[By Ethel Khoo]
I am born and bred in a multiracial country, belonging to one of the three major ethnic groups: Chinese. The two others, Malays and Indians, along with other various indigenous groups, altogether make up the people of my homeland, Malaysia. With so many different cultures and religions in my country, the question is bound to arise: how did we manage to stay together in peace, with all the differences in our culture?
The secret is to adapt, respect and understand. Different ethnic groups have their own celebrations, food, customs and so on. Some, like the Malays, do not eat pork like the Chinese. But we do not fight over this issue. Instead, there are restaurants to cater to the different needs of the different ethnicities and cultures. The Chinese won’t eat pork in front of the Malays so that they do not offend the other. This is where respect and understanding come in.
We also celebrate each other’s traditional festivals. My neighbor is an Indian family. During Chinese New Year, my family is sure to send some Chinese cookies and mandarin oranges to them. They, in turn, give us some Indian sweets during Deepavali. We share with each other the blessings for a good and healthy year ahead.
One of the most amazing things about my country, to me, is that two people from different ethnic groups and backgrounds can put aside their differences and join together in love and matrimony. I had the honor of witnessing such a nuptial between my Chinese friend and her Sikh husband last year. It was a beautiful wedding, and seeing the different races sitting together and conversing with each other as family at the same table was heartwarming.
The ceremony was held in a Sikh temple. We were told to wear long pants to cover up our legs, but what we were not told was that we had to bring a scarf or shawl to cover our heads. When we reached the temple, we were not allowed to enter because of our exposed heads. Thankfully, the mother of the groom had prepared for such an emergency. She had brought along some shawls for us – just another example of the respect and understanding that allows all these different people to co-exist peacefully.
We blamed ourselves for not doing enough research before going to the event, but no arguments arose on this matter. Instead, it was resolved in a kind and understanding manner. The groom’s family did not hold a grudge against us for being ignorant. Rather, they were quite amused at our flustered and embarrassed looks, and were very hospitable. We did apologize for our faux-pas, but it was waved aside with a laugh and amicable words.
This is my country. Our country. We are able to live together in harmony in spite of our differences simply because we chose to adapt, respect and understand each other’s cultural beliefs and practices. This is how all these different people from different upbringings, beliefs, attitudes and values are able to sit together at a table and partake of each other’s traditional food, share in each other’s joys and sorrows. We may have our differences, but we choose not to dwell on them. Rather, we find the commonalities amidst the differences and live together in peace and harmony. We combine everything and throw it into a big pot. Then we stir it all together and serve up the best of all worlds.
This is Malaysia. It may be a little messy and sometimes have its share of problems. But it is beautiful and colorful in its expression of culture, religion and race. This isn’t just a country to me. It is my unique home. And I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else!
In the spirit of 1Malaysia, Happy Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day to all our readers from all of us here at ETC. Magazine.