durianFlickr Creative Commons/Zhao

Malaysia is one of Asia’s hidden gems.

The country is often overlooked — it lacks the economic prestige of its neighbor and former state Singapore, and it isn’t a renowned tourism destination like two of its other neighbors, Thailand and Indonesia.

But take a closer look and you’ll find a country with a rich history, fascinating people, and delicious food.

Here are some surprising things most people don’t know about Malaysia:

It’s one of the most diverse countries in Asia

It's one of the most diverse countries in Asia

Global Peace Foundation

About half of Malaysia’s 31 million people are ethnically Malay, according to the latest figures from the CIA. Chinese people make up about 23% of the population and Indian people about 7%.

Another 12% is comprised of hundreds of indigenous groups, including native groups from Malaysia’s two states on the island of Borneo, bordering Indonesia.

Islam is Malaysia’s official religion, and all Malays are Muslim by law. About 61% of the country is Muslim, with Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism comprising most of the rest of the population, according to the CIA.

Malaysia’s diversity results in an unmistakable blend of religion, food, language, and culture.

Malaysia has affirmative action … for the majority race

Malaysia has affirmative action … for the majority race

A group of ethnic Malays protest for Malay rightsAFP

Malaysia’s history is rife with ethnic tension that influences its politics.

A deadly race riot in 1969 led to the New Economic Policy, a government measure aimed at reducing inequalities between Malays and the richer Chinese class. It’s a rare example of an affirmative action program that benefits the majority race.

Today, Malays have fewer barriers to getting into college, opening a business, and buying a house than their Chinese-Malaysian and Indian-Malaysian compatriots.

According to The Economist, 71% of Malaysians consider the affirmative action “obsolete” and wish to replace it with a “merit-based policy.”

Nobody knows when the next election is

Nobody knows when the next election is

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib RazakThomson Reuters

Unlike in the US, Malaysian elections are not scheduled for a particular day, and it’s anyone’s guess exactly when the next one will occur.

Malaysia’s constitution mandates a federal election be held at least once every five years. But the prime minister can force an early election by dissolving the Parliament at any time, effectively controlling which day the election falls.

In 2013, the year of Malaysia’s most recent election, many Malaysians feared Prime Minister Najib Razak would schedule the election on a holiday weekend, in an effort to repress turnout among supporters of the growing opposition coalition. That didn’t end up being the case, although the ruling party still narrowly won in a contentious decision.

The same political coalition has ruled Malaysia since its independence in 1957.

Penang is the street food capital of Asia

Penang is the street food capital of Asia


The Malaysian state of Penang, and particularly its capital George Town, is considered one of the best destinations for street food in Asia, if not the world.

Take a stroll through George Town and you’ll pass hundreds of hawker stalls offering everything from samosas to spicy noodle curry to cendol, a dessert made from sweet grass jelly and coconut milk.

Penang cuisine is heavily influenced by the Baba-Nyonya, a unique subgroup whose food is a hybrid of Chinese, Malay, Thai, and other Southeast Asian groups.

Their signature dish is asam laksa — a bowl of silky rice noodles served in a sour, spicy, tamarind-based mackerel soup, and often topped with onion, pineapple, mint, ginger, and shrimp paste. Voters named the delicacy one of the 50 best foods in the world in a 2011 CNN Go poll.

The largest flower in the world grows in Malaysia

The largest flower in the world grows in Malaysia

YouTube/Stairs & Sparks

Malaysia’s most famous plant is the rafflesia flower. With a bloom that can extend more than a yard in diameter, the Rafflesia is the largest flower in the world.

When blooming, the flower emits a putrid stench, giving rise to its nickname “corpse flower.” The odor attracts flies, who then transport the pollen.

Rafflesia flowers generally grow in the rainforests of Borneo. Malaysia is one of 17 countries with “megadiverse” wildlife.


A man got death threats for holding a dog-petting event

A man got death threats for holding a dog-petting event


Malaysia’s conservative Muslim government considers dogs unclean and forbidden.

But in 2014, that didn’t stop more than 1,000 canine-curious Malaysians from showing up to a public event, endearingly titled “I Want to Touch a Dog,” where Muslims could pet dogs for the first time and learn how to ritually wash themselves afterward.

While the event provided hours of fun for attendants, hardline Muslims weren’t amused. The event’s creator, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, received death threats from fellow Muslims who felt he was insulting their religion. He was even temporarily forced into hiding.

