The race issue – from my point of view

Let’s be frank. To most people who look at me, I’m a Chinese. Doesn’t matter where I am, I look Chinese, therefore I am Chinese.

When I first got here to New Zealand, some Chinese friends (they weren’t friends yet at that time) spoke their first words to me in Mandarin. Only after I looked lost for a couple of moments, did they revert to speaking in English, asking me if I spoke Mandarin.

It was a natural assumption, looking at my features and skin colour, that I was a Chinese. And being Chinese, it was also naturally assumed that I would speak and understand Mandarin.

Which I do. Just not the kind that is spoken in Mainland China (it has a completely different sound compared to what I’m used to in Malaysia).


I don’t reject the fact that I’m 华人 (ethnic Chinese). But I make it clear that I’m NOT 中国人 (Chinese from mainland China). And I couldn’t emphasise this enough when talking to some of my Chinese friends sometimes.

In fact, the main trigger behind my writing this post today is because one of my Chinese friends asked me about the military in Malaysia. He asked if the Chinese in Malaysia were allowed to join the military. I said, of course. Then he asked if any Chinese held high positions. I said, I’m pretty sure there are. Then he asked, but do they have power?

I had a slight feeling that I knew where this was going, so I just told him what I thought he wanted to hear. I told him, if you’re asking whether the top positions are held by Chinese, I think they’re not. The top positions are held by Malays.

I swear I could see a smirk on his face.

Then he said (probably in jest, but I couldn’t see the joke at that moment), I think the Chinese in Malaysia should all just gang up and overthrow the Malays. Make sure the Chinese hold positions of power.

Something probably snapped in my brain, because I told him off. I said (and I remember this because I don’t think I’ve ever been so pissed at this friend of mine): And why would we want to do that? What good would that do to ANYONE? What’s the point of separating ourselves into Malays and Chinese and whatnot? How long more are we going to have to do this if we keep on saying that Chinese have to stick with Chinese because otherwise Chinese will have no power and be subservient to the Malays?

He actually had the audacity to say to me, well, you’re a Chinese.

I simply told him: Look, I know I’m 华人 (ethnic Chinese), but so what? I’m more Malaysian than I am Chinese. I’m a Malaysian first, and things that will not be good for Malaysia, I will not do.

I think he saw that I was pissed, because he grinned and said he was just joking, and asked me to chill and take it easy. I told him that there are certain things that you don’t joke with me about.

So there. Got it off my chest.


Another thing.

When people ask me if I’m proud of the Chinese achievement in building the Great Wall of China, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. Because I am. I think it’s bloody amazing how these people in ancient (or probably not so ancient) times managed to build, without the help of modern machines, a wall so long, that has stood the test of time.

I’m proud because I think it’s amazing. The same way I think the Egyptian pyramids of Giza are amazing. And I’m clearly not Egyptian. So I don’t think my being proud of a Chinese achievement is because I’m Chinese.

Same goes for anything else. I respect Confucius and his teachings, the same way I respect Plato and Socrates and their philosophies. I think traditional Chinese music and instruments are cool, the same way I think Dikir Barat rocks. I think the development of the Chinese characters from ancient times to what it is today is mind boggling, the same way I think the way Latin has crept its way into so many other different languages is astounding.

These are all great achievements. And I definitely do not appreciate it when people find a “link” back to my ethnicity every time I think China has achieved something good.



Note: That I’m writing this today (May 13), of all days, is not purely coincidental. I’d love to say that race doesn’t matter, but at the end of the day, one need only look around and be aware, in order to find out that race is still an issue.

Whether we like it or not, there will be people who tend to stereotype others according to whatever suits them best. That’s why I think it’s important for us to know and be sure of ourselves, that we do not do what it is that we don’t like others to do. If we don’t like being lumped into a singular category as if we were all mata sepet Chinks who only care about money, then neither should we lump other people into singular categories as if they were all lazy good-for-nothing people.

Race, I feel, is not something that will easily go away. Not just in Malaysia, but everywhere else around the globe, race will continue to be an issue.

It boils down to how we deal with it that makes it simply an issue, or a problem.

40 years ago, we didn’t deal with it quite well, and it became a huge problem. A multi-layered problem, with multi-layered consequences.

