Our sense of belonging is strong, despite living miles away from our homeland.
BACK home in Malaysia, “Chinese” is one of the options in the race column, while in China, it refers to a nationality.
It took me awhile to get used to not nodding when I was asked if I am a Chinese.
“I’m a Malaysian,” I would answer, and get a bewildered look from the inquirers.
“Oh, so you are a Malay? But you look exactly like us. And your command of Mandarin is so good,” was their usual reply.
I would then launch into a lengthy explanation of how I am ethnically Chinese but a Malaysian national, and “Malay” refers to the largest ethnic group in Malaysia and not the people of Malaysia.
I would add that I can read and write Mandarin because I attended Chinese vernacular school, but I could tell they were confused.
“Were you born in China? How old were you when you left for Malaysia?”
“No, I was born in Malaysia. I’m a third-generation Malaysian Chinese.”
And then came the inevitable question: “Where do you feel you belong?”
I grew up singing Negaraku every Monday during school assemblies.
I learned how to draw our national flag when I was in Year One. Next to the crescent, I traced the outline of a 50 sen coin and then carefully drew 14 spikes around the circle.
And until today, I can still hum the tune of Sejahtera Malaysia, a patriotic song that was aired years ago on RTM.
When we say we are Malaysians, we say it with a tinge of pride.
In addition to Malay, English and Mandarin, most Malaysian Chinese here can also understand one or more Chinese dialects.
It is a fact that draws the admiration of many locals.
I asked a few Malaysians in Beijing what makes them Malaysian.
Lee Yee Thian, who has been abroad in the United Kingdom and then China since 2000, said our multicultural background was instrumental in helping him to adapt to living in a foreign country.
The sense of belonging is strong, despite living miles away from our homeland.
“I always get excited when I meet fellow Malaysians, whether at work or during social functions,” the 37-year-old chartered surveyor said.
“We speak freely with our Malaysian accent and pepper our sentences with slang that only Malaysians understand.”
Wesley Tan of Wav Music Production said it was the vast opportunities in the entertainment industry in China that drew him to the Chinese capital 10 years ago.
“The market is huge with endless possibilities to grow and expand,” he said.
“We have to admit that we could not do as much in Malaysia, but it does not make me any less patriotic. I grew up in Malaysia and it will always be my home.”
The advantage of Malaysians, Tan said, is our ability to create products that appeal to an international target audience, with our tolerance and diverse background.
With Beijing being a fast-paced metropolis, the quality of life has plenty of room for improvement.
Air pollution and food safety aside, trust between people is thinning. Tan said he misses the courteous and caring ways of Malaysians.
“My parents-in-law, who are Chinese nationals, were so surprised that Malaysian drivers would actually pause to give way to opposite traffic during their visit to Kuala Lumpur,” he said.
The little gestures, such as placing one’s left hand on one’s right forearm when receiving or offering something, speak volumes about Malaysians’ pleasant disposition.
I couldn’t agree more.
Two weeks ago, I made a brief return to Malaysia. When waiting for my family to pick me up at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, a Malay girl next to me kindly shared a packet of buah jeruk (pickled fruits) with me. In return, I offered her my chocolates.
We did not exchange names during our brief encounter; only smiles and snacks, but in that moment, I knew I was home.
Check-in China by Tho Xin Yi The Star/Asia News Network
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