Sunday 29 November 2009

Preserving... what?

When I scrutinised the migration issue a while ago, a particular reason to why we should all remain in Malaysia was highlighted. Of all reasons and excuses that I’ve ever heard, I disagree with this reason most. Yes, I even find the I-stay-here-because-of-the-food a much better reason compared to this particular one.

The reason mentioned was… preserving our culture.

Since the migration talk centres mostly upon Chinese, I shall confine the notion of this article only on Chinese culture.

So… remaining in this country to preserve our culture? Seriously? Our culture, to me; is already dying a death inflicted by our very own hands in this land.

For a start, check out the names of the your children or your friend’s children. The regular Mei Ling, Siew Ling, Ah Hong, Ah Tan, Ah Seng, etc. are there only for documentation purposes. Instead, they are known as Ethan, Gabriel, Antonio, Shauntaine, Caitlynn, Caroline and one of my friend even named their daughter Gisele. If we can't even address our children by their Chinese name, what preserving culture are we talking about?

By the way, if your children do not have an English name, very likely their Chinese name is one that does not sound like a typical Chinese name anymore. You know what I am talking about. Well, at least you try not to officiate the English name.

But then again, do you tell your children that they you are their “ba-ba or ma-ma” or… you are known as daddy/mommy to them? Worse, how many of you are conversing with your children with any language BUT the Chinese language? Of all my friends who grew up speaking Cantonese, they are all conversing with their children in English. “Seems more natural” was the excuse.

And just to rewind a little bit back to the time when most of us got married, did we wear a Chinese “qua”? Or a tux? Preserving our culture? Really?

December is coming, and everyone is excited. Why? Because Christmas is coming! The birth of Christ and a religious celebration notwithstanding, how many of us Chinese are more excited about Christmas than Chinese New Year? Dinner with friends/family on Christmas eve is something to look forward to but dinner with family on Chinese New Year eve and Chap Goh Mei is a chore, isn’t it?

And do we still celebrate Mid-Autumn festival and the dumpling (“jung”) festival? Oh, you do know that those are Chinese festivals right? Do you?

I can go on forever but I am sure you know what I am trying to get at. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should all suddenly get traditional so that our Chinese heritage radiates out of us. The fact is; the Chinese in most of us are dying, if not dead. And not migrating is not going to stop that.

Before I end, allow me to share with you this real life encounter that I had with a child…

Baby X is now 3 years old. He was born into a Chinese family where both the parents speak Cantonese. In fact, the paternal grandparents side do not speak English at all. But just like so many young Chinese families nowadays, Baby X grew up, and is still growing in a very strong English speaking environment.

Lately, efforts were being put in to remind Baby X that he is of Chinese decent. This was triggered by a lack of response from Baby X when people tried to communicate with him in Cantonese. It appears that he will not speak to you if you speak to him in anything besides English. The child, as it seems, knows how to differentiate between English and other languages.

But one latest effort hit the worst snag when Baby X gave this strong response… he screamed…

“I am not Chinese! Don’t speak to me in Chinese. Don’t call me Chinese. I don’t like Chinese!”

P/S: A few people e-mailed me asking about GST. While I am not exactly the expert, I will certainly be blogging more about it soon…

1 year ago…
Did all the money suddenly just disappear?

2 years ago…
A very familiar situationThe ultimate fine dining


Yvonne Foong said...

Maybe what people meant by 'preserving culture' is the Malaysian-Chinese culture. It might be that the Malaysian Chinese culture today no longer speaks Chinese but it's still a distinct culture to these people. It's different from the real Chinese culture but it's still their culture. To me, culture is just a notion.

But I have a friend who can listen to speeches in Chinese and write them out for me in proper English as it happens! I blogged about him just recently. And yeap I prefer calling him by his Chinese name which is Tiam Loong rather than Kevin cuz everyone could be a Kevin. It also takes me awhile to know you are referring to if you suddenly come up and ask, "Hey, have you seen Kevin lately?"

The post is here:

myop101 said...


I am a banana btw. But you do know that in order to preserve the culture, I wore those clothes you posted as a pic and of course, my wife wore the qua. We did everything as traditional as possible ( I didn't go back and do the tea ceremony first then go back to the in-laws...but it is common nowadays anyway) but we still have our church wedding because we believe our marriage must be conveyed before God and His church (and yes, a mad rush to change clothes as well).

As for preservation of chinese celebrations (more so after the death of my grandparents) in my family, I learnt how to make chung from my mother-in-law. And i give them out for free. Why? Because nothing beats using chung to remind others of the impending festival...:)

You forgot to mention about mid-winter festival...:) it is actually a bigger festival than CNY in olden days. and i actually cherish that day more than Christmas (btw, i am bigger fan of Easter)...

