Thursday 16 April 2009

Cheer up China (CsH) - The Ramblings of a Malay Malcontent - Part 4

I overheard "Itu dia yang aku nampak" (That's the one I saw) as I went past 3 Malaysian students one evening - at an Arcade on Karangahape Road in Auckland. So I retorted "Kenapa?" - (Why?) Their faces almost dropped to the floor because they did not expect me to be a Malay!

Earlier, I had been waiting on the other side of the road, too tired to carry on walking while the spouse scouted for a place to eat at the Arcade. ( It was already past 5 o'clock and in New Zealand in 1988, most eating places were shut except for the upmarket restaurants. ) Then this beat-up car stopped in front of me and a young Malay couple stepped out, gave me a longer than ordinary glance and then crossed over to the Arcade. Hence their remark when we went past them on our way to the eating place. I wondered what they were thinking and saying in between those 2 events. By coincidence we all went to the same Mexican restaurant. Years ago when I was a struggling student in London, I couldn't even get near such a restaurant, much less pay for a meal! But then I was financing my own education and these youngsters were supported and subsidised by the Rakyat (the public) ! Was this the reason why the likes of my Abah's and Uncles' generation have disappeared?

This was my second visit to NZ, the first one was in 1986. In those intervening years, much had changed. I used to enjoy going into the sandwich bars where you were given a wide choice of fillings for toasted sandwich. NZ is very good for a variety of vegetarian options and my favourite was cheese and pineapple filling (are you reading this Lely?). These snack shops were usually run by pakehas ( a Maori word for the caucasian) like the Greeks and Italians.

But by 1988, you could go to a snack bar adorned with floral cafe curtains with names like 'Sarah's Cafe' and find yourself served by an Indian lady who was also obviously the owner/boss. In this particular cafe the owner was too absorbed vacuuming the premises and took her time in taking our order. It must be because the spouse was not dressed like a Wellington yuppie and as for me - well I must have looked like something that the cat dragged in - at least in her eyes. So, she was pretty gruff when she finally got to serving us tea. I try to think where she is now - she must have hated her menial job. She might have been some high-powered executive in her home country before she migrated to NZ. I hope she has by now found a more suitable vocation.

In a charity shop in Newtown, the Vietnamese-Chinese woman serving at the counter got very uppity and narked when I checked on a price tag as she was adding up my purchases. But she was ever so helpful and sweet to a pakeha lady who did exactly what I was doing earlier. Same sort of experience in a snack bar in Petone.

I recalled two other experiences I had with a fellow Asian ( Indian) in Leicester albeit about 15 years ago. I had gone to the spouse's bank, the Midlands, to cash a cheque. The Asian lady took the cheque, gave me a look ranging between quizzical and suspicious. Then she went to the Manager's Office and a few minutes later they both emerged and looked at me. The Manager nodded his head to her and lo and behold I was deemed respectable.

Then in 2003, again in Leicester - when the issue of racial relations and racism had been well discussed and understood; I encountered another display of 'Asian Solidarity'. After buying some stamps at the Evington Road Post Office, the Indian (they now describe themselves as British Asians) counter-clerk-cum-owner chucked my change across to me, like I've seen Indians in Indian railway stations throwing paisas at the beggars. I was aghast. I stepped out of the shop full of anger and then I decided to get back in and not let her get away with it! In my most pukka accent, I told her off for her rudeness. Her mouth dropped because she had imagined me to be one of those Chinese women who run the Chinese takeaways and she did not expect me to 'bite' at her. It is a fact that Chinese residents in Britain, especially the older generation tend to ignore such rudeness and taunts and tend to be more philosophical about the hazards of living in a country not their own. I sometimes wished I had that attitude. But I must say I enjoyed this game of fooling people about what I am and overturning their bigoted stereotyping. More interesting is when I speak up as a Muslim woman and that knocks them for six - but that's another story.

