‘Stupid Tourist Language’ in Malaysia

Beware! Second wave of H1N1
English-language signs on the Kuala Lumpur clearly convey bird flu fears.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — My delight at already knowing a few Malay words ebbed upon seeing the proliferation of English-language signs all over the city.

Once outside Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, it took me no new skills to recognize signs identifying the city’s Central Market, a wholesale luggage and handbag shop and a curious storefront named Happy Planet.

There was something comforting in seeing the “stupid tourist language” — the phrase a Swiss woman in Bali coined as she lamented how universal English was — around the city. How could I not appreciate ads for Bottega Bruno?

Startling was a sign for skin-bleaching creme that urged consumers to “fight pigmentation.” Ah, mass media.

The Kuala Lumpur subway was replete with signs easy for anglophones — and hypochondriacs — to understand, such as, “Beware! Second wave of H1N1” and “Wear a mask if you have symptoms of influenza-like illness.”

Even though the U.S. media had long since stopped casting bird flu as the next armageddon due to the poultry industry’s concerns, I suddenly became newly aware of bird flu and discreetly looked around the subway car.

I breathed an optimist’s sigh of relief: No one was wearing a mask.

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