment of nothing. Here was a little sliver of life, un-timetabled, and I vowed never again to let this precious rarity slip out out of my life.

So be warned, dear readers. Don’t let the national infection sneak into your soul. Remember the blissful act of unproductivity, and keep the fires burning or meaningless meandering in our increasingly structured world.


Source: The Expat June 2013
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