Archive for 7 September 2017

The beauty of being Malaysian

7 September 2017

(Reprinted from The Edge – Options pullout, 28 August 2017 issue)

Dear Kam,
Hooray, it’s Merdeka Day! How are you celebrating?
Anak Malaysia

Malaysia is a peculiar nation because we have two birthdays. There is Merdeka Day and there is Malaysia Day. One celebrates Peninsular Malaysia’s independence from Britain and one celebrates when Sabah and Sarawak joined the party (and also gained independence from Britain). Britain is the only country I can think of that does not have a national day celebration, and yet we have two. That must be because we are doubly special and deserve double happiness. And so with a respectful and loving nod of recognition to all Sabahans and Sarawakians, I would like to say, Selamat Hari Merdeka!

I am Malaysian. My father was Malaysian and my mother is British but I grew up in Britain, so I may not look it or even sound it but I am Malaysian and proud to be so (and I have all the correct paperwork to prove it).

I get asked all the time, “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” It’s always a polite question but if Malaysians ask me what I am, then I know what they really want to know so I decide to play with them for a bit and I’ll casually say, “I’m a writer.” I take an evil delight in watching Malaysians scrunch their hands in frustration because they really, really want to know my race or nationality but they’re trying to remain polite and seemingly disinterested. But they really need to be able to categorise my ethnicity before they can continue with their day. They really couldn’t care less if I were a writer or a cat psychologist and eventually they’ll blurt out, “I mean, where are you from?” And I’ll say, “Ampang.” This always drives them over the edge; they cannot contain themselves any longer and they will demand, “I mean, what country?!” At this point, I’ll tell them my history. They will be marginally interested by my story and a bit disappointed that it’s so boring but mostly they are just satisfied that the itch has finally been scratched.

The other day, I was leaving a friend’s apartment and his Bangladeshi security guard asked me, “Where are you from?” I was a bit confused by the question, so I said, “Apartment G8.” And he said, “No, what country?” Clearly, the Malaysian need to know what you are eventually infects everybody who comes here.

But that’s the beauty of Malaysia. It is possible for just about any combination of humanity to be Malaysian just as long as their family history crossed Malaysia’s path at some point. Whenever I am asked what I am, the question is never ever asked with malice and my answer is always met with good humour. I could complain that Malaysians are so narrow-minded that they need to confine everyone to their correct box but instead I see that Malaysians are simply curious to know what new exotic blend has been tempted to these shores and why. Is it the food, the people or the fabulous infrastructure? As I say, Malaysians find my answer to be quite boring but they instantly accept that I am legitimately Malaysian because just about anybody could be Malaysian. I don’t know if that accepting response would be possible in many or most countries.

Reprinted with the kind permission of