Thursday, 7 April 2011

What Are You..??

That's the questions i got the most eversince i live in Kuala Lumpur for 11 years.  At first I was confused, didn't know what's d meaning of the question.  I thought my English was not that bad, but i really couldn't understand the question.  Overtime I got used to it and know what to answer.

Most people in Malaysia are grouped into 3 major ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese and Indian. Other than those 3 major ethnic groups, there are few other minorities, mostly living in Sabah and Sarawak. While the Chinese and Indians can choose their religions, either Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Tao or even atheist, Malays do not have the freedom to choose theirs.  All Malays are born to be Muslims, period.  No arguement, no question asked. Because of this, the society tends to blur the context of religion and race.  A lot of my Malaysian friends and acquaintances do not understand how to differentiate Malay and Muslim coz it's been glued together since long time ago. 

The same thing with applies with names.  While the Chinese and Indians can have "western names" such as Michael, Darren, Michelle, or the weirdest name that even the westerner will frown upon, such as Fish Liew or Urine Lo, Malays can only use malay or arabic names.

Growing up in Indonesia, I was exposed to people from 27 ethnic groups, all with their own languages, cultures and religions.  Not one ethnic group can be associated with one particular religion.  Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the constitution, whatever race we belong to.  So a Malay can choose to be a Muslim, a Catholic, a Buddhist, a Christian, or even a Hindu.  When we meet people in Indonesia, nobody really asks question what our religions are.  Except maybe in Ramadhan month when the muslims fast.  People will ask for our religions to avoid serving food or beverages to the muslims who are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking during daytime.

So here in KL, when people look at me : Chinese looking gal, with Malay name, can barely speak Mandarin, said to be a Muslim, the parents are Chinese, loves sambal belacan, dim sum and rassam.  All those attributes are just too confusing to be grouped into a particular ethnic group.

I got this supplier whom I knew for 3 years, one day called me and said, "I just couldn't get this out of my mind.  I knew you for 3 years but I really don't know what you are."  "What are you actually?"

My initial reply usually just a cheeky smile and a sentence of, " I am a human being, just like you."

But of course that reply can never satisfy anyone.  They have the need to group and categorize people into a certain "department". 

Although I got a bit tired having to do this over and over again throughout the years, I still do explain that I am born into Chinese parents, grew up in Indonesia and married to a Malaysian muslim.  But again, this answer will lead to another question : If you are Chinese, why don't you speak Mandarin or Cantonese or Hokkien or Teow Chew?
My next answer is history lesson about Indonesia during Suharto regime : during my time growing up in Indonesia, the Chinese couldn't have Chinese name and the government forbade any Chinese language or character to exist in the country.

Then another question : So now you are a Muslim? Don't eat pork ah?  Aaaaarrrggghhh I don't know what's so important about pork to the Chinese.  It's like you are not Chinese enough if you don't eat pork.  It's such a big deal not to eat pork...

Well.. i used to get irritated for having to answer these questions for at least once or twice a month.  Sometimes when i went to parties, i even had to answer these questions like 10 or 20 times in a night..!!  But now, instead of getting irritated, I take it as a compliment... I am a unique individual.. I am special.. that's why people are curious about me... But of course, when the questions were popped while I was savouring my chilli crabs with all fingers drenched with gravy, I can just be totally very mean and say, " I am a crab eater, and if you don't stop disturbing me, I can eat you too..!"


  1. Nice piece of writing, El. When I read it I recognise things that also happenned to me. The most simple question like 'where are you from?' is difficult to answer. What do you mean? Where I live? My nationality? My race? Or where I was born? I have to explain that I was born and raised in Indonesia, have chinese anchestors (that's why I look chinese) but do not speak any chinese whatsoever, have dutch nationality and married to a dutch man and live in Nicaragua. It is too complicated for people to categorise me in a certain 'box'. Well, I agree with you. We are unique individual and we must be proud of it.

  2. Bet, the world is really going into globalization, it is really the world without border at all. Unfortunately it will take some time for people to understand and to accept it. We are a few lucky lots who can understand it faster than most people..:)

  3. Welcome to the blogging world, I enjoy reading it and I think you are a good writer. You write from your heart for your self. that s the most important. And yes many ppl asked me too, who am I? I just said I am Indonesian :)...

  4. Thanks Fen... i do enjoy your creative blog too... i still need to learn more about this new hobby of mine.

    Well, i tried to say I m indonesian and always got a remark, "You don't look like Indon." Then I had to explain again my whole situation. Too bad that Indonesians are mainly recoqnized as foreign labours or maids here... or even worse, "pendatang haram". I have to admit though, it's not their fault to label us like that as too many "pendatang haram" here in Malaysia. I am also embarassed that so many of our country men disrespect Malaysian laws and enter this country illegally...


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