The controversy died down after Syed Azmi issued a statement apologizing for hosting the event:

“With a sincere heart, my intention to organize this program is because of Allah … and not to [distort] the faith, change religious laws, make fun of [religious scholars] or encourage liberalism,” Syed Azmi said in the statement.

The ‘king of the fruits’ grows there — but many can’t stomach it

The 'king of the fruits' grows there — but many can't stomach it

Flickr Creative Commons/Zhao

Durian is likely the most polarizing fruit on earth.

It’s known as the “king of the fruits” in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries, but its smell is so overwhelmingly pungent that it’s banned from many Malaysian hotels.

Food writer Richard Sterling described the odor as “pig-s—, turpentine, and onions, garnished with a gym sock.”

The tough, spiky husk must be skillfully sliced open with a sharp knife, revealing pods of mushy, custardy durian flesh. Its sweet-and-savory taste is a bizarre combination of pineapple, onions, caramel, almond, butter, and cheese.

“Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother,” Anthony Bourdain once said.

Durian is certainly an acquired taste, and Malaysians take immense delight in watching foreigners take a bite for the first time.

The best badminton player in the world is Malaysian

Dr K C Yee

Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia competes in the mens’ singles badminton tournament at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Malaysian Lee Chong Wei has dominated the world badminton scene for the past 10 years.

He’s ranked No. 1 in the world by the Badminton World Federation, and held the top spot for a mind-blowing 199 straight weeks between 2008 and 2012.

Lee has won silver medals at the past three Olympic Games, falling twice to his rival Lin Dan of China. The Lee-Lin rivalry is considered one of the greatest rivalries in badminton history.

Although soccer is the most popular sport in Malaysia, badminton is by far its most dominant. Badminton players have won eight of the country’s 11 Olympic medals all time.

You could be put to death for marijuana possession

You could be put to death for marijuana possession

David Ramos/Getty Images

Malaysia has some of the strictest drug penalties in the world, including a mandatory death sentence for the possession of high quantities of certain drugs.

Per the Dangerous Drug Act, Malaysians will be put to death for possessing 15 grams of heroin and morphine, 1 kilogram of opium, 40 grams of cocaine, or 200 grams of marijuana.

It’s home to a world-class budget airline

It's home to a world-class budget airline


It may be expensive to fly to Southeast Asia from the US, but any seasoned traveler will tell you that once you get there, it’s extremely cheap to get around.

That’s partially thanks to AirAsia, a budget airline headquartered in Kuala Lumpur. You can take one of AirAsia’s distinctive red-and-white planes to more than 20 Asian countries, including tourist hotspots like Thailand, Vietnam, and Bali, often for less than $100 round-trip. The airline ventures as far out as India, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

AirAsia has won the Skytrax award for Best Low-Cost Airline eight years in a row. Just be warned — the airline is “budget” in every way possible.

Forget free checked bags and complimentary snacks and drinks. If you want to sit with friends or family, you’ll have to pay to choose a seat. Expect to walk across the tarmac for a few minutes to reach your plane. And remember to print your boarding pass in advance — it will cost you a few bucks to print it at the counter.

The capital has two of the tallest skyscrapers in the world

The capital has two of the tallest skyscrapers in the world

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala LumpurREUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

Kuala Lumpur’s skyline is dominated by the Petronas Towers, which at the time of their construction in 1998 were the tallest buildings in the world.

Standing at a whopping 1,483 feet tall, the towers remain the tallest twin skyscrapers in the world.

Tower One is occupied by Malaysian gas giant Petronas and some of its associate companies and subsidiaries. A number of other companies occupy Tower 2.

A typical sentence could have words from 4 languages

A typical sentence could have words from 4 languages

A sign in Malaysia written in English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.Wikimedia Commons

With a population as ethnically diverse as Malaysia’s, it should come as no surprise that the country is a linguistic melting pot, too.

English is the lingua franca, and has its own colorful local dialect known as Manglish, which blends vocabulary and grammar from various languages.

The classic sentence “Wei macha, you want makan here or tapau?” (translation: Do you want to eat here or take out?) is often used to illustrate Malaysia’s linguistic diversity, as it contains words from Tamil, English, Malay, and Chinese.

You need your passport to travel within the country

You need your passport to travel within the country

Flickr Creative Commons/Kelvin Lim

The two isolated states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo have a slightly more autonomy than other Malaysian states.

