A TFM Christmas: Pasar Malam Adventures

As we approach Christmas, we take the time to reflect on our greatest source of strength and inspiration: our students. In today’s story, 2013 Fellow Wan Farihah Ahmad Fahmy shares how a simple trip to the local pasar malam gave her new perspectives on her students.


Yesterday after English class, three boys came up to me and asked me to treat them to food at the Bukit Jana pasar malam. I agreed, but on the condition that they spoke English to the stall keepers. They hesitated, but decided to give it a go. (Malaysians and free food, need I say more?) We agreed to meet at 6.30pm. As they walked away, I heard one of them mumbling, “Can I please have BURNT corn with margarine?”

Wan Farihah Fahmy, with some of her students

Yesterday after English class, three boys came up to me and asked me to treat them to food at the Bukit Jana pasar malam. I agreed, but on the condition that they spoke English to the stall keepers. They hesitated, but decided to give it a go. (Malaysians and free food, need I say more?) We agreed to meet at 6.30pm. As they walked away, I heard one of them mumbling, “Can I please have BURNT corn with margarine?”

So we met, and walked around the pasar malam as they figured out what they wanted to buy. Finally, one boy stopped at a stall that sold corn. He looked at me and took a deep breath.

Boy #1: Excuse me, can I please have one corn?
Abang Jagung: *smiles* Yes. Only one?
Boy #1: Yes, one only. This is my teacher. She bully me to speak in English.
AJ: Your teacher? Oh, okay. Here you go.
Boy #1: Thank you eh.
AJ: You’re welcome!
Boy #1: Teacher, see, I got my burnt corn.
All of us: It’s roasted, not burnt!
Boy #1: It’s burnt lah, tak nampak ke, these parts are so black, you know?

I sighed. Kids will be kids! Then, the second boy stopped at a stall selling chicken wings.

Boy #2: Teacher, must I speak in English? No need lah, I use my own money.
Me: Even if you’re using your own money, I still want you to ask in English. Come on, you can do it.

By this time, the stall keeper is looking at us interestedly. So Boy #2 takes the plunge.

Boy #2: Excuse me, can I get two wings please?
Wings Uncle: Yes, you want a pair of wings? Haha. Okay, no problem! I will pack it for you.

So as I took out my money to pay him, the boy also pulled out his money. When we both fought to give our money to the uncle, he laughed and exclaimed,
“Alamak, I was supposed to put the wings in a paper bag instead of a plastic bag, but sebab nampak duit kiri kanan, I made a mistake! Sorry about that!”

“Haha, it’s okay. By the way, this is my teacher and she is bullying me to order in English,” the boy replied. “Oh, this is your teacher? I thought it was your friend! She’s not bullying, she’s trying to help you practice your English, so that’s good!” the uncle said. Boy #2 smiled and nodded. As the uncle handed me my change, the boy thanked him. Then, the uncle said, “See you next week!”

Wan Farihah Fahmy, Teach For Malaysia 2013 Fellow

Boy #3 took a long time to decide what to buy, and because there were so many people in the crowd, the two boys asked us to walk ahead. They disappeared somewhere. Finally, we stopped at a keropok lekor stall.

Boy #3: Err..can I get 2 keropok lekor?
Keropok Lekor Seller: RM2?
Boy #3: Err..yes, please.
KLS: Here you go. Thank you!
Boy #3: Thank you.

As we walked away, I noticed that he had sweated profusely. He said, “Teacher, I am berpeluh. Ketaq lutut tadi teacher tau dak?” I laughed and congratulated him, as did his friends, who had by now rejoined us. Turns out, they left us so that they could buy me apam balik! Then, they asked if I could buy cotton candy for their friend who was working at the satay stall. Again, Boy #3 asked for the cotton candy in English.

When I asked if the second time was easier, he said, “Yes, better, not so nervous and I already..tebal tu apa teacher? Thick? I very thick face already.” I decided to prioritise fluency over accuracy at this point.

After this entertaining outing, I came to a few realisations. First, my boys never argued with my stipulation by saying that the pasar malam stall keepers were likely to get angry at hearing them speak English, or worse, were unlikely to understand English- something that I confess to having thought about. That particular prejudice (for what else can it be, really?) had never been rooted in their psyches. Second, they were more daring than I when it came to breaking out of their comfort zones! Third, I took for granted the ability to speak English, but my boys rarely had a pressing need to utilise the language outside of class. Thus, I need to foster an environment that would hone their speaking skills.

All in all, it was a really tiring and long day, but I feel as though I learned just as much, if not more, than the boys did! Who would’ve thought that a simple trip to the pasar malam would prove so enlightening?

“Well done, boys! If we do this again, you cannot revisit the same stalls.”
“Don’t worry teacher, we’re not coming to the Bukit Jana pasar malam again!”