How are we dealing with it now?



Postscript #1: This post is probably more of a rant than anything else. So just take it as such, since there are probably not that many (if any at all) intellectual points or insightful thoughts to be found here.

Postscript #2: I am keeping away from the Perak issue at the moment. I think it has ballooned into something that could burst in our faces any time soon.

17 Comments on “The race issue – from my point of view”

  1. Fungus says:

    That’s because the powers that be (but hopefully not for long) used the divide & rule policy pretty effectively. Left alone and with some nurturing, I am sure racial unity is not an issue as it is now!

  2. anakpakross says:

    You said: ’40 years ago, we didn’t deal with it quite well, and it became a huge problem. A multi-layered problem, with multi-layered consequences.’.

    I wonder if you were there 40 years ago, how would you have done it given all the constraints. These days people are just so easy at throwing blame at powers that be as if they have an instant cure to the issue. A solution proposed 40 years ago may be the right one. It’s just that over time, things cannot be left idle without finer tuning. Having said that though, after PRU 12, things just got worst abruptly. Now, is that the cause of the power that be or something else that instigate matters for worse, albeit rather irresponsibly.

    • Michelle says:

      To be quite honest, I don’t know what I would have done. What I actually meant when I said “problem” though, was not what happened after May 13, but what actually CAUSED May 13. I think, the govt at that time probably did what they could to their best abilities. Or at least, that’s what I would like to believe.

      And you’re right. The NEP, which was put in after the May 13 incident, was a solution proposed at that time, for those circumstances. Without fine tuning it to suit these times today, it might in fact be creating problems in itself. Not to say that it didn’t help back then, just maybe certain things need to be reviewed.

  3. walski69 says:

    The one question I like to ask anyone who feels that race is important to them is: Why?

    To date, I’ve never gotten a satisfactory enough answer that would lead me to a cure for my colorblindness.

  4. anakpakross says:

    nyamok: hah! kita sudah berjaya
    kelambu: jangan, jangan bakar saya. saya tak bersalah
    manusia: padan muka kau kelambu
    nyamok: bodohnya manusia!


  5. Saint says:

    As a Chinese, am I proud of China’s achievement in the Olympic Games? Sure I am.

    At the same time, I’m willing to accept ANYONE as a friend – Malay, Indian, white, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Christian – so long as there is mutual respect.

  6. 007zain says:

    Hello Michelle,

    SYABAS!! If only the majority of Malaysian Chinese are as sincere as what you have written in this article, Malaysia could very well move forward productively!

    I believe the oppositions in Malaysia are very selfish & totally NOT mature. I wish we’d have UNSELFISH & Mature (ie. Responsible) oppositions for Our Nation to progress smoothly AND Peacefully.

    After more than half a Century, the oppositions (DAP particularly) are still DEMANDING chinese-this chinese-that as though they’re all tied down & discriminated (including those hindraf “bullshitters”) like in the US back in the ’60s or in some apartheid-like situation.

    I totally blame the DAP for segregating Malaysians into “races”.

    – from when their “older brother” PAP stirred up RACIAL tensions in the newly formed Malaysia in just less than a year in 1964, right up till Now;
    their KEY to Getting Votes 24/7 is ONLY via racial connotations/demands – desperately wanting the “sympathy votes” from the Chinese ethnic group of Malaysians!…

    BN on the other hand, tho’ its component parties are race-based (as it was how the JV in Perikatan got started long ago before Merdeka); as a unit, BN IS MULTIRACIAL – Fact!

    And, DAP should just stop being so bloody racist, so Uncivilized and so IMMATURE for not showing any respect for our country, for their fellow citizens, for our constitution, for our Rukun Negara.

    The BASIC human trait of #5. Kesopanan & Kesusilaan is not seen in them; BUT Kebiadaban & Keangkuhan is very obvious.

    Malaysia needs SINCERE & RESPONSIBLE citizens like you to be in the Oppositions — only then, can we have a true level “playing field” to Sincerely WORK (not fight!) for the betterment of Our Little Country.

    Yeah, just like those Chinese immigrants who willingly migrated to Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, wherever; who SINCERELY & ALWAYS said that they are CITIZENS of those country, & NEVER EVER identified themselves as chinese Indon/chinese Thai/etc. (Unless… they were asked by SOME racist DAP-like chinese Malaysians!! HAHA funny but a BIG SIGH!..)

