Metric use in Malaysia in 2010 may give a foretaste of the situation in the UK in 2020 …or 2030 …or 2040. Our correspondent reports on a recent visit.
The UKMA YouTube Channel, www.youtube.com/user/UKMetric, has a news story in its documentary section entitled “US Switch to Metric System”. At one point, Elisabeth Gentry of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Metric Program says that “the metric transition is on a continuum from zero metric to one hundred percent metric with every country somewhere along this continuum. It is not simply black and white, or yes and no”. Sceptics might see her as a bureaucrat trying to put a brave face on the dismal situation in the US. But the idea of a continuum does help to assess the progress a country has made and to compare it with others.
A recent visit to Malaysia suggests that it has moved further along the continuum than has the UK, but is still a long way short of 100%.
“The Star” which is an English language newspaper published in Malaysia provides some relevant reading. Here are a few quotes from the edition of 31 December 2009:
“Europalm owns 1,500ha of plantation land in Jemoreng”. Later the article continues, “Sarawak plantation land is considered more expensive at … RM 20,000 per acre”.
Among the houses for sale on the property pages:
“Ampang Bukit Ampang 2 sty behind Carrefour 24×80 f/h f/reno kit cab RM 310k”
“Bkt Jelutong Kubah corner well kept l/a 4ksf b/u 3ksf 4+1lr 4b RM 880K”
“Cheras Damai Perdana 2½ s new 22×70 b/u 3000sf South kit extd RM 482k!”
(By way of explanation, RM is the Malaysian currency unit, sty is an abbreviation for storey, plot sizes are given in feet, and ksf means one thousand square feet)
On the Technology pages:
“The candybar phone, which measures 105.0 x 44.9 x 12.0mm in size and weighs 83g … has a 1.75in screen”
Among the offers advertised by Tesco (yes, they are big in Malaysia too):
“Panasonic 16” Stand Fan PSF-45B”
While in an article headed “Property Insights” in the Land and Property section of “The Star” on 2 January 2010 we read:
“Fortunately future supply is moderate, with only 4.28 million sq ft being added”.
Then lower down on the same page in an article about convention centres, we are told, “Among the more prominent ventures in Kuala Lumpur are the KL Convention Centre (KLCC) (9,710 sq m), the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) (23,504 sq m) and the Matrade Centre in Jalan Duta (13,000 sq m)”.
Clearly, the UK does not have a monopoly on metrication muddle.
Another feature of the UK scene which appears in Malaysia is a preference for abbreviations rather than symbols, exemplified by M, Km, KM and km/j (‘j’ being an abbreviation for ‘jam’ meaning ‘hour’ in Malay).
A visit to Carrefour (also big in Malaysia) to buy a measuring tape resulted in disappointment – all tapes were of the US pattern with inches on the upper scale. One suspects that Carrefour had entrusted its Chinese supplier with the specification of the tapes as well as their production.
However, in other areas where we have seen a cop-out by the British Government, Malaysia has made significant progress, for example:
• Temperatures are always given in °C
• Street markets are entirely metric
• Body weights are always given in kg
• Distances are given in km, and expressions such as “A few kilometres from here” are in general use
• Road signs are metric, although the signs themselves are of the US/Australian pattern.
The rather muddled situation seems to have become accepted as normal. As far as could be determined during a short visit, there is no plan by the Malaysian Government to complete the transition, and no private campaigning to raise the profile of the issue.
In contrast, Singapore, independent of Malaysia since 1965, has adopted SI for all purposes, encourages its citizens to do the same, and has switched to road signage complying with the Vienna Convention.
Will the UK ever catch up with Malaysia or Singapore? The recent statement by the UK Minister for Science and Innovation enthusing about the retention of the pint and mile does not inspire confidence, and the UK DfT is likely to remain an obstacle to the changeover of road signs for the foreseeable future.
Finally, a few facts about Malaysia, taken in part from the CIA web site:
Malaysia, a middle-income country, has transformed itself since the 1970s from a producer of raw materials into an emerging multi-sector economy. It is an exporter of natural gas and oil. For a short period, it possessed the world’s tallest building, the 452 m high, 88-storey Petronas Towers at Kuala Lumpur.
GDP per capita in 2008: US$ 15200 (cf. UK 35700, US 47500, Singapore 51600).