Saturday, November 06, 2010

Some counter-thoughts...

I haven't done this in ages now, putting some analytical thoughts into this poor neglected blog of mine, and there's a little more reasons to it than me simply being lazy...

But this little nugget is interesting. I found this one by chance. It was a blog entry by a fellow Malaysian who was not born Malaysian but grew up in Malaysia (herein known as M)...and how M said she's always been told she's "doing it wrong" because of the subtle cultural differences she experience growing up in Malaysia.

And the only way she can fit in is to take on the Malaysian culture, 100%.

But...what is the 100% Malaysian culture? From my point of view, I always felt slightly rejected (possibly because I was fat, angry and defensive), and just never been wholly part of the social scene that my friends seemed so comfortable in. I didn't understand it back then, experienced the teenage angst, the whole "Why me!" self-hate and self-pity fest (and grew out of it), but maybe really, deep down, everyone just did what they have to do to fit in, and they just did a better job at fitting in than I did. How'd I know, since I never questioned it, that they were happy doing so, that they never secretly wanted to be different? Leaving Malaysia behind gave me the freedom to be who I am - the Malaysian I am - liberated from social norms and pressure. A little too outspoken, a little too wacky, a little odd for my homelanders' tastes maybe (but how'd I know? Maybe it's just all in my head afterall) but I am being me, but that doesn't detract from the fact that I am Malaysian, my identity shaped by how and where I grew up.

Also, being in the same level playing field as anyone else who isn't British in England, like M is foreign where M is, although I don't see that as a "privilege", I am able to and I do get on with them lovely English people, and while I do make a bit of an effort to pick up the accent, I don't do much of anything else to fit in desperately. The fact is, I'm just from a land faraway and there's little expectations of me from locals. Maybe that's the privilege and opportunity I have - But this fact is still far from making me a "model Asian", because I'm still not a typical Malaysian, or Oriental, or Asian (apart from my obsession with -good- food) person or a model or an illustration of anything, and again, how would I ever know if the mainstream or dominant culture here accepts me? I don't go out much or drink, for example, and that makes me an oddity here. But neither does the boyfriend, and he's actually English, so does that make him unacceptable or that he's "doing it wrong"?

Also, to this point, I am the only, well, Oriental person in a company that has over 120 employees, but again, I just don't see myself being hired as the "Token Asian". I'd hate the thought of that. I know they offered me a job because I was awesome at my interview, not because they wanted to up their cultural diversity levels (although it may have been a bonus point to them, but the decision would've still be made solely on merit). Also, the argument that others aren't easily accepted because they didn't assimilate could be rendered null and void because others just didn't make that effort to. Many students here stick to their own groups, culture and language - be they Spanish, Cypriots, Indians, Chinese or Malay - and they're comfortable being in the outside fringes of English society, insulated by the shared identities and I do not blame them for that. People stick to what they're familiar with just like how I turn to a pack of Maggie Kari and a mug of Milo (with good English cream) for comfort.

As much as I perceive myself as a Malaysian, I still went through the identity confusion, anger and feeling of rejection by how racial politics were played at home. I felt it acutely and took it personally when I was told "jika you tak suka, you balik Cina", like "oi, I am the third generation born here and as Malaysian as anyone else, who the hell are you to think you have the right to tell me to get out?"

But as much as I feel passionate, and as much as I know (or don't know) Malaysia, I still wouldn't speak for Malaysia. I'd speak about it though, but I will never claim to speak for or represent Malaysia. In fact, I always wondered if I'm spreading untrue or inaccurate facts about Malaysia based on my personal experience and always make a disclaimer. I won't say the same about the remarks I made about Singapore though! But I'm NO token Malaysian or Asian. I'm just me, and I just get on with things, and find my own place to belong to.

In the last two years, I learned a lot, and this is the one knowledge I gain - to let go of some of my past prejudices, and to gain wisdom from my experience.

Just because I'm a Chinese ethnically, it doesn't mean I'm less Malaysian, or have less right to talk about my nation or my culture. I have a heritage, and I won't reject that. I'm taking away no one's ability to speak for themselves and their culture, and I learn to explore my own culture, society, language and identity, both ethnically and nationally, at my own pace, because I have no need to answer to anyone. I'd never call China my home, but it doesn't make me less interested in where my forefathers came from, but I know where my loyalties lie.

But really, it's not a privilege to get on with "Westerners" as a "model/token Asian", that distasteful thought just does not sit well with me.

(Enough to spur me to blog about it, although the thought did strike me that maybe I misinterpreted the "privilege" part, because I haven't asked M about it, I cannot be entirely sure I understood what M meant, and this is once more, my personal viewpoint based on an individual's understanding.)

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