Jalan: Road. I’m not all that directionally savvy to begin with, but for my first couple of days in KL I had real difficulty telling streets apart. This is because the naming structure for streets here is “Jalan XXXXXXXXXX”. There doesn’t appear to be any distinction between types of streets like there is back home (street, avenue, road, way, drive, etc.), and so in addition to every street name being in a foreign language, my brain was subconsciously picking up on “Jalan” as the important part of the address, rather than the actual name of the street. Luckily I got over that quickly.
Selamat datang: Welcome. Knowing this will help you find which door you should use.
Keluar: Exit. If you are lost in an LRT station, follow the signs that say “KELUAR” and eventually you will find the way out. Once outside the LRT station, there is still no guarantee that you will figure out where you are supposed to go.
Lelaki: Man/Perempuan: Woman. Important to identify women-only train cars and which bathroom you’re supposed to use. Fun fact: while some places use the familiar signs of little stick people to note which bathroom is which, other places use a man’s head (with a hat) and a woman’s head (with a head scarf). Also, not all bathrooms will necessarily have toilet paper. Also also, squat toilets are about as difficult to use as you’d think.
Muzium: Museum. Figured this one out when I was looking for the Islamic Arts Museum and I found a sign with an arrow that said “Muzium Kesenian Islam”. Between the “Islam” and the “Museum,” I made an educated guess and found what I was looking for. Speaking of which, I guess “kesenian” means “art.” Look at me go!
Masjid: Mosque. There are a few of these, and before I realized what “masjid” meant I was having the same landmark identification problems with mosques as I was having with roads. It’s sort of like travelling in Europe, in that if someone says “Turn left at the church,” asking “Which church?” is a really important follow-up question.
Negara: National. Helpful in identifying national landmarks, like the Muzium Negara, or the Masjid Negara.
Bersih: Clean. Also the name of a protest movement hoping to improve election fairness and transparency in Malaysia.
Stesen: Station. Helpful for finding public transit.
Teksi: Taxi. Helpful for when you get so lost that there is no hope of you getting where you’re supposed to go by public transit.
Roti canai: Delicious bread.
Roti sardin: Bread with sardines.
Capati: A different kind of bread.
Sambal: Delicious chili sauce that makes nearly anything immediately more tasty.
Teh tarik: Tea that has levelled up in awesome. No, really.
Milo: Chocolate beverage.
Ais: Ice. Important if you are a person unaccustomed to tropical temperatures and after 20 minutes outside you feel like you’re dying of heat stroke.
Restauran: Restaurant. Important to identify places in which to consume all the delicious foods and beverages mentioned above.
Penghakiman: Ruling. Important to know if a senior partner at your firm asks you to look through a file for a ruling, because otherwise, not know that rulings are typically given in Malay, you will spend 20 minutes searching through a 6-inch-thick file, unable to find the ruling, and look a little bit stupid when you realize your mistake. That is - hypothetically speaking.