Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I am a Chinese, a Malaysian Chinese

The words normally come when I am on the road – a journey on the train, on the ship, or simply when I am walking, wandering casually in the small medieval town or by the coastal walk. To write in English, for the first time this idea pop up when I was taking the train in Sicilia.

Generally as Malaysians, or rather, as Chinese-educated Malaysians as we normally call ourselves, we did primary school in Chinese, secondary school in Malay and university in English. How genius we are with the languages! But it is not true. We know little of each but master none. Claiming Chinese as out mother tongue, most of us are not able to describe an event using just Chinese alone, neither can we do it with just English or Malay. Most of the young ones can no longer write in Chinese after they left university. We do not understand anything more complicated than the foolish romance fiction. We speak broken Chinese, Malay and English, comprehensive only amongst the Malaysians.

It seems sad, but everyone knows we are a group of happy and easily-satisfied people. We always think we are the best of the country, and we are even better than our comrades in Singapore.

I am always being asked this question when traveling in overseas: are you from Japan? Perhaps generally Japanese is the only Asian nation who is wealthy enough to travel out of the continent.

“No, I come from Malaysia.”
“Oh, we share the border with Thailand.”
“Oh, beautiful country, you have beautiful beaches!”
“So are you a Muslim?”
“No, I am a Chinese.”
“Oh, I don’t know there are Chinese in Malaysia.”
“Err, yeah there are …”
“So how many languages do you speak?”
“Chinese, English, Malay, some Chinese dialects like Catonese, Hokkien and Hainanese, and some Italian.”
“Wow! You speak so many languages! And you speak very good English!”

It could be pretty true that most of us do speak better English than what others expected, by judging from our Asian look. The hongkies are surprised that we speak Cantonese almost as good as they do. And here we are in China, we speak better Mandarin than the Hongkies, and sometimes, the Taiwanese.

Back to the hometown it’s always a mixture of the languages and dialects that we know, the broken versions of everything. Under the warm sunshine there is a cozy serenity, and we think, we are happy to be who we are, the Malaysians, the Malaysian Chinese.

Perugia, 7/7/2007


ahpei said...

Have you ever think of migrate to Italy??

kahyeim said...


Never. At least up to now I never have such idea coming up to my mind before.

Serepta said...

Well written article.