Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Sepet question: Malay x Chinese pairings. Do they work?

PREFACE: I doubt anyone reads this blog anymore- but if you live in KL, and you're in your 30's, you'll sort of know who's who here. You might even know me.

In this post, I want to explore relationships between Chinese and Malays within the framework of a love affair. the late great director Yasmin Ahmad started this dialogue with her movie Sepet. Yasmin Ahmad was malay and had a chinese husband. Permutations of the same theme appear in all her movies. We all know that she is Orked. And there are lots of malay-chinese couples in Malaysia:

So it DOES work, right?

In the past, I've been in relationships with 2 malay guys, both from what you'd call the "Malay Elite" but I didn't end up marrying any of them.

IN the early 90's- my high school boyfriend, J was one of the sons of a malay CEO (now retired) of a prominent BUMI Malaysian company that was right in Mahathir's palm. (One of Mahathir's pet project companies which promoted the name of Malaysia.) We both lived in Bukit Damansara, we went to (CBN and VI) He was malay and muslim. He and his family are highly educated and wealthy- they're all product of JPA and Petronas scholarships and his sisters are now prominent Doctors (head of a department in a major KL hospital), Lawyers and his brother is a CFO of one of the biggest developers in Malaysia.

Yes, these are real people and they're a product of the NEP: UMNO princes and princesses.

One of my parents has a well known chinese business family's surname. And my other parent is an other (dan lain-lain). BUT J's family saw me as chinese, simple as that- black or white. His mother wore a "tudung" (hijab) and so did one of his sisters. But they welcomed me in their family anyway (because I tried very hard to be what I thought they were). In contrast, I saw my parents being extremely unfriendly to J.

I went on holidays in the US and UK with his parents, his siblings and their partners. This was always a big "rombongan" just like a tour group. And although they were very wealthy, they always stayed in service apartments (because we were a big group) instead of The Ritz Carlton or Langham. And they always travelled with their own Brahim's curry sachets so they could cook their own meals in the apartments, as halal food wasn't always easy to come by. And there would be a "gotong-royong" atmosphere amongst the women in the kitchen during meal prep. They always rented a few cars and travelled in a group. This is what malay families do, I learned.

Sometimes I'd hear a remark about being chinese. I wasn't Puan Sri's favourite, but Tan Sri was just lovely. We played cards at family time and he always ribbed me about having "Ong" (luck in Malaysian hokkien dialect). I'm not very chinese but I just took it all in stride because that's their way of reaching out to me. It was well-meant. My relationship with J lasted through our high school and early years in university- J in the US and I in Australia. Eventually we fizzled, long distance got the better of us despite unlimited travel expenses and phone bill budgets. Puan Sri and I shared a teary good-bye, haha... if I did end up marrying him, she would make the best MIL.

Then, in my 20's after a disastrous year or so with a cheating expat, I had several flings with older men when I was in my 20's while on an angry rampage to get even. (that was juvenile, I know that now).
The men I chose were either Malays or Chinese Malaysians, always older than me (from 7 years older to 20 years older), all seriously successful and good looking.
One of them was a divorced chinese Malaysian lawyer with his own law firm. He had 3 Great Danes that were his pride and joy. He was in his 40's but was really fit- loves all outdoor/adventure/extreme sports.
One of them was a malay (he was married! Then divorced! Now remarried!) director in a well known architecture firm. He loves his sports cars and Italian suits. He was in great shape because he visited the gym often enough. In his 40's back then, he treated me like his little girl. (eeek)
One of them was a divorced chinese Malaysian, was Head of Futures in a bank during the Asian Financial Crisis (he was very down on his luck). He is intelligent and extremely funny. He was not gorgeous but looked like what an average looking guy in his 20's would look like. He introduced me to his friends, who were CEOs and GMs. We are still friends today. He's Head of something else now in a Securities firm and married to a girl in her 20's!

THEN, there was H, whom I wish I didn't meet during this time in my life. I really liked him- he was the type of man you'd want to marry and have children with. H was 30, came from a good malay family. His father was high up in the civil service. His mother is from of one of the malay royal families. His siblings are all successful professionals- back then, he was a young architect in a prominent architectural firm who was put in charge of a major building in the heart of KL (now built, it's part of the skyline). He's a 6 footer, nicely built, wears architect glasses, Ralph Lauren polo shirts, Gucci moccasins (you know, what Royalty wear!).... . He was the serious type, always into his work. H was soft spoken and gentlemanly, always patient with crazy 23-year old me.

