This year marks the 20th year I’ve lived in this country. Living in a multiracial country, I have learned so much while growing up. Through all of my journeys in life, I was accompanied by a circle of friends in different races and ethnicities. They are one of the reasons why I am who I am today.
First phase, I started kindergarten when I was 2 years old. You might wonder, how is it that I was able to join at such a young age? The reason was simple. At home, there wasn’t anyone to look after me as my parents had to work. Therefore, my mother decided to sign me up for kindergarten right across the street of her workplace for convenience. Blurry enough, my memories during those days are close to forgotten. The reason why I’m mentioning this is because throughout my 4 years of being there, I grew up with Indian teachers. Although I can barely remember their names today, I sure do remember all that they have done for me.
There were two favourite teachers of mine; one slightly older and another slightly younger. Why were they my favourite teachers you might ask? Although we were a part of different races and cultures, they loved me throughout those 4 years wholeheartedly. They always brought me snacks, invited me to watch Bollywood movies on the television and had me dancing to Indian songs on my graduation. They even taught me how to catch ladybirds and cuddled me to my evening naps! All in all, they treated me like their own daughter. However, the most important thing that I learned from them which I still live by today is to not judge people by the color of their skin, and to treat everyone with kindness equally, regardless of their ethnical background. We may look different on the outside, but we all bleed the same. If they somehow manage to read this article, all I want to say is thank you for making my childhood an extra source of wonder and I love you, no matter where you are.
Phase 2: High school. To be honest, I had a tough time during the first two years of high school. I couldn’t find myself belonging in one specific circle. I felt lost. I had a personality that could blend in anywhere, but sometimes the groups I was in, didn’t feel like the right one. High school was the place where everyone had their own cliques to hang around with and for some reason, I just didn’t fit in. However, when I realised that I was really fluent in speaking Bahasa Melayu in primary school, I made sure to put my skills to good use in high school. This helped me get some new friends, who I later considered to be my best friends during my time in high school; two Malay girls, to be exact. Let’s just call them ‘Girl A’ and ‘Girl B’, to remain some form of confidentiality and privacy.
One day, when I was in high school, Girl A decided to “hit me up” on Twitter and we somehow clicked almost instantly. The next day, she invited me to hang out with some of her friends which included Girl B. Girl A had a very soft and tender personality, while Girl B had a rough and tough personality. Some would say that they were total opposites, but the three of us were incredibly close. Since then, our friendship has lasted for almost 7 years and I am grateful for that. You may be asking why I’m talking about them. Well, they were the first bunch who introduced me to Malay food, which really does taste as good as it smells. They celebrated their festive seasons with me, which eventually made me grow a liking towards the ‘Baju Kurung’. They also taught me that different states had different slangs and dialects when speaking Malay, which is similar to how the Chinese language had different dialects. Thanks to our long friendship, I can proudly say that now I am able to speak in the North Malay slang (Bahasa Melayu Utara) fluently. This in a way, somehow helped me grow as a person. Our 7 years of friendship cannot be summarized and described wholly in a mere paragraph. Obviously, we also had arguments and conflicts but overall, we managed to overcome all those obstacles and build a stronger bond between each other.
If the two of them are reading this, I would just like to say: Ingat yang aku sayang korang sangat-sangat, dan mekaseh sebab telah menemani aku selama bertahun-tahun. ‘Till forever and always.
For my last phase, I will talk about how I grew more during my experience working with foreign races such as Indonesians, Filipinos, Bangladeshis and more. When I was 18 years old, I spent a whole year in the beautiful island of Penang. You might be wondering, what’s so fun about this experience that it made you grow as a person? Well, I worked at a bar where almost everyone was a foreigner. Most of them witnessed me growing up at the bar belonging to my aunt. At first, I was never really close to any of them, until I started working there. As time progressed, the Filipino staff introduced me to an amazing cake from their culture called “Brazo de Mercedes”. I strongly recommend to those reading this to try it. Eating it has filled me with happiness, not to mention it is amazingly delicious as well. Asides from that, I also learnt their main language, Tagalog. Although I mostly learnt swear words, which was funny, it was still a very memorable time for me.
Other than that, the Bangladeshi staff that I met always treated me as their daughter during my time in Penang, and they were always making sure I was okay emotionally, as I was far away from my family at that time. Being around them definitely improved my perception towards foreigner workers and they helped me learn more about their culture and customs as well. They were such amazing dads, and I loved being around them.
Lastly, there were also Indonesian staff that I had met during my time on the island. During my time in Penang, they were my main maternal figures. Although they looked tough on the outside, they cared for me deeply and always treated me as their own. They were my advisors who I would go to, to talk about all my issues, and they constantly made sure that I was well fed. They would also tease me from time to time, but that’s one of the reasons why I love them. It just shows me how big and warm their heart gets when I’m around them.
By reading this article, you might not fully understand how much love and I feel for all these people. But to summarize all my feelings in one sentence, they are the most compassionate group of people with amazing souls, that despite the many difficulties, managed to blend in with our local culture, remained compassionate and kind, with their hardworking spirits, making them even more special and precious.
As you can see, there are so many people from many different races and ethnicities that played a big role in my life. However, some of you might still wonder why I haven’t talked my own race? As a Chinese person myself, I grew up in a traditional household. Although my experience with other races affected who I am today, that does not mean I drifted away from my roots. I am still a Chinese person, and that didn’t change. The only thing that did change is my perception towards all of the other cultures out there. I learned more, rather than staying inside my own ‘bubble’. My point is, we are all different people living in a multiracial country. Millennials and Gen Z’s grew up differently, in comparison with the past, and have evolved to practice unity and peace. Everyone is different, but everyone is special. With all of that, that is what makes Malaysia what it is today.
Happy Malaysia Day!
By: Victoria Ashley