We live in changing times. Chinese culture is not set in stone. to those who used preservation of chinese culture in M'sia as an excuse, please note that the bigger challenge is not to do it in Malaysia but to do it in "foreign" lands.

Jerine said...

I'm exactly like Baby X. I get annoyed whenever some aunty speak to me in Chinese. I'll tell her I don't understand and I'm not Chinese. In fact, my race is chinese and I do have a chinese name. But the problem is, I don't like chinese culture. For some reason, I think chinese culture tend to be chaotic - cny songs are damn boisterous, chinese people speak really loudly, even their funeral has loud band playing. Whereas I grew up in a quiet environment, it's hard for me to accept chinese culture although I'm chinese.

cDi said...

Since I don't know this Baby X I'm going to write based on assumptions. It is possible he grew up in an environment where parents are centralised instead of grandparents (typical English family), therefore his family viewpoint became smaller, and he don't see why he should try communicating with his grandparents or connect with Chinese roots, which are bollocks reasoning. Or possibly, the parents do not show enthusiasm in trying to portray love for their own parents and this little child was looking from his tiny eyes that he could do the same too.

Coming from a family background that is "modern Malaysian Chinese", I can safely say certain cultures will definitely die as time moves on. Can we say what was practised in China 5000 years ago was exactly replicated now in current times?

But I would also say lets not look at the big picture about being Chinese. How about being Asians in general? The practise of sitting together at least one meal per day, the idea of communicating in the house on not just empty talks like "How are you today?" but more on inner parts of the heart, and the practise of informing your family where you are going, do people bother now?

One thing I could add though. My boyfriend's maternal grandparents do not speak any Mandarin, just Cantonese, and very English educated. But they insist all their grandchildren (all non-Chinese speaking btw) bow while serving them tea when there's an auspicious ceremony, Even their own Caucasian son-in-law have to do so. So I guess in the end it all comes down to family relations and one's willingness to keep the practise going.

Stormsea7 said...

0.o....well, not every young people are like that.

I'm what the chinese people call "banana". I came from a SK school and mostly converse in English with my friends. Heck, even my family member did the same to me at home.

My parent are born pre-Independence and as you expect, are pretty traditional and still honour and pray to the god(s).

Sounds like a typical young Chinese Malaysians?

You might be right, but there's a differences.

I still called my parent "ba-ba/ma-ma" even though I am 17.

While my friends have "Christian" name like Vincent, Derrick, William, I am pretty much the only guy that still use my original name. All my friends called me by my surname "Tan".

In fact, my last 2 name basically means "respect chinese people" *lol*

I still very much like to celebrate Chinese festival (unless it's too dam troublesome like spending a FORTUNE on food offering)

I'm constantly intrigued by Chinese folk fores and legends (then again, i like all myths)

As for language wise, I'm encouraging my very own parents to speak Hokkien to me (wa si hokkien lang)

I also try speak chinese (mandarin)to my classmates (SJK(C)) even though they speak english to me (why? cos' wan improve english)

Best of all, my parent doesn't even force me or my bro to practice the chinese practices. They are what we call "open-minded".

While I understand that majority of young chinese you see are... like you posted, there are some people like me trying to preserve it subtly.

P/S: I am the youngest in the family. (Am I considered a spoiled and ignorant brat?)

TG said...

Very good post, zewt. But it seems to me that Malaysian Chinese are too diverse to speak about one Chinese Malaysian culture. In Batu Pahat most old ones spoke Hokkien and the young ones Mandarin. I think language is the most important thing when it comes to culture. We can be modern, think progressive, dress like 2009, but we shouldn't teach our kids a foreign language. Ok, I'm not preaching, I'm saying how I would do it. Seems like I am destined to have a Chinese gf, hehe.. So in case things get serious, I hope to have children who speak Mandarin and Slovenian, but they can learn English when they go to school. English for me is a great tool to communicate with people outside my culture, but I will never adapt it as my own. In my country, we always put great stress on the language, because that was the reason our culture survived through centuries.

Sabrina Tan said...

I think sometimes we are just too inferior about our culture.
Perhaps most people deep down, don't have much of a sense of identity and they seem to cling on to their supposed "heritage" and culture strongly just so that they can identify themselves as part of a group.

Like I've heard so many times that we "demonise" the Western culture, saying that they are "heartless" and cold.
They say the kids don't care about the parents and the parents kick them out of the house after 18.

