Sunday, August 12, 2012


By Mansor Puteh

Looking at an old black-and-white photo from my late father's album, I didn't realize it until now how unusual the three brothers were. 
My father Puteh bin Sulong had two younger brothers called Hussein and Hashim. There is nothing unusual about them, except that all three looked different from one another. 
My father was a fair baby, so his father called him Puteh. As he grew older, he began to look more like a Chinese. His nephews and nieces called him Pak Puteh, which is better than Pak Long (eldest uncle). 
Of the three brothers and a sister, only my father was sent to an English-medium school. He read English language newspapers and sometimes Utusan Zaman in the Jawi script. 
Although he never lived overseas, his interest in reading magazines that often featured travel stories and hanging calendars showing foreign lands probably instigated me to travel. 
His youngest brother Hashim was dark-skinned. He looked like an Indian. So all of us, his nephews and nieces, called him Pak Itam. His wife, although not dark, was Mak Itam. 
My uncle Hussein was the shortest. He did not look fair or dark, but had typical Melayu complexion. We called him Pakcik Hussein or Pakcik Kelang because he chose to live there instead of in Melaka where his two brothers lived. 
It was intriguing to see three brothers from the same parents looking so different. I doubt if anyone who saw them together could say for certain they were blood brothers. 
Pak Itam died when I was studying in New York City in the early 1980s. Pakcik Kelang died a few years ago in Kelang. 
My father was the last to go. He died at the age of 88 on Sept 15, 1998.  
He had 20 children, 10 each from his two wives. He married my mother who was his niece after his first wife died during childbirth. 
My mother's first husband had died a few years earlier, leaving her with a son who did not look like any of us – We all have single eyelids. 
I remember each time we were to take photos for the school magazine, I would rub my eyelids so they opened a bit more to look rounder. And when we were small, my mother made us use celak or eyeliner to widen our eyes. 
As for me, I have often been mistaken for a Japanese when in America or traveling to the 33 countries that I have visited so far. Even in Japan, where I have been three times, the locals thought I was one of them. 
During the film festival in Yamagata in October 1989, a film crew came up to me and asked a long question in Japanese. When I said “I'm not Japanese”, they thought it was funny. Maybe they used the footage in their documentary. 
The reason for this confusing identity could be traced to the fact that my maternal grandfather's mother was Chinese, a fact I discovered much later. 
No wonder the Chinese influences in my life were more pronounced. We often used chopsticks to eat at home. We used to “celebrate” all the major Chinese festivals by even carrying the tanglung (lantern) when it was not something fanciful for Melayu kids then to do, and ate Chinese food my mother cooked even before it became the trend among the Malays. 
When I was in Form Six at ITM in Shah Alam, the first question many strangers often asked me was whether I was Chinese. I had to say “I am Melayu” all the time, as if I owed everybody an explanation or that it made any difference. 
Later on I would say kadang-kadang (sometimes). That left many to wonder what I really meant. 

* * * * * * *

But the truth is there are about thirty percent of the Melayu in Malaysia today who have Chinese ancestry; many of them do not care about it.
The more I talk about it and most of the time, when I discuss the matter and wondered a bit about it I found out how many of my Melayu friends who said his or her mother is Chinese, or his or her grandfather is Chinese.
No wonder, they have Chinese features. But this is not really surprising as more and more Melayu now look more Oriental, meaning Chinese than they were before, having been forced to leave the villages to live and work in the cities where they slowly lighten their skin and changed their features.
The Melayu men are often mistaken for Chinese, but not the Melayu women who often wear ‘baju kurung’ or the ‘tudung’, so one did not need to guess if they were Melayu or Chinese.
I have also been mistaken for Chinese and sometimes even Japanese or South Korean, even by the Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans themselves, not only in Malaysia but also in their own countries.
So what’s all this got to do with the confusion the Chinese in Malaysia experience these days?
Simple. They think that they do not represent the views of the Chinese and being Chinese is not exclusively theirs. This makes those who are Chauvinists feel agitated that they are not representing the voice of the Chinese as many of them had left the World of the Chinese, who do not wish to become so, but they can still claim to have Chinese ancestry.
This leaves the Other Chinese to feel sidelined with the Chauvinists amongst them feeling even worse. Who are they representing?
They must also realize that in the past, if a Chinese couple had too many babies, they would give the spare ones or the baby girls, whom they did not wish to rear, to Melayu couples.
So no wonder many of my relatives are such.
The Chinese couples trusted the Melayu couples with their spare babies more than the other Chinese couples, whom they thought would not wish to adopt other Chinese baby girls.
There I urge the Melayu community and political leaders to pity the Chinese chauvinists when they make demands of all sorts.
The reason being they are forced to do so not because they like it, but because they do not know what else that they could do, especially with the younger generation of Chinese who have also become more assimilated and who are using Bahasa Melayu more than they do, and who mix with the Melayu more than they do.
Lastly, the future of Chinese and also Indian (Hindu) chauvinism in Malaysia is bleak!
Worse, their vernacular schools will be the cause of their economic, social, cultural and political downfall and further isolation. This can be seen on how the Chinese community leaders and chauvinists live amongst themselves who do not mix with anyone from the other race; they who also speak in Mandarin and not much in English and lesser still in Melayu.
Yet, there are some amongst them who actually have doctorates (in nothing that they are known), which are got mostly from the so-called internet universities based in America, with them not attending even a day on campus, since there is no such a thing.
They also do not allow their children to mix with those from the other races. Yet, they are not confident of sending their children to universities in China or Taiwan where the medium of instruction is Mandarin. They still insist on sending them to the national universities where the instruction is Melayu.

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