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Time Management 101: Good Punctuality vs Bad Malaysian Time

Punctuality Time Management

(My dad has the same high punctuality and timing standards where he will make sure we are hours earlier for any functions. Image source:

I did a product briefing for some people some time ago.

The briefing was scheduled to start at 5.00 pm and knowing how some people like to walk in late for briefings and training, I decided that a head-up message on the briefing and punctuality would be good.

Just several minutes before 5.00 pm, I was already ready at the briefing room waiting for the attendees to walk in. At 5.00 pm sharp, only one of the 20 or so attendees walked in. 5 minutes later, a couple more trickled in. 10 minutes, another few more attendees trickled in. 15 minutes had passed before the last of the attendees managed to walk in and casually took a seat at the back with a big smile on his face.

I was lost for words for a moment.

Having people walking in at different times and in the midst of my briefing was quite interruptive especially when the entrance is at the front of the room (instead of the usual back where anyone can sneak in quietly).

And there is this anticipation in the late comer’s eyes that is wanting me to repeat what I just said 5 -10 minutes ago which was unfair to those who had come in earlier and already listened to the earlier part of my briefing.

What made it sadder was the presence of some senior people in the groups of people walking in late – leaders who should have led by setting good examples.

But in Malaysia, that is nothing to shout about, right?

After all, this is something that is so “Malaysian” for people to come in at a much later time than the scheduled time. There is never been any function that I have attended where all the people arrived on time and before the start of the formal function.

We call them Malaysian Time (in my community, it is also known as the Indian Time) and it has become the ‘defacto’ time decider for all who has a function to attend to.

I recalled when I and my wife was planning our wedding dinner many, many moons ago – we decided that the start of our wedding dinner would be at 8.00 pm. We wanted to have it earlier but we had a photo session before that and the timing was just not right to start early.

When we discussed our ideas with one of our good uncles (for second opinions, ideas and sponsorships, ahem), he just shook his head and said that we got the dinner start time all wrong. He took our 8.00 pm, struck it off and wrote down 7.00 pm. He said that by changing the start time to 7.00 pm, we can effectively start the function at 8.00 pm (the 7.00 pm to 8.00 pm will be used to get all the people in and be ready).

We are glad that we listened to our uncle’s suggestion and made the necessary changes.

We realised that the hall was sparsely occupied at 7.00 pm and between 7.00 pm and 8.00 pm, guests trickled in and by 8.00 pm; we managed to get all the guests in, hungry for delicious Indian food accompanied by a live band. If we had put the time as 8.00 pm as we original did, I am pretty sure dinner would have started at 9.00 pm or even later. We would have chaos if that had happened.

In our family, however, there is no such thing as Malaysian or Indian Time punctuality.

My dad made sure of that – he practices punctuality to the letter. If the function starts at 8.00 pm, he will make sure that we will be there at least half an hour before the function really starts. On my wedding day, our family was the first to be on temple ground – the first in line was my Dad who kept looking at his watch, making sure things fall in like clockwork.

We, the children have rubbed this notion of punctuality from our Dad to some extent. We do practice Malaysian Time at occasional times – especially it is a function that we want to avoid at all cost but proved unsuccessful.

A long time ago, if we need to attend some functions in an unfamiliar place, we will be forced to do our homework so that we will not be late for the function. We will check with the rest on how to go there or go there ourselves one or two days earlier or simply wake up early and leave for the function very early.

These days, of course, things are a bit different – Google Map for once has made our life easier by providing the right path and landmarks at a click of a button. So, there is no longer the excuse of arriving at a function late with the excuse that we “lost our ways” when the real reason why we were late was that we left the house late.

But there is always someone coming in late…Malaysian Time punctuality at work again!

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Malaysian Time

4 thoughts on “Time Management 101: Good Punctuality vs Bad Malaysian Time”

  1. Yes ‘Malaysian Time’ or ‘Indian Time’ is annoying – to put it mildly. There is no respect for other people’s time – the ones who took the trouble to be punctual. KL jam is another excuse for turning up late at functions. Men like your Dad are a rare breed these days, my friend.
    Then there is another annoying ‘Malaysian’ habit – talking while there is a speech going on. It will start with a murmur n then it gets louder n louder until someone from the front row or the organisers or someone – embarassed enough – has to ‘shush’ these people. No respect for a speaker….

    1. Kate, there are many ‘Malaysian’ things that we just hate – another is having the mobile phone switched on and the mobile ringing in the middle and the person starts talking ignorant of others

  2. Malaysian Time is spinoff from Malaysian KTM timing.
    E.g 0800 >0815 >0836> 0840> 0900> 0930> 0948> 1000 > and still no sign of KTM train.
    Like the japanese are famous for their sake session after work, Malaysians are famous for their delayed timing culture.

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