After being overseas so many years, in fact I find the opposite true.
No, most kids DON'T get kicked out by 18. In fact a lot of them stay with the parents beyond 18. But some parents might decide to charge them rent/ board, just so that they are responsible for their own lives and not continue to 'free-load' off them. It's not that the parents are in need of the money, they just want to teach responsibility in these kids.

And as far as taking care of the elderly, I find that the public as a whole in most places care about the elderly. A patient of mine, who is an elderly man came in for treatment the other day. His daughter rang up minutes just before he was going into the appointment and asked us to give him a blanket when he's sitting in the chair just so that he won't get cold.

When I go to the supermarket, those little old ladies who are doing their grocery shopping get 'personal help' from one of the supermarket staff, who would help them walk around and carrying their basket, and also help them shop for their items.

So you see, sometimes we tend to feel that our culture is more superior than others, just so that we feel a bit better than ourselves. In fact, all cultures have their good and bad. I certainly do not think one culture is more superior than the other.

The excuse of not migrating because of the culture issue is just that-- excuse.

kyh said...

Exactly the reason why I resist adopting a Westernized name. I hate it when those kids all rush to adopt an English name. Bah!

While I'm one for a multi-lingual family (that is, having trained your kids to master a few languages since young), I'll insist the family's language of heritage to be included. I'm curious why some Asians feel that the more Westernized they are, the more they think highly of themselves. It's a sad thing, really. It's not supposed to be a pride, but rather a shame, an embarrassment to the Asian race.

And have you ever wondered, those who grow up with English as a native language, most of them can only speak that very language thruout their life? That's bcos they have this thinking that, since Eng is so superior, so universal, so global, that learning another language is useless and a waste of time. FML.

missironic said...

Uh oh... I'm the one with an English given name and couldn't really speak Chinese well. BUT, I look forward to Chinese New Year even more than Christmas! Hahaha.. but you're right.. the culture is dying off. We really still look up to the westerners. And I couldn't blieve baby X will be brought up to tink that he's not a Chinese! Wow!! That's really sad... :(

Pinknpurplelizard said...

Once, my grandma asked one of her nephew's son the normal "lu si hamik lang?" (hokkien) or "lei hai meh yea yan?" (in cantonese, I think its wrong but wat the heck but I hope your get my drift). The kid of 8-9 y-o answered proudly in a strong foreigh accent "I AM AN AMERICAN!" instead of the "I am hokkien chinese". LOL... Let's just say the boy's father got a sounding for not bringing up the boy properly.

I will still stay in this corrupt and almost i*******d country. To 'fight' for what little is left for us minority groups. A lot of what makes our culture has now been commercialised into some tourist and money-making event.

I am proud to say that none in my family have an english name (given or otherwise). It used to be that Chinese families had a long list of generational names and that was how each generation differentiated from the next. Now, that is slowly being lost as well. There are some who don't even know how to write their names in chinese characters. There are also others who name their children wrongly (by looking in a chinese name book); they don't realise that there are names in chinese which are masculine or feminine.

eiling lim said...

yeah yeah baby x is a caucasian born in a chinese body. too bad...

hikazew® said...

i hate to say this.. but I can identify with Baby X. I'm Baby X in my workplace :( ok.. i refuse to speak Mandarin but if you speak Hokkien with me I will respond with proper Hokkien. Even my Xiamen colleagues can converse with me with Fujian. I hate it when ppl tell me I have to learn mandarin. My dialect is Hokkien and why should I learn other ppl's dialect? I can speak and understand Teochew and Cantonese too. Am i a banana?

Niel said...

It all sprouts from the mentality, that the 'ang mo lar' are superior and better. There is a saying for this idea - even the white man's fart smells good, or something like that.

It is good to be able to converse in as many languages as possible, but never forget your roots.

Niel said...


WY said...

zewt, unfortunately, i believe your observations were made from a small sub-set of the Malaysians or malaysian chinese population. There are many ppl who still wish to be strongly identified as a Chinese. :)

Elizebeth D.L. said...

Slap that Baby X!

Anonymous said...

Dear Zewt and Zewt readers,

Abandon ship....thats the spirit. The western ship is bigger. Certainly looks nicer. Lets all hop over. Their culture is superior. More in vogue. Explains the paradigm shift...

Fuck chinese...fuck our language...english is the way to hell with our celebrations...lets all go australia...they welcome us ther...treat us as equals. They will defend our rights and stand up for the oppressed la australia!

blah..blah blah...

Anonymous said...

to those who went to australia...die there...dont ever come back....dead or otherwise...get yourself buried in australia....

Anonymous said...


i cant wait for the day you go to u can stop bitching abt malaysia and its ppl...

zewt said...

