I don’t have (yet) the privilege to travel to the other part of the world. When I say ‘the other part’, I mean the part where people are whiter than us, Malaysians. Yup, the European or American sides of the world. But I am fortunate enough because living in Asia and having the chance to travel in South East Asia, that part of the world comes to us. And today, I am going to ramble on the truth about Malaysians.
Actually, this post is as a result of reading Raphael’s Travel, Racism and the Importance of Being Mexican. In his post, he talked about how the Mexicans can easily blend with other people from different countries as they do not stand out like most of the Americans and British people who are white. But do Malaysians think the same?
Well, this is written based on my personal perspective and some may disagree with me. No problem, it is okay to agree to disagree.
Malaysia has several terms for the people of Caucasians origins. They are normally called ‘Orang Putih‘, literally translated as White People. Another term is ‘Mat Salleh‘. Also refers to the white people. I am not sure of the origin of this term because Mat is actually a short-form for the name Mohamad and also a common name for men like Mat Kilau, Mat Taib, and Mat Salleh himself.
But instead of confining the name to Caucasians per se, the term is also widely used to refer to those from Latin America and also the white South Africans, among others.
Once, in a monorail in Kuala Lumpur, I was heading towards Bukit Bintang area and when the monorail stopped at one of the stations, I heard these 2 girls chatting among themselves (Disclaimer: It is not that I want to be a busy body but their voices were loud and I ‘accidentally’ over heard. Lol). Please be informed that in their conversation, they were using grammatically-wrong structure of Bahasa Malaysia sentence.
Girl 1: Weyh, tengok Mat Salleh tu. Handsome siot!
(Hey, look at that ‘white man’. He is so handsome, babe!)
Girl 2: Mana, mana?
Girl 1: Tu haa. Kat platform tu!
(There, at the platform!)
As I was facing the platform, having to stand by the window throughout the journey, I saw the guy that they were pointing at and guess what, he looks like a Latino to me.
So, the point is, Malaysians do not differentiate people from that side of the world according to their proper origins but instead lump them as a single ethnicity. Whether you are Portuguese-speaking Brazilians, Spanish-speaking Venezuelans or Afrikaans-speaking white South Africans, you are still ‘orang putih/mat salleh‘ to us. :)
And another thing that I always have a good laugh at is when I am speaking with other ‘orang putih‘ travellers whom I met throughout my journey.
Orang Putih: You know, we always envy your skin tone and that is why we love to tan.
Me: Well, most Asians want to be white and that is why we have tonnes of whitening product.
Orang Putih: What? You are (insert my age here)?! I thought that you are (insert 16/17/18/19 here). That’s why we are jealous of Asians. You look young!
Me: Oh, thanks! But you know, most Asians want to be like you because you are taller and Malaysians love those who have pointed nose – hidung mancung (no offense intended) like you.
So, there you go. Sometimes, the world is a funny place to be at. People from A wants to be like people in Z and the other way around. What ever it is, the world is one amazing place and go out and see what the world has to offer us.
How about you? Any terms used to refer to the white people in your country?