March 22, 2006

I like Rojak

Posted in Malaysia, Reflections at 6:23 pm by egalitaria

I had a whale of a time visiting my uncle in Vancouver last October. A great break between graduation and coming back to the grindstone of work.

What I remember most about the place: Racial diversity.

Filling the streets are groups of friends of all races hanging out together. Couples black and white, hand in hand, swinging their little coffee-coloured-skin children with beautiful curls. It’s a sight to behold, a rainbow of sorts within a bustling city.

Malaysia has always prided itself on being a cultural melting pot, with the many different races co-existing ‘in harmony’. An American visitor recently pointed out to me: “I’m amazed by how you guys live and interact with each other!”

I wonder if she’s right, though. The term tolerance in itself reflects the need to tolerate the other’s culture and overall being.

Merdeka Centre recently conducted a survey on racial views of Malaysians. I wish they’d backed it up with reasonable methodology (the reporting is vague), but it says that:

the majority of 1,113 people polled agreed most ethnic Malays are lazy, Chinese are greedy and Indians are untrustworthy.

Our mindsets are stuck. Immediately we think of the boundaries that set us far, far apart from the other. Immediately we focus on defining cultural traits.

The differences should make, not break society. Enhance, not agitate.

The different flavours that various ingredients contribute to a Malaysian local dish, Rojak, give it a delectable taste. With a mixture of vegetables and sauces, Rojak is sometimes used to describe a person of mixed descent… and sometimes, condescendingly.

Guess what? I like Rojak.

2 Comments

  1. claire said,

    i like Rojak too. which is kinda why i really wanna get out of the UK. coz here, it’s like one main dish with a few, token servings of something different so that they can point and say, ‘look, we have so many types’. I haven’t been to Canada, so i don’t know what it’s really like but theoretically, it operates as a ‘cultural mirage’, where immigrants [the newer ones] are welcome to stay but are encouraged to keep to their original culture. Whereas the US operates as a ‘melting pot’, where the integration of races is key, so that bits of different cultures get mainstreamed. There’s good and bad to both sides but there’s definitely more ‘official’ segregation in Canada than in the US. I guess growing up in S’pore, with a chapalang culture, i’m definitely more for the ‘melting pot’ ideal.

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