Yvonne Foong - hahaha.. does he wanna be called Tiam Loong though?

myop101 - indeed. i do not deny we live in changing times. but like pavlova said... to use preserving culture as a reason to remain... well, better tell me you like the nasi lemak.

Jerine - you have truly blended into australia already... ! :)

CiNDi - his mother doesnt allow him to spend so much time with the paternal grandparents becos... "aiyah, they are too chinese thinking lah..." believe me when i said it's true. i do not deny culture dies. in fact, i think it will die and some, should die. the whole notion of the article is... do not use culture as the reason to remain in malaysia.

Stormsea7 - Tan Juin Wah? :P you should make a trip to china mate... it really makes you proud in being a chinese. and whether or not you are a spoilt brat doesnt depend on whether you are youngest or not.

zewt said...

MKL - hahaha... but then again, would you want your children to speak slovenian? or at least, know how to speak slovenian?

pavlova - i agree, sometimes, we speak of good things our ourselves to make us feel better. and we are all very good at thinking only about the good things in this country to remind us how good it is... like ... food. the rest are just, excuses.

kyh - yup, i noticed this looooong ago. those who speaks english only.... will really just speak english only. it seems like they have difficulty picking up other languages. those who start with other languages seem to be able to pick up more... :P

missironic - yes, very sad indeed. and the worse things is... the family laugh about it.

pinknpurplelizard - hahaha... that boy's father will get a smacking! american!! luckily he didnt say ben 10! hahahaha... hmmm... i thought you name is liz?

zewt said...

eiling lim - haha... too bad for him indeed.

hikazew - you are definitely not a banana with your hokkien prowess... :)

Niel - hello there and welcome. yes... never forget your roots... absolutely!

tomatoinc - negative... this small sub-set of the malaysian population is really really huge. maybe it's too concentrated in urban areas. but hey, it's the urbanites that are talking about migration right? which by the way, is the notion of the post :P

Elizabeth DL - the parents did not...

anon @ 30/11 - oz oz oz oi oi oi! and thank you for coming here to support azaig all the time. yay! oh by the way, if there are people who cant catch the readings between the line, you are probably one of them. keep trying mate. you'll make it someday.

myop101 said...

Dear Anon,

I don't think that is what he is referring to. He is pointing out the hypocrisy of those who claims higher moral grounds with flimsy excuses.

TG said...

Oh yes, they will speak Slovenian with me, definitely. I won't teach them English. English is so easy to learn later, but Slovenian is hard. You need to learn since you're a kid.

Anonymous said...

I think there's still this minority who still value their culture (i'm talking bout Chinese of course).

Haha, i feel kinda proud to have mentioned and discussed with my friends when i was in Form 4 that I will never ever name my future children with a guai lou name and I'll make sure they know how to use the chopsticks and speak Hokkien and tell them about my grandmothers and grandfathers' stories. Still holding on to that.

I myself, I address myself as Lifong when i meet new ppl. When asked whether I have an english name, I said no (though i have an english nick)

Good post, Zewt! I think it sorta smack some ppl on the head and make 'em realise :)

I kinda agree with Yvonne Foong that maybe what they meant was to prevent the "Malaysian-Chinese" culture. Chinese whose blood-line have been in Malaysia long enough to call ourselves Malaysian-Chinese. Our culture is unlike those of Chinese in China and other parts of the world.

Klaw said...

If one is ethnically Chinese and one thinks that Chinese culture is worth preserving, then good for you. If you think that Chinese culture is dumb/loud/boisterous (as commenter above), then good for you. To each his/her own right?

What I find amiss about some of the comments here are that people are comparing their Chinese-ness based on whether they adopted a Westernized name.

Is there even a proper way of comparing Chinese-ness? If someone speaks Hokkien and writes Mandarin like a pro but thinks CNY is a waste of time, but some Chinese brought up in a Western country can't speak the language well, but is proud of their Chinese heritage by celebrating the important festivals and telling their friends about their heritage and culture, does it make the Hokkien expert more Chinese than the westernized Chinese?

It's futile to compare, I tell ya.

missironic said...

Goodness... the family also in denial towards their own race and culture. Tsk tsk...

Anonymous said...

ha ha wait until baby x enters the working world where he will find learning additional language and culture will be an advantage to him. Blame it on the parents for bring up baby x that way. :P

Pinknpurplelizard said...

My name isn't Liz. That's derived from "Pinknpurplelizard" but so its Lizzy or Liz for short. The few bloggers whom I've met call me Lizzy sometimes when they can't pronounce or forget my name which is in chinese. ;)

Although I underwent much ridiculing during schooling coz of my name (traumatic events), I am still proud of my name. Peace, dude!

