Malaysian Word of the Day: Kapalterbang

The Malaysian word “kapalterbang” means “aircraft”.  Used in a sentence, “I want to go to an aircraft” is “Saya hendak pergi kuh kapalterbang“. But say the ‘bang’ like ‘bong’. It’s a short ‘a’, like the ‘o’ in ‘plop’. 

If you were looking for the aircraft, that’s how you tell someone who could get you to the flight path. 



I lived in Malaysia during the summer of 1988. I was a high school exchange student in a repressive, poor country with institutionalized apartheid. i lived in a hut in the jungle with my family :alcoholic brandy-bottle-a-day Islamic father, mother who sold asam boy and rambutan home-made ice pops on the side of the road, and my sister who did not type fast enough to get into the university in Kualah Lumpur, so she worked in the Colgate toothpaste factory cutting tubes. Her fiancee died right before I arrived. Because abah was a drunk, no one allowed the family to go to the mosque. They prayed in the house. Tarantulas dropped onto us sometimes from the rafters below the exposed tin roof. We had about eight cats.

I loved it. I loved my family. I learned the language by reading the mail to my host mother and father. They patiently corrected my pronunciation, and I focused on basic grammar and vocabulary. I also got into a gang skirmish, was attacked by a marauding pack of macaque monkeys at a Hindu shrine, and got dysentery from eating fermented beef, which was delicious.

I liked Malaysia very much.


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