Different but same
By Lydia Teh
Food, festivals, family and fun are the factors that make us wholly Malaysian.
ONE plus one equals one or 1 + 1 = 1. Mathematically this is wrong but according to the biblical concept of marriage, it is right. Husband and wife are to cleave to each other as one.
Though they are male and female with different characteristics, temperament and whatever emotional baggage they bring with them to the marriage, they are one.
Using the same analogy, Malays, Chinese, Indians and Others are one under the 1Malaysia concept: 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. Though they are of different races and cultural backgrounds, they are one.
1Malaysia is a new slogan but is the concept new? I read that Yasmin Ahmad said something to the effect of “Dat fella copy me-lah.” I can see where she was coming from.
Her commercials and movies promote bangsa Malaysia and they are so unpretentious and down-to-earth that even children can enjoy them.
Sad to say, her passing has left a void unless one of her protégés rises to the challenge as she did to become a worthy successor of P. Ramlee.
Think about it: aren’t we already practising 1Malaysia to a small extent? Let me enumerate some of the ways since we’re so fixated with numbers.
1. Hari Raya is coming. My family and I will be visiting our next door neighbours to share in the joy of the festival.
If we want to feast on rendang and ketupat, we have to go on the first or second day when there’s plenty to eat. But we’re not gluttons. If we could only visit after the good food is depleted, we’d be just as happy with cookies and syrup, though our stomachs might growl for rendang.
But we don’t just share food with each other (we give them Mandarin oranges and groundnuts during Chinese New Year). We share dust and water too. When they renovated their kitchen, dust floated into our kitchen via ventilation holes.
I didn’t cook when the drilling was intense. The last time I checked, dust is not an edible seasoning.
When our house was being repainted and we needed more water power to operate the high-pressure water machine to spray off old paint, our neighbours came to the rescue by letting us tap into their water supply for free.
2. When we go out to eat at the mamak stall, we can see diners of all races tucking into their roti canai and teh tarik. This is the most muhibbah institution in Malaysia.
Where else can you see Malays, Chinese and Indians under one roof (or roofless sometimes) intent on fulfilling one of life’s basic needs? KFC and McDonalds? But they serve Western food.
Mamak has the Malaysian identity chopped all over it. We are united in our love for ghee-laden food and milk-saturated tea. “United we stand, divided we fall” should be paraphrased as “Ghee-nited we stand, tea-vided we fall.”
3. The ties that bind us Malaysians go beyond food, though that is arguably one of the strongest ties. Take the sarong. This humble piece of cloth is worn by people of all races. It is the ultimate attire for chilling out at home.
Its “natural air-con” and simplicity of design makes it versatile. It can be used as a baby sling or a cradle.
I was rocked to sleep on a sarong cradle when I was a baby. My children had a rocking good time too when they visited grandma.
4. There’s a reason why there are so many beggars and charities asking for donations in public places. The generosity of Malaysians overflows its cup. People give, to these and deserving cases highlighted in the media. Malaysians are truly generous.
Despite being 1Malaysians, there will be facets of our lifestyle that are different from each other. That’s unity in diversity for you.
Take food for instance. We enjoy festive goodies such as kuih bangkit and kuit kapit at both Hari Raya and Chinese New Year but lemang will always be associated with Hari Raya and yee sang with Chinese New Year.
Whether Malays, Chinese or Indians, there will be cultural differences on how we eat (what can I say, our national pastime is eating), how we wed, how we bury our dead or how we celebrate a newborn.
Babies are born pure, like white sheets of paper to be painted on. If a Chinese mother threatens her young one to eat his food or the Ah Neh Neh (colloquial for Indian) will catch him, the boy will grow up fearing dark-skinned people.
If a Malay father warns his daughter not to mix with the Chinese or she might get cheated, the girl will eye with distrust those with mata sepet (slit eyes.) Children are colour-blind. It is the adults who teach them otherwise.
The onus is on our young ones to raise another generation to become more integrated: to eat with each other, to give generously of their friendship and concern, to wear Baju Malaysia (which incorporates different elements of each ethnic group’s traditional wear).
In short, to become as well-mixed as rojak, yet maintaining the distinctive flavours that make us different.
Allow me to end with a poem that is a favourite among readers of Honk! If You’re Malaysian, judging from the frequency with which it is quoted in blogosphere:
“Regarding our inherent make-up, is one race more likely to act in a certain way than another? A friend of mine puts it this way:
Kalau tidak malas, bukan Melayu,
Kalau tidak tipu, bukan Cina,
Kalau tidak minum, bukan India.
(If you’re not lazy, you’re not Malay,
If you don’t cheat, you’re not Chinese,
If you don’t drink, you’re not Indian.)
To my friend I say:
I’m Chinese but I’m no cheat,
My friend’s Indian but he’s no drunk,
Another is Malay but he’s no slob,
Chinese, Indian, Malay or Others,
We are who we make ourselves to be,
Not the stereotypes we’re made out to be.
But if we don’t buck the trend,
We’ll forever be stamped.”
Forty-something Lydia Teh is the author of ‘Honk! If You Are Malaysian’. She likes to eat roti canai when money is tight which isn’t surprising as her latest book is ‘Stretching Your Dollar$ and $ense – More than 300 money-saving tips for anyone and everyone’.
BEHIND THE SCENES
The above picture was taken in The Star’s photo studio with Star employees. From left : Sheela Chandran (in case you’re wondering, she’s Chinese Indian and writes for Star Two, Kamarul is a photographer, Nathan is from the photo department and Lim from Editorial Admin.) What a muhibbah bunch. There was plenty of camaraderie at the photo shoot too. The photograph is by Raja Faisal.