That results in a strange logistical quirk: If you’re coming from mainland Malaysia, you need to go through immigration control and bring your passports or identity card — even for native Malaysians. (Imagine needing a passport to travel from California to Hawaii.)

There’s frequent talk of the two states seceding from Malaysia, but no action is expected any time soon.

Students take part in bizarre simultaneous-speech competitions

Students take part in bizarre simultaneous-speech competitions


Many Malaysian schools partake in “speech choir,” a competition in which students recite an English-language speech in unison while performing intricate choreography.

The scripts often tackle issues such as the environment, health, and globalization, and will often have snippets of pop songs sprinkled throughout.

It’s the kind of thing that needs to be seen to be truly appreciated.

Yee Haw, Fluorescent uniforms and English soccer matchs

In an age when uniform and kit manufacturers such as Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas are constantly trying to outdo each other and win the affections of fans and players alike, the one thing we have learned is that anything goes.

Yee Haw K C

One uniform color that has become far more common in recent years, starting with the popularity of the University of Oregon football team, is flourescent yellow. That has now spilled over into soccer, which led to one hilarious moment in England’s League One.

Dr K C Yee

Peterborough United was playing Northampton this weekend and Peterborough is one of the growing number of football teams with flourescent away kits. Unfortunately for Michael Bostwick, that is the same color worn by stewards at the game.

The irony here, of course, is that the stewards, who are on hand for safety reasons, wear flourescent so that they easily stand out. That no longer appears to be the case.

Luckily for Bostwick, Peterborough went on to win 1-0.

Why isn’t there a gravitational pull on fire?

Why isn't there a gravitational pull on fire? by Richard Muller

Answer by Richard Muller:

Carry  a helium or hydrogen filled balloon in a car, and accelerate the car. (Be careful; this can be dangerous.) The balloon will not be pulled to the rear of the car; it will move to the front! (That's why I said you have to be careful.)

The balloon is, of course, pushed backwards by the acceleration (according to the equivalence principle, this is equivalent to rearward gravity), but the air, since it weighs more per volume, is pushed more. So it is what goes backwards, while the balloon is forced forward by the heavier flowing air.

Likewise from gravity. A balloon goes up because the heavier air falls down around it, displacing the balloon. And similarly for the hot plasma known as fire. It weighs less per cubic centimeter than does the air around it, so the air drops and pushes the plasma up.

Why isn't there a gravitational pull on fire?

If it takes 8 minutes for light from the Sun to reach us, then why is it that when I open my eyes facing towards it, I see the Sun instan…

If it takes 8 minutes for light from the Sun to reach us, then why is it that when I open my eyes… by Richard Muller

Answer by Richard Muller:

You are seeing the way the sun was 8 minutes ago. When you open your eyes and see something “instantanteously” you are not seeing it the way it is now, but the way it was then.

If the sun exploded into a supernova 7 minutes ago (by the way… we don’t think this is possible) you wouldn’t know yet. Not a hint.

When you open your eyes and look at your computer screen, you are (instantly?) seeing the way it looked about 1 to 2 nanoseconds ago — since light travels about 1 foot per nanosecond. (For a modern computer, that nanosecond represents 3 computer cycles; for modern electronics, it is not a long time.)

When you instantaneously hear thunder from a flash of lightning that you saw 5 seconds earlier, you are hearing the sound that was emitted almost 5 seconds earlier.

If it takes 8 minutes for light from the Sun to reach us, then why is it that when I open my eyes facing towards it, I see the Sun instan…

You’re flying a small plane when the Earth stops spinning for 10 seconds, then starts spinning again. What do you do?

You're flying a small plane when the Earth stops spinning for 10 seconds, then starts spinning ag… by Richard Muller

Answer by Richard Muller:

Prepare for death. If you are flying at 10,000 ft, you have less than 2 seconds to live.

The sudden stopping of the Earth will generate an extremely intense shock wave in the air. It will move up from the surface at a velocity somewhat greater than the speed of sound. If the ground is 10,000 ft below, then the shock wave will hit you in under 2 seconds. When it does, your plane will undergo an intense jerk and you will be smashed against the walls of the plane.

If you assume that the air stops too, then you will be moving at about 1000 mph through the air, well above Mach 1, and your airplane will be smooshed immediately.

You're flying a small plane when the Earth stops spinning for 10 seconds, then starts spinning again. What do you do?

Will humans ever develop faster than light travel?

