Photo Challenge

Here’s your sign…

Today’s Blogging 101 task is to participate in a blogging “event.”  These are things like a writing prompt or a flash fiction challenge designed to build community by having bloggers respond to a shared topic:

blogger-hosted events are fun, free, spirited ways to get even more feedback on your work, build your audience, and make friends

I chose a photography challenge called Signs:

For this challenge, share an image of a sign: it can be a sign near your home — a comforting sight after a long journey — a sign that doubles as art, or other types of signs that hold meaning for you.

This challenge spoke to me because we saw a fantastic sign on our jungle trek this weekend.  We couldn’t understand most of the words on the sign, but its meaning was clear nonetheless.

The consequences for rule breaking are quite dire, apparently.

The consequences for rule breaking are quite dire, apparently.

Without knowing any Bahasa Malaysia, you still get the idea that there is something you should not do.  And if you do it, you might get shot.  A combination of the unmistakeable image and not knowing the text makes this very frightening.

Let’s break it down.  We know dilarang masuk, that’s a phrase we’ve seen in various places, and dilarang is even more common.  Dilarang means Do Not . . . do not park, do not smoke . . . we’ve seen that word a lot.  Dilarang Masuk means Do Not Enter.  So now we know that we aren’t supposed to enter the park and/or the hiking trail (or we’ll get shot.)  A little closer examination of the sign shows us some numbers at the bottom: 8.00 pg – 6.00 ptg.  If you hadn’t seen the blue sign behind that shows you that pg is equivalent to am, you might still be able to deduce that this is something about time.  So now we think we know that we aren’t supposed to enter the trail between 8:00am – 6:00pm.  OK, that’s pretty standard, aside from the threat of being held at gun point and/or shot if I enter at the wrong time of course.

But what about the rest of it?  The day we saw this sign, it was totally opaque to me.  Other than the “Do not enter” phrase that I knew, and the clear consequences if I break the rules that I can’t read, I had no idea what this sign said.  We were with a trekking guide, so I felt confident that we wouldn’t break any firing squad-worthy rules. . . that day.  Because we were with a guide, the sign seemed kind of funny at the time.  I mean, really, would a trespasser really get shot on the spot?  When I decided to do the photo challenge and use this sign, I started thinking about it a little more.  I have no idea what that sign says, other than do not enter.  With the obviously dire consequences, the sign is no longer funny – it’s terrifying.

We haven’t had a lot of language barrier challenges within KL, at least nothing huge, but we really are at a disadvantage for official communication.  What if the rest of that sign tells me not to bring something in to the park?  What if it tells me not to do something once I’m in?  What if, what if, what if?  This sign reinforced the need to thoroughly research what we are doing, where we are going, and what we are allowed to do once we are there.  It also reinforced the need to take the phrase book with us when we go outside of the city.

Beyond the language barrier, the imagery on this sign is very different from standard “do not enter” signs in the U.S.  I have never seen an official sign that clearly threatens violence like this.  I can picture a sign that says “Violators will be prosecuted” or something similar where there might be an implied threat of unpleasant circumstances.  I’ve also seen, or maybe just heard of, “Trespassers will be shot,” but only on private property.  I would never expect a sign like that in a public park.

This sign served as a reminder of how far away from home we really are and how different life can be in Malaysia.

(Oh, so what does the rest of the sign say?  “Do not enter except during the allowed days.  Operating hours, Friday-Sunday 8:00am – 6:00pm”  Not so scary after all.  Except for the picture.)

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