I don’t have (yet) the privilege to travel to the other part of the world. When I say ‘the other part’, I mean the part where people are whiter than us, Malaysians. Yup, the European or American sides of the world. But I am fortunate enough because living in Asia and having the chance to travel in South East Asia, that part of the world comes to us. And today, I am going to ramble on the truth about Malaysians.

Actually, this post is as a result of reading Raphael’s Travel, Racism and the Importance of Being Mexican. In his post, he talked about how the Mexicans can easily blend with other people from different countries as they do not stand out like most of the Americans and British people who are white. But do Malaysians think the same?

Well, this is written based on my personal perspective and some may disagree with me. No problem, it is okay to agree to disagree.

Malaysia has several terms for the people of Caucasians origins. They are normally called ‘Orang Putih‘, literally translated as White People. Another term is ‘Mat Salleh‘. Also refers to the white people. I am not sure of the origin of this term because Mat is actually a short-form for the name Mohamad and also a common name for men like Mat Kilau, Mat Taib, and Mat Salleh himself.

My dad with a ‘mat salleh’ from Germany.

But instead of confining the name to Caucasians per se, the term is also widely used to refer to those from Latin America and also the white South Africans, among others.

Once, in a monorail in Kuala Lumpur, I was heading towards Bukit Bintang area and when the monorail stopped at one of the stations, I heard these 2 girls chatting among themselves (Disclaimer: It is not that I want to be a busy body but their voices were loud and I ‘accidentally’ over heard. Lol). Please be informed that in their conversation, they were using grammatically-wrong structure of Bahasa Malaysia sentence.

Girl 1: Weyh, tengok Mat Salleh tu. Handsome siot! 

(Hey, look at that ‘white man’. He is so handsome, babe!)

Girl 2: Mana, mana?


Girl 1: Tu haa. Kat platform tu!

(There, at the platform!)

As I was facing the platform, having to stand by the window throughout the journey, I saw the guy that they were pointing at and guess what, he looks like a Latino to me.

My brother with ‘orang putih’ from Brazil.

So, the point is, Malaysians do not differentiate people from that side of the world according to their proper origins but instead lump them as a single ethnicity. Whether you are Portuguese-speaking Brazilians, Spanish-speaking Venezuelans or Afrikaans-speaking white South Africans, you are still ‘orang putih/mat salleh‘ to us. 🙂

And another thing that I always have a good laugh at is when I am speaking with other ‘orang putih‘ travellers whom I met throughout my journey.

Orang Putih: You know, we always envy your skin tone and that is why we love to tan.

Me: Well, most Asians want to be white and that is why we have tonnes of whitening product.

Another situation:

Orang Putih: What? You are (insert my age here)?! I thought that you are (insert 16/17/18/19 here). That’s why we are jealous of Asians. You look young!

Me: Oh, thanks! But you know, most Asians want to be like you because you are taller and Malaysians love those who have pointed nose – hidung mancung (no offense intended) like you.

My ‘mat salleh’ roommates in Bangkok – August 2013

So, there you go. Sometimes, the world is a funny place to be at. People from A wants to be like people in Z and the other way around. What ever it is, the world is one amazing place and go out and see what the world has to offer us.

How about you? Any terms used to refer to the white people in your country?

Happy Friday!


We are Khai and Amira, Malaysian travel bloggers behind Kaki Jalans. Our travels have taken us to almost all the countries in Asean and several countries in Europe. We are still actively travelling and adding to this list.


  1. I’ve read somewhere that the origin of ‘mat salleh’ could be from ‘mad sailor’. Not sure how true that is though.

    p/s: Jap, nak perasan kejap. So based on your account here, tall, pointed nose, tanned, etc. I’m having the best of both worlds? Hahaha! Kbye!

    • How come Mad Sailor becomes Mat Salleh? o_0 haha. But, there is some similarity there. Haha. Where did you get the theory?

      p/s: Haha. But you are over tanned. Okbye! 😀

  2. In another situation. When living in Vietnam, most of my vietnamese friends really adore american. Almost everything with american name is good. Education in america is good, and my housemate only will grab american goods in supermarket except the Vietnamesr fish sauce and rice paper.

    In some points, america is their dream land. I couldnt understand, american use to conquer their land but still adore them no matter what.

    As for me, proud as Malaysian no matter what.

    • Hehe.

      Maybe because although they were colonised by the Americans and the Vietnam War and what not, but still, American [the States] is, undeniably, the most developed country in the world. Hehe.

      Speaking of which, I can also see Malaysians who like “Woah Mat Salleh weyh”, as if they have never seen white people before. Haha.

      Yes, I am proud to be a Malaysian with Javanese blood. Hahaha

  3. bellaenveeus Reply

    Ok, I read RaW’s comment and.. I need a bucket.. Fetch me a bucket plz.. :p
    But the ‘Mad Sailor’ theory might be possible coz org kita kan sebut lebih kurang je. For example “go astern” jadi “gostan” right?

    As for me, I like my skin color. Too fair isn’t pretty. Even now, because of my skin color, I get freckles and that’s not so nice.. Huhu.. I’m happy with how I am because, yeah, we do look “awet muda” right? Nyehehehe..

    • Haha. Bella u need a BIG bucket for that. LOL.

      Yeah, I think that makes sense. Gostan. Haha. I can’t remember the last time I heard the term!

      Anyway, I would like to be a little bit taller if possible. Hahha. But the awek muda one, exactly! 😀

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