    To them: Be Sincere, & as a start, show that you uphold Our Nation’s BERSEKUTU BERTAMBAH MUTU motto – SIMPLE!

    Cheers to you & all SINCERE Citizens of Malaysia.

  7. Paul Warren says:

    Hi Michelle,

    Welcome back. Got here accidentally actually. Nice take about Chinese.

    The mother of my kids, a Malaysian Chinese like yourself, but all the way Chinese educated unlike you, refuses to identify herself as Chinese in New Zealand lest she be slotted into that “category”. When she was holding this position where she was dealing with migrants and needed to establish ethnicity, she even insisted on having a separate “South East Asian” although she would have preferred “Malaysian” or “Malaysian/Singaporean”! I know i refuse to be identified as Indian when I am in NZ. ALways volunteer myself as Malaysian!!

    The great advantage being a Malaysian or Singaporean Chinese in NZ, especially if you are Chinese educated is you can communicate with mainland Chinese as well as Chinese from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Switching from one dialect to another. And in written Chinese my wife also knows the newer Pin Yin as well as the traditional Chinese script that the Taiwanese use. Best of all is when encountering Indonesian Chinese and they, trying to ensure you don’t follow them in Chinese, switch to Indonesian!! My wife was in Real Estate one time, and her anecdotes with these various people used to be quite amusing. And funnily knowing it is a mainland Chinese she is communicating with, she will insist on speaking to them in English to begin with!

    One thought on May 13 though.

    We advertise Malaysia Truly Asia. The assumption here being a land that is populated by various Asian racial groups of multi-religious believes living in harmony.

    And yet every time I hear the call for Malay unity whether made by UMNO or PAS or the several Malay NGOs, or every time I hear MCA do the same for the Chinese or MIC, and now HINDRAF, calling for unity, I feel so depressed. Unity for what? You unite for a cause. You unite to attain an objective. You unite to achieve a collective ambition. Now shouldn’t that be a Malaysian objective that is common to all? If not, then does one make the call to his own kind because he views the other with hostility or because he views that the other, like a thief in the night is going to steal away what you beliieve to be rightfully yours?

    This call for racial or religious unity obviously does not stand alone. It is made within the context of the existence of hostility and a perceived threat. And this call is repeatedly made from the monarchy right down to the local kampong hero. From the MCA strongman to the Chinese hawker. From Samy Velu to the Hindraf supporting displaced Indian.

    I think the call to unity should be banned actually!!!

  8. jonathan says:

    Interesting sentiments on yr blog. Wherever i backpack and get asked who i am, i just reply ‘Malaysian’. It’s sad i get reminded i am chinese when i return home. sometimes we need change to break the mould of race perpetuated by political parties, politicians and me included. 80308 was one such incident to jolt the nation to look at other ways to build the nation and disregard race as an excuse to carry on justifying this or that for this race or that. the day when i don’t need to fill in race in forms etc is the day we can truly be proud to be called Malaysians. It’s good the opposition provided an alternative to want to breakaway from the mould. It’s good the ruling government wants to do that too. If both succeeds, whoever I vote for I am confident everyone deserves a rightful place and gets a fair share of justice and respect.

  9. Iskandar says:

    I call myself a Malay,but my blood line consist of Indian,Chinese,Siamise,Turk,Bugis.. so instead of calling myself a Malay i prefer to call myself a MALAYSIAN..

    Everybody is proud of what they are (i mean their heritage/bloodline) that is ok,but to be in HARMONY in this country,we must be able to tolarate to each other.

    Be proud of your race.. be a good MALAY, a good INDIAN, a good Chinese BUT most of ALL BE A GOOD MALAYSIAN.

  10. Derek says:

    How to feel like a “true united Malaysian” when I am been discriminated (in education and career opportunities), on the basis of my race and colour of my skin, in this so-called land of ours?

    Special rights for bumis…eh, whatever.

    • 007zain says:


      As a non-Chinese Malaysian, I especially see the discrimination in education AND career being carried out by the Chinese themselves onto other races.

