Malaysian First?

We, Malaysians, tend to be rather focused on labels – we like to label things. It is so ingrained in our psyche that whenever someone raises an issue, the first thing that we need to do is to label it so that it can be properly categorised and compartmentalised into its proper box. Then, the issue can be bludgeoned to a pulp with the appropriate tool.

A week ago, I had an interview with a sociologist who was conducting some research. I was asked if I thought of myself as a Malaysian instead of a Chinese. I went on record saying that, “No, it depends on how you define Malaysian.” I definitely do not see myself as Malaysian first nor Chinese second. I see myself as myself first and foremost. How could anyone be a Malaysian first and Malay second or a Malaysian first and Chinese second if they are not themselves first?

To explain this, I went on record describing my identity.

My mother tongue is English, which I spoke nothing but, for the first few years of my life. My first books were all English books, and my initial cultural exposure was all western. Then, when I became old enough to have some philosophy and morals imbued into me, I picked up an Indian religion. While I may celebrate Chinese culture on the surface, I have very little appreciation for it and would happily do without most of it if given the chance. I have more Korean, Japanese, English and Malay DVDs and music CDs than Chinese ones. If given a choice between our venerable roti canai, nasi lemak, wanton mee for breakfast, I would choose them in that order exactly. I speak Malay well enough and was actually mistaken as a Malay for my first semester in university.

I found it difficult to say that I am Malaysian first because I do not know what it means to be Malaysian first. I am hoping that someone else might be able to explain it to me.

For now, I would say that I am “me, myself and I” first. Thank you very much!

PS: In all honesty, I would describe myself as Hacker first as I identify better with the Hacker culture than any other culture.

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Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

2 thoughts on “Malaysian First?”

  1. I rather think that most people are rather focused on labels. I get asked regularly where I come from, and if I say Manchester I often get asked where I come from ORIGINALLY (again, Manchester….). Then I get asked where my family come from. Normally I don’t mind, but sometimes I feel like saying ‘mind your own business’. Chinese people try to get me to assert that I’m Chinese. As I know I am, I don’t know why I need to assert it. English people try to get me to say I’m not Chinese because I’m British. Hong Kong people say I’m BBC and thus seem surprised when I speak Cantonese. I tend to get on better with non-Chinese, non-British, foreigners probably because they too are sick of getting similar questions. These days I just say whatever I feel like at the time. And if bible-bashers or buddhist-pushers,etc etc talk to me I reply in Korean or Japanese. It’s quite fun actually. πŸ˜›

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