Thursday 12 May 2011

It’s tough being Malaysian Chinese — Tan Shang Neng (

MAY 12 — As a young Malaysian Chinese, when asked to draw my vision of the year 2020 in our primary school Pendidikan Seni classes, I would draw flying cars, floating buildings, a city of steel and glass, people in jet-fighter styled suits covering arms and legs and a helmet to top, using jetpacks strapped to their backs.
Today, if asked to draw my vision of 2020?

I hope to have trees with leaves still green, less floods, less killing around the world. And, hopefully in the myriad hands I have drawn holding on to each other in the middle in harmonious unity, there will be a pair of hands with the colour that best represents my Chinese skin (another conditioning from primary school: “NO! People cannot be blue because they are nice or green because they are jealous! They must be coloured brown because this guy with songkok is evidently Malay, and this girl in this cheongsam must be yellow because she is evidently Chinese, and this Indian boy must be coloured black!” Boy was my little self so confused.)

It is not easy being Malaysian Chinese. We are not all Lim Goh Tongs, Vincent Tans or YTLs. Some of us are the Ah Kaus fishing for a living in Kuala Selangor. We are also the Ah Sengs peddling DVDs in pasar malams. Some are the Ah Tans, working as machais for the loan shark tailos. Many too are the Lim Ah Sings sleeping under abandoned hawker stalls beneath flyovers in the heart of KL.

I was not born into blankets sewn from RM100 bills, so it was a tough growing up trying to understand why there are people who say if you are Chinese, you are rich and greedy. It is hard to understand why people would brand people like my dear father as groups wanting to take over the country, when all he did was come home late from work weekly in order to ensure he will one day afford to put this son of his through university. It drives me crazy when some Malaysian Chinese demands for equality, that poor bugger gets told to go back to China or go to Singapore.

It is easier said than done for a modern-day Malaysian Chinese like me. Wherever I go now, I will be an outsider. Roaming places I will never truly belong. Sleeping in buildings I will probably never be able to call home.

In China, my lack of speech in Mandarin will highlight me as an instant outcast. They will favour their own kin before letting this guy — who looks very much like one of them but in essence anything but — to lead their companies. In Australia and the UK, sure, there will be equality and minimal discrimination, but to a point. You start of on equal footing as all, but as you progress, there is only as high a corporate ladder you can climb because your Chinese skin bars your ascent. Try being Malaysian and vie for a pupillage to be a barrister in the UK! You might be given PR in the UK or Australia, but you will truly then be a pendatang, born and bred elsewhere, made to scrap a living in a land with different social norms and values system.

What about Singapore? You might find it hard to believe, but there are Malaysian Chinese who cannot stand the idea of living in that city state! Sure, good money, relatively more efficient government and good transport system. But really now, Singapore? Fast paced, faceless?

So really now, if my home — my country, my Malaysia — asks me, a Malaysian Chinese — a budak Klang, no less — to leave…

…I will have nowhere to go to. No place to truly call my own. No place I can say my grandparents helped built. A place I once ate at a school canteen with one Amirrulah, a place where I played Sunday basketball with a Tan Kian Ping, a place I once mamak-ed with a Jagdeep Singh, a place where we would celebrate Merdeka at Ashley’s Melawis home.

It’s not easy being a Malaysian Chinese. To live in a country which often confuses itself if it wants you or not. A country where you are more often than not branded as a pendatang even though your grandparents were born here.

The truth of the matter is simple, there will only ever be one home for a person like me, and I will fight for it till the end. And you can put your bets on me fighting till the end for the right to remain in…
…my home.

It’s not just being Malaysian Chinese that is bothersome these days. It’s being Malaysian Indian. A Malaysian Dusun. A Malaysian homosexual. A Malaysian Christian. A Malaysian Muslim. A Malaysian tauke.
It’s just not easy being Malaysian anymore.

Is it really that difficult? To have a government which governs its people for the right reasons, to make us richer, healthier, better than the rest of the world? Can we all one day be free to live the life we chose for ourselves as long as it does not impose itself upon another? Can we one day choose who or what we pray to, to choose who we love, to choose where we die.

I want a day when I can wake up in the morning and have bak-kut-teh for breakfast, nasi lemak daging rendang for lunch, Italian for dinner and roti canai for supper without some person on television telling me how, when and where I can eat them.

It’s tough being a Malaysian Chinese these days.

Nobody wants us. —

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