Sunday, November 23, 2008

Of culture and identity (my top 10 peeve of being a Malay/Muslim Singaporean)

Most friends who knows me, or those who have worked with or under me, knows that I am not a racist, and neither do I subscribe to generalizations, or I do always try to avoid them, in as far as I can, because I do believe that ascribing a certain character trait or identity with one's race, nationality or religion is a rather skewed way of looking at things. But then again, having the label of a Singaporean Malay in my identity card does have its 'privileges', of the sort that sometimes is unwarranted, and perhaps at times, uncalled for! And just to get them off my chest, here are some of my pet peeve:

1) That all Malays watch soccer!
Non-malay friend: Eh, irfan, you watch soccer right, did you watch the match last night?
ME: No I don't watch soccer, not that I hate it, but I just don't watch it.
Non-malay friend: You MEAN you don't watch soccer, I thought malay guys always watch soccer!
... and that sure will put a damper in our conversation, not that I care. ;)

2) That all Malay guys can play soccer!
Non-malay friend: Eh irfan, you want to join us for soccer this Thursday evening?
ME: No, I don't play soccer. I can't kick the ball for crying out loud. But I can run.
Non-malay friend: So if you don't play soccer, then what do you take for CCA in school
ME: Errrr, something that involves running, like athletics (well, I was the fastest runner in my primary school, and the 3rd fastest in high school!), and I played rugby too!

3) That all Malays can't do Math
Hmmm, I got the end of this generalization stick when I was applying for the post of a tutor at the West Coast Recreation Centre way back in 1993. Back then, there was a tuition agency that runs tuition programmes for students and they were in urgent need of tutors. As usual, I went there with my credentials, including those that clearly stated my distinctions in mathematics at both the O and A levels. Sadly when the interviewer, whom I suspect is the owner of the agency, saw my result slips, the first thing that came out from his mouth was, "Wow, I didn't know Malays can get distinction for maths". Well, I didn't know how to react, but I think I was surprisingly calm for someone who can get rather hot-headed when dealing with idiotic nincompoos like him. I don't know how I did it, but I managed to get the interview completed, and tell myself that that will be the last time that I will set foot into that tuition agency again

4) That Malays are lazy
Errr, I didn't know that any character is inherent in any race, nationality or religion, and until that study is published with impeccable empirical data, then I guess that argument holds no water at all.

5) That Malays are artistically inclined
Funnily, I am living proof to counter that, though I don't think that this will have any bearing at all, whether its true or not

6) That all Malays who teach are teaching Malay
I was also at the receiving end of this when I was first introduced to some of my new friends, whether be it fellow colleagues in the teaching service, which is sad don't you think, and those who are working in the private sector. The first thing that come to their mind, after telling them that I teach for a living, was...'You teaching Malay is it?'. I think one of this days, if I can and I think I will, I will counter by saying, ....'So does that mean that Indian teachers teaches Tamil and Chinese teachers teach Chinese too?' I would love to see their reaction to this! ;)

7) That Malays like to live on lower floors of HDB flats
Now let me clear this up. I don't think this is the case! What happens usually when the Housing and Development Board (HDB) sets up a few new blocks of housing units is to invite members from the majority population to book or reserve their choice of flats or units first, before opening the rest to the others. This is part of the HDB plans to ensure that each housing block, and to a larger picture, the constituency, is appropriately apportioned with the correct racial proportions. Well, I guess you can understand that those in the front of the queue will definitey select the higher units first, where possible, and where it doesn't contravene some of their superstitious beliefs, like choosing the 4th floor with the door number 444, or something to that effect.

8) That Hari Raya Puasa is the Malay New Year
No, Hari Raya Puasa, or Aidilfitri is NOT our new year, in fact it falls on the tenth month of the Muslim calendar! So please stop wishing happy new year to us...just wish us Hari Raya Puasa will be sufficient

9) That green is our colour
No, I don't think green in itself is a Muslim or Malay colour per se, it has just been adopted as one so as to be part of this societal need for each group to be identified with something, a form of branding or identity perhaps

10) That a Malay can't be more than just a Minister of Environment (or of a similar capacity)
Errr, well I think time will tell, and the way I see it, I am pretty optimistic that one day, we will have someone that can hold at least one of the more important portfolios. Who knows, it might be sooner than I think! :)

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