A Black Cat said...

Culture is not stagnant. It changes all the time, everywhere.

I love my Chinese roots and being able to speak different dialects, which most mainland Chinese are unable to. I love being able to speak English and Malay and I think it adds to who I am, and does not diminish my Chineseness in any way. It just makes me Malaysian, and that is who I am.

By the way, I spoke to some mainland Chinese people, and some of them believe that we, the overseas Chinese, have succeeded in preserving the Chinese culture and values better than those within China. I find that very interesting.

And regarding emigration - each to his/her own, man. No need to patronize those who don't share your views of seeking greener pastures. Cheers!

autumn said...

i would very much want to migrate but it would be a case of running away for me, sigh. and i dun hv enuf determination and guts to do it also lar. *blush*

anyway, one thing tat would probably make me feel reluctant to do so the most (that is if i wasn't such a coward and knew wat i wanted in life, ahem) would be the fact that this place is where i grew up and lived.

yet, home is where the heart is, if i can bring my whole family over, it wouldn't be so bad :) but until now, it remains one of the many 'if only's for me.

including... if only the gov was dependable, sigh.

gina said...

My friend has an English name, follow by a middle English name and a Chinese surname. No Chinese name at all.

I never agree to naming children English name. I felt it has eroded our identity as a Chinese Malaysian.

Anonymous said...

i guess why u disagreed with the "preserving our culture" bit was that it might be too shallow and not quite "universally Malaysian" as it is.

sometimes the culture bit itself is a 'pool of muddy water', so to speak... Alot of the identity issues of the Malaysian Chinese culture are due to erosion of awareness, ignorance of heritage and apathy especially during the Mahathir Administration era and also for us as we grew up experiencing a more globalised world, with trans-cultural issues affecting us.

Very often, there is a great assumption that we all "malaysian chinese" are all the same but the fact is Malaysian chinese are still rather diverse and influence the country in various ways. This is changing abit in our generation though i still believe that for many parts of it, it still is pretty much the same in the heart of it.

Well, most people want to "preserve the culture" probably to maintain the status quo of the countries' m.c culture identity. With so many factors at hand, i'd say we can't help but be confused but i guess our generation loves this bit as this is the stage where nothing is set in stone yet. We love it cos its so ambigous and still allows for change. but for how long, I wonder...

khengsiong said...

I observe that many Mandarin-speaking Chinese Malaysians have adopted Western names, while many English-speaking ones - myself included - haven't. This is more like an influence from Hong Kong and Taiwan, rather than a real Western influence.

Ninja said...

Wah Zewt you so terrer you got haters! Well done! Hahahahahaha. Some peopel got too much time on their hands la

Huei said...

hahhahahahahah damn smart kid! well we're blogging in english..n we're bananas too! =P

but anyway..glad i still know my hokkien cos i've been speaking it since i could talk! n will pass on to my speaking hokkien is just so damn cute no? cos they all speak mandarin nowdays n it's getting damn boring! they learn that language in school so lets teach them something else at home!

zewt said...

myop101 - if only all who reads... read... :)

MKL - hard, but still have to learn i am sure.

Lifong - haha... chopsticks... i think that culture is still very much alive, thanks for the food culture. as for malaysian chinese culture, well, it's fast evolving. and the chinese element inside there is fast dying.

Klaw - true, comparing is futile. but still have to go back to the point. which is... dont use it as an excuse not to migrate lah... :P

missironic - yup, that's life here.

anon @ 1/12 9.58am - we shall celebrate! haha!

pinknpurplelizard - i tot your name is elizabeth or something :P

zewt said...

June-E - we have succeeded in preserving the culture better than the mainland chinese? now, that is something i really wanna know. Not patronising them but just want to highlight what's the difference between a good and a bad excuse. food is a good excuse.

autumn - many share the same sentiments i am sure. home is where the heart is, true... but many other things depend not on the heart.

gina - yeah, i have a few friends who are such... super english name.

anon @ 3/12 1.09pm - yeah, we are all truly confuse with what we are. one one hand, we are fighting for a malaysian race, and yet, underneath it all, we are still proud of our race. but this pride is only conform to the limitations of being different with others whom we feel inferior than us, not our heritage.

khengsiong - damn right... whenever i meet someone who has got an extravagant english name, and yet cant speak the language properly... i just feel weird.

sabrina - and he is a very dedicated one i tell u... comment every post, dont play play hahahaha...

huei - ahhh.. hokkien, how i wish i can speak hokkien more :P you should be proud of yourself! said...

Interesting post!

Will highlight extract and link back to your blog.

All the best!

zewt said...

Mylivingwall - cheers!