We were dating on-and-off but, like a child, I tested his boundaries constantly. (making him take me to his rather religious parents' home, calling his colleagues using his phone, making him meet my friends- among them was another guy I mentioned above. I know. Sick juvenile stuff.)

He put up with all that until it all ended between us.

I wanted him to be the man for me from the very beginning when we started sleeping together. I manipulated him, trying to get what I wanted from him- a commitment, a deep love, a proper relationship. He put up with it because he wanted to just wanted to continue the er, current arrangement.

And it ended simply because I realized we were never going to be what I wanted us to be. I pushed him to admit that we were never going to be married and have kids together. I guess the aggressive behaviour didn't help either.

He just didn't see past the *ahem* with me.

I kept asking myself WHY afterwards: I had the big Cindy Crawford hair, the hot body, pan-asian face. I was 23 and looked great. I was someone that a guy like him would WANT! (Royals always marry the halfies, right?) BUT I wasn't the kind of person he'd WANT TO MARRY.

So, thanks to Google, I see that H married someone who's malay.
How much of his reluctance to be with me was because I was half chinese?

15 years later, Malaysian Chinese and Malays are more polarized than ever. My interpretation of Yasmin Ahmad's message is that we need to have LOVE to overcome those barriers.


Aline said...

that is super interesting.. i had no idea

Anonymous said...

.... hahaha :( my story is a little sad and happy..a chinese girl loves me and i love her...yea im 21 shes 18 we are both in the same each of friends an worst of the end..we know we our families will never approve...its like a forbidden love most of the time when it comes to malay and chinese realtionships...mainly due to the fact that majority of the chinese has close thier hearts to the malays and the malays has perceived the chinese of not being religious and such..and with parents alredy feeding this kind of nonsense to the new generations...well the new generation will just keep breeding hate and one of those who dont believe in this kind of things and so does she...damage has been done...we love each other but the relationship is not blessed :(

Anonymous said...

I say que sera sera.. I had a Chinese Muslim GF (okay well sort of and ok lah perasan sendiri) once and I always wondered why I didn't end up with her then.. Finally I understood.. She passed away peacefully at the age of 33(in 2011)
.. I would have been a widow and single parents, and I may would not have had my two lovely daughters now, or they would be orphans! Again, que sera sera.. :)

Anonymous said...

Nope. They don't work. It is not that the chinese have closed their hearts or any such silliness, it is simply because there is no compromise in this kind of relationship.

Take religion, can it be ignored in Malaysia? No it can't, not even legally possible.

It isn't even legally possible in Malaysia for both partners to keep their respective religion, or name. The chinese partner has to convert, no compromise. Losing both name, identity, extended family connections, wardrobe (if female) and part of your anatomy (if male).

And compromise is part any relationship. No compromise, means most such relationships just fizzle out.

It would be so much better if the government simply butt out of people's private lives.

sakimi shani said...

I dated a Chinese Girl (i'm a malay guy btw) myself a few months back.

It was an interesting story, because she was dating another guy when we first met as working colleagues. She kinda had a bad time with her boyfriend, mostly due to the lack of attention that he is giving to her and he being a bit immature (well he is younger then her tho) as well. At first we are close as friends, as i was giving her advice's on how to deal with her bf and such but eventually we started to fall for each other (silly i know).

The thing is I really do have fallen head over heels for her, and I know for a fact she does but she wasn't ready to leave the boyfriend. I know for her side as well its not going to be easy for her to convince her conservative parents to approve of our relationship and she is a family orientated woman.

So its only natural for her to choose her boyfriend over me, she just wasn't willing to let go and fight for her feelings when i was ready to for her. I did try to convince her, but she made her mind up and moved on (honestly she is one stubborn woman).

While I'm still here reeling from the pain of losing her. Honestly? I believed it might work, chinese and malay pairings because in the end of the day like how you put it. LOVE, that all you need.

aaaaand as well have a better sense of picking a single woman instead of dating the one that already had a boyfriend.

fa-na_ said...

me myself just experienced a beautiful days back then.but,im alone now anyway.he is a chinese n im a malay.we tried 2 get know each other cultures n religion..n he did love me unconditionally. but fate had just..urmm..happen.he left me bcs of our different religion.i don't mind taking this as experience. can thaw frozen heart,difference doesn't belong babe.

fa-na_ said...

me myself just experienced a beautiful days back then.but,im alone now anyway.he is a chinese n im a malay.we tried 2 get know each other cultures n religion..n he did love me unconditionally. but fate had just..urmm..happen.he left me bcs of our different religion.i don't mind taking this as experience. can thaw frozen heart,difference doesn't belong babe.