Will humans ever develop faster than light travel? by Richard Muller

Answer by Richard Muller:

I hope not.

My reasoning is strange but compelling: if humans can travel faster than light, it will demonstrate that free will does not exist. That discovery would sadden me.

The logic is described in detail in my recently published Now—The Physics of Time. I explain it in a new paradox I invented called “the tachyon murder”. (This is a paradox that I invented when teaching relativity theory at UC Berkeley.) Here is the section from my book in which I describe the tachyon murder:

——-beginning of excerpt from Now: The Physics of Time——-

Tachyon Murder

The strange relativity result that the order of events can flip for different reference frames leads us into a new aspect of reality: the deep issues of causality and free will. These issues can be dramatized by the story of the tachyon murder.

A tachyon is a hypothetical particle that travels faster than the speed of light. Remarkably, relativity does not prohibit particles from traveling that fast. It says only that massless particles must travel at lightspeed, and that particles that have a real rest mass cannot travel at that speed (since the gamma factor would be infinite, and they would have infinite energy). The equations don’t prohibit faster-than-light travel per se….

Yet despite the upside of [discovering a tachyon], I decided many years ago not to bother searching for a tachyon. My reason borders on the religious. I believe that I have free will, and the existence of tachyons would violate that belief. Let me explain.

Imagine that Mary is standing 40 feet away from John. She has a tachyon gun that fires tachyon bullets that move at 4c, four times the speed of light. She fires. Light moves at a speed of 1 foot per nanosecond (billionth of a second), so her tachyons move at 4 feet per nanosecond. In just 10 nanoseconds, the tachyon bullet enters John’s heart and kills him. Let’s assume he dies instantly.

Mary is brought to trial. She doesn’t deny any of the facts I just described, but she insists on an unusual change of venue. She says she has a right to argue the case in whatever reference frame she chooses. They are all valid, the judge knows, so he allows her to proceed. She chooses a frame moving at half lightspeed, ½ c. Since that frame is moving slower than the speed of light, according to relativity it is a valid reference frame.

In the Earth frame, the two events (fire gun, hit heart) are separated by +10 nanoseconds. As I show in Appendix 1, the same two events described in a reference frame moving at ½ c have a time separation of –15.5 nanoseconds. The negative sign means that the two events occur in the opposite order. The bullet enters the victim’s heart before Mary fires the gun! Mary has the perfect alibi. John was already dead when she pulled the trigger. You can’t murder a dead person. She expects to beat the rap.

The tachyon murder example is based on the same relativity principle that caused confusion in the twin and pole-in-the-barn paradoxes. If two events are sufficiently separated in space, and not too different in time, then there will be frames in which the order of events will reverse. Such distant events are called “space-like.” Two events that occur near each other but separated in time are called “time-like.” The order of space-like events depends on the frame of reference; the order of time-like events does not.

… I refer you to Appendix 1 [of my new book Now] for the explicit calculation. Is the tachyon murder scenario possible? How could analysis in the ½ c frame be valid, if it has such an absurd implication? Does this mean that tachyons don’t exist, or does it mean that relativity is nonsense? What if tachyons are really found? …

One possible resolution for the tachyon murder paradox is that, in this world that has tachyon guns, Mary does not have free will. Even though she pulled the trigger after John died, she had no choice but to do so, since without free will, choice is illusory. All of her actions arise from influences and forces outside of herself. John died because it was inevitable that Mary would pull the trigger; the inevitability of physics created the combined scenario of shooting and death, and the order in which they occurred is irrelevant. There is no paradox if the world is governed by causal physics equations. The scenario presents a problem only if you think people have free will, if you believe that Mary could have decided not to fire the gun. If physics rules, then she does only what the various forces and influences on her cause her to do.

——-end of excerpt from Now: The Physics of Time——-

So if any normal object, such as you, can travel faster than the speed of light, it means that free will does not exist. I consider it remarkable to realize that free will has actual consequences for physics, and that we can describe a discovery that would falsify it. I don’t think this astonishing fact has been published prior to my book.

On Friday September 23, 2016, at 2 pm Eastern time and 11 am Pacific, I am hosting a Quora session in which I will try to answer as many questions as I can. The topic is time, its flow, the meaning of the mysterious and ephemeral moment we call now, my new book, cosmology, and anything else of interest. I think you can get to the Quora page for this session by clicking here.

Will humans ever develop faster than light travel?