      There’s no non-Chinese country in the world where MANY companies in that country ONLY Want To Hire chinese speaking people.

      #2. In MNCs (multi-national companies) it is AGAIN Proven time & again, that chinese will only promote another chinese (either in ranks+Salaries or in the types of a “prominent” projects/areas) even tho’ that chinese is NOT as smart as other people (be it Malay or Indian).

      #3. Another HUGE discrimation BY THE Chinese here in Malaysia is that they CONTROL the supplies in almost all things… from groceries/foods, veges, ayam, lembu, telor, -to- building materials bricks, cement, roof, tiles, toilets -to- stationeries -to- etc., etc..
      It seems that the farmers/fishermen/sellers cannot do anything about this MONOPOLY as the govt. reps are either scared of their ‘tontos’ or they’re on the take. WALLAHU’ALAM.
      Point is = the chinese are MONOPOLIZING in the DAY-TO-DAY supplies/makans/needs/ETC. here in Malaysia, & NO ONE, of course Not Even the Malays, dare/can even question this.

      => 24/7 TUTUP Sebelah Mata &, THAT is OK for you guys…?

      #4. If you’re talking about “Scholarships” — ain’t it supposed to be for Clever & NOT Rich students?? Not just for Only Clever — as I believe Malaysia has MANY clever students.

      Year-in year-out it is PROVEN that there are MANY Malaysians (including Malays in the kampungs/villages) who managed to score all As. Not just the chinese & in towns can score all As.

      I sincerely hope ALL Malaysians could Please do away with comparing Malay/Chinese like what DAP is so KIASU/gung-ho & emotionally RACIST about!

      I’m sad & tired of all those SHALLOW “kiasu” spinners 24/7 Twisting FACTS here in little Malaysia. I hope you could just STOP saying bumi this-Bumi-that like you don’t know history at all.

      If one is True & SINCERE, please Think Good of other people who’s been very humble & gracious since your beginning here before Merdeka.

      PLEASE be Rational in your “support” for some Clear-CUT RACIST Extremist trying to “hide” under some so-called racial “Issues” in Order to get Sympathy votes from ITS segregated “people”.

      Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu.

  11. ewoon says:

    From one Malaysian to another: Good on you.

    Welcome back (i almost took you off my blogroll … luckily i double-checked.) :-p

  12. nightabove says:

    Very good post! I myself am half indian-half swedish and had until only a few years ago a very hard time accepting both sides of my heritage. I kept feeling like I had prove that I was european since all most people saw was the colour of my skin. No matter the fact that I had a Swedish passport, a swedish way of thinking and whatever else, all people saw was my appearance.

    One person even had the audacity to tell me that I had no right to call myself Swedish because of the way I looked. The irony of the situation? Most of the people giving me such a hard time for my appearance were they themselves foreigners, complaining about how they’re treated as outiders by Swedish folk.
    For this reason I am in complete agreement with you. If one doesn’t want to be categorised, one shouldn’t categorise others either.

    I love being of mixed heritage, but it’s tough when half of it isn’t accepted.

    Oh, and I love your line on the top fo the blogg! “I am only one…” Did you get it from somewhere?

    Keep up the wonderfully insightful posts!


  13. Melayu Boleh says:

    race isu always complecated..
    you need a very high level of understanding being human being.
    I will wait and see how Najib going to make OneMalaysia..
    lets just have our finger cross.

  14. Gadfly says:

    The question “Are you a Chinese?” expects you to answer in a binary way: Yes or No. I prefer to think in terms of’Chinesiness’.

  15. Phoenixchoco says:

    Just look at Thailand or Indonesia, nowadays we can see a lot of their actors and actresses who are of mixed parentage. It is so obvious as they don’t look like typical Indonesians or typical Thais. But these people are so proud being Thais or Indonesian. We can tell from the way they speak their national language. This of course, doesn’t mean that they are not able to speak English fluently. But when they are in their country they speak like to locals do and fully embrace the national language.

    We on the other hand tend to get confused.

    We should proudly identify ourselves as Malaysian and just Malaysian. Doesn’t matter how we look like.

    I have always had this dream, one day in Malaysia, when we speak in the national language, we speak good Bahasa Malaysia and when we speak in English to foreigners we speak GOOD English as well.

    My 2cents.


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