Monday, 23 April 2012

Am I really a banana?

When I was younger, I despised anything called "traditional".  I was obsessed with everything "modern".  I loved to see modern houses and modern furniture and I only liked to wear "modern" clothes.  At that time my perception of modern was everything with western feel and western looks which I got mostly from Hollywood movies.

I was even more "modernized" after I came back from studying in US.  I shamefully admitted that my husband was right when he bluntly told me that I was a "banana".  At that time I didn't know what he meant as we didn't have that expression in Indonesia.  He explained that banana is the term used for Asians who have yellow skins but their hearts and souls are very much "white", like the westerners.  I brushed it off and didn't really take it seriously. 

When I had my first baby, I refused to do the post-natal traditional treatments.  My mother-in-law and my mother told me that I would regret it. Being a stubborn mule, I only believed in western medicine.  I told them that the "mat-sallehs" or "bule" or westerners didn't have massages and berpantang (avoid several types of food) but they can go to supermarket within a week after delivery.  They are all fine...

When we met our relatives, I told my daughters to just address them with aunties and uncles so they wouldn't be confused. I spared them the difficulties of remembering who to call "ayah su" (youngest uncle in malay) or "icong" (younger uncle from mother's side - in hakka) or "kumah" (grand auntie - in hok chiu).

For the past few years, I have grown spiritually (and physically... unfortunately sideways..) by reading various books, meeting different people, and experiencing things that opened my heart and made me view life from different angles. I have grown to appreciate the beauty of traditions and understand how important it is to preserve them.

Having read the Chinese cultural revolution and see how different the Chinese cultures in China now, I feel obligated to avoid being like them. Long time ago, the Chinese had so many titles to address their relatives.  In English, a brother is a brother.  But in Chinese, there is no such thing as a brother. It has to be specific, whether he is the eldest brother (Ta Ke), older brother (Ke Ke), or younger brother (Ti Ti). Each has a different title. The same goes with uncles, aunts, sisters, and grandparents.  With the one-child policy in place, all those titles are gone.  The new generation do not have siblings, thus they won't experience calling someone Ti Ti or Mei Mei (younger sister) or Ta Cie (eldest sister) or Ayi (auntie). Imagine if the word uncle or aunt dissappear from English vocabulary.  I think it is very sad...

So when I gave birth to my second daughter, I decided to follow both Chinese and Malay Post-Natal Care.  OMG... I felt soooo stupid. I should have done it since my first delivery... It felt so nice to have makcik urut massage me twice a week.  The hot herbal stone treatment (bertungku) totally relaxed my muscles.  I loved the fact that I was not allowed to do housework at all during the 30-day confinement period. I think the westerners would be super jealous if they know how pampered we are after we give birth...!!

I found that I have such an interesting and beautiful traditions to preserve.  Being children from a mixed-race marriage, my children should have a richer tradition and experience in their lives.  I believe it is my duty to make them interested and keep our family traditions. 

But my karma is coming back to me... my daughters are all too westernized now.  They prefer reading Geronimo Stilton compared to Bawang Putih Bawang Merah.  They frawn everytime I ask them to wear cheongsam or baju kurung or kebaya.  But I will persevere.... like my parents... I hope eventually they will grow out their "westernization" and appreciate their unique cultures.

Now I can tell my husband that his banana wife has changed... Still a banana (coz I still prefer English songs to Keroncong music) but not the regular American Dole Banana... I am the Pisang Kepok, the type of Indonesian banana which has yellow skin and even yellower flesh. Ooohhhh I love this kind of banana... very rich and flavourful, especially when it's baked into a pastry like Pisang Molen.

the regular banana

Pisang kepok, the flesh and skin are equally yellow

even the raw banana has yellow flesh

my fave banana pastry (pisang molen) from Bandung


  1. My sons also address my relatives as uncles and aunts. Slowly we introduce the correct title as to how they should address each family member. Most of my in-laws, too, can't make out which title or how to address each family member according to their rank. Well, if we don't try to remember it, it would extinct very soon and those beautiful words create so beautifully to address someone related to us will be gone, forever. Keep the uniqueness of our tradition alive. Don't be like my brother-in-law, both husband and wife are Chinese but all three of their daughters have two English name with the sir name at the back. No Chinese name at all. My father was really mad in the beginning but got used to it now. They have lost their identity as a Chinese. Hope you have a great week ahead

  2. Hi Aries, although Indonesian Chinese were not allowed to have Chinese names in the 70s til 90's by the government, my parents still give chinese names to their children and grand children which we use at home. It didn't make them less Indonesian or more Chinese, they are just preserving what they think will be lost. A lot of urban Indonesians, regardless of their races, choose to use western names now. I think the world will be such a boring place if people in every country name their children michael, michelle, steve, or jane. We should at least preserve the family names if we have to use western names at all. Have a great week to you too....;)


The Accidental Prisoners

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