The above experiences and many others I've encountered never fail to infuriate me. What is the matter with these non-white immigrants in the western world? Why this hostility to other non-whites? Is it due to a strange misguided desire to be 'whiter than white' and that treating their fellow non-whites with contempt makes them a member of a superior class? If this is the baggage they carry, no wonder they had to leave their motherland! But if the shoe is on the other foot, they will be the first ones to shout 'Racist'!

So the next time I meet with hostility from caucasians, I must remember these incidences to remind me that there are also brown, black and yellow racists to be reckoned with.

To be fair, these experiences in NZ happened some time ago and perhaps hopefully the new immigrants feel better about themselves and their fellow non-whites. However, the last time I entered NZ, about 3/4 years ago as we were going through NZ Customs , the pakeha Customs Officer looked at my spouse while pointing his finger at me and asked "Does she speak English?" I should have said "Me no speakee Engleesh but me got money to spend in your country." But I was exhausted after a long flight and I have often been told not to tangle with men/women in uniform at the Airport. But I must do something drastic like perhaps have a physical makeover, to sharpen my flat nose, unslit my eyes, whiten my skin and blondify my hair! I understand that all these "beautification a la caucasian" are possible for unhappy and self loathing asians.

However I have to describe this experience I had in Opotiki some years ago. It 's a small town inhabited by Maoris mainly. I had wandered off on my own and to get back to the car I had to walk past a group of Maori young men - all tall and huge, like Kiwi rugby players. Shall I cross the road and walk on the other side because I was quite scared and stupid? But I plucked my courage, walked towards them and they opened up a path for me, just like Moses crossing the Red Sea. And all of them gave me such beaming smiles that I felt like Moses on Cloud Number Nine. And on that visit to NZ I also found out that the language of the Maoris have many similarities with the Malay language. For instance the words 'tua' for old and 'ika' for fish and many other examples. I'm an incurable romantic and I like to think of the Maoris as our cousins except that they were more enterprising and brave and they are fantastic rugby players. Oh Hoani where are you now??? Hoani is my spouse's friend from his young and foolish days and Hoani is absolutely gorgeous- even better than Brad Pitt and P.Ramlee put together. (Stop grinning, Lely)

Lastly, in 2005 as I was walking home from work at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, I walked past 4-5 English workmen, looking as rough and tough as you can find near any building site.
I was feeling and looking knackered after nearly 8 hours on my feet and as I walked by I heard "Cheer up China" and I saw all these faces smiling at me. I beamed the biggest smile I could muster and waved my hand at them. Thank you boys - you really made my day.

That corner of the world smiles for me more than anywhere else.
Milton vi.13


anak si-hamid said...

Dear Ben,
Your comments are worth at least..50cts. Seriously, you've given us a sharp and perceptive view of what makes people nasty and that is why you lot from JSS are truly unique.
If what you people were could be bottled, this world would be such a lovely place for all, not just for the powerful and wealthy.
As for the Maoris, they're a lovely people but alcoholism is their weakness. Remember alcohol is what the white men brought to the indigenous people of NZ, Australia, South America, the Indian Nations of North America and to the eskimos -to make money out of them and to break their spirit.
And now the same problem is visiting the youngsters of Britain, especially their young women. What goes round comes round.

Unknown said...

Dear Ms Hamid

Yeah, wrong impressions happen all the time

a limping male chinese cleaner was sweeping the floor when I walk past

he just smiled broadly and greeted me 'Good Morning'

I felt ashamed as I should have greeted him first

I also remembered this well-groomed and pretty air stewardess who has only a plastic smile for me but a warm and cheerful greeting for the caucasian couple behind me

I also discovered that the auntie cleaners are generous with their food and tidbits which they offered to everyone

but the manager was always complaining about having to pay for her "better quality" stationery

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Omong,
Good to 'see' you again. George Bernard Shaw wrote "The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is."

The one big problem is this: the non-white people of this world are still enamoured with white western culture. Their fathers and grandfathers fought for freedom and equality but their children and grandchildren have squandered that away. They may speak broken and mangled English but their minds and their ways have been ensnared by the imperial culture. It's terribly sad. Where did we go wrong?