Who's that girl?


Adorable baby - that's me!
As I walk out of the KLIA terminal, I keep my eyes focused on the placards being held up to spot my name because the hotel was sending a limousine for me.  When I saw my name, I approached the bearer and said with a smile, “This looks like my name.” 

Later as we were cruising our way to the hotel, the driver confessed that I was not who he was expecting to see and struggled to explain how my looks just do not match my name.

He was quite apologetic but I assured him that it’s all right as this often happens to me.  He seemed reassured but reiterated that he never thought it was me until I smiled and spoke to him.  And once again, I was asked that curious question about my race.

In the course of work, I interact with lots of people and often meet and interview many interesting personalities.  But after chatting for a while, they are usually curious about me and I’m often asked that inevitable question about my race.  It’s sometimes a blunt: “You orang apa?” meaning, “What is your race?”  I usually choose to evade their query with a joke saying, “Hey, I’m the one asking the questions here!”

Peggy, age 3, at Istana Garden Johor Baru
Some people whom I’ve never met tell me later that when we fixed an appointment, they come expecting to meet someone who looked Oriental.  When I turn up and introduce myself, they are often baffled and I can understand their curiosity.  As we get comfortable chatting, they are bold enough to ask me that question by the end of our conversation.

It’s interesting how people are being stereotyped into race groups by their looks and because I do not fall into any definite group, it causes a bit of confusion.  It’s quite embarrassing but my race often becomes a topic of discussion.  Looking back now, I can recall almost exactly when I found out that I don’t look typically Chinese. 

In our school-going years, my siblings and I lived with our grandparents and grandma would sometimes take either me or my brother and cousin along with her to the market.  I always enjoyed this market excursion and I remember how we would walk from Jalan Ngee Heng to the main market that used to stand where Johor Baru City Square is today. 

Daddy in 1950
While the sights, sounds and smells of that wet market were quite unforgettable, I also can’t forget that grandma had a regular vegetable stall where she would buy most of her fresh vegetables.  I mostly remember that awful stall-holder and how he always had a kick out of teasing me. 

Even as a kid, I knew that he was politically incorrect to use such words because his nickname for me was keling mui, or Indian girl.  Now some of my dearest friends are Indian but I just disliked being called any nickname, least of all by him. 


But his constant teasing planted a seed in my mind and I started to wonder why I was called, Indian girl.  I guessed it was probably because of my natural tan because I love the outdoors and tan so easily to become quite brown.  But as I observed other girls, I realized that not just me, but my siblings and I, all do not have Chinese features.  

So when I told dad about my experience with the limo driver, he laughed.  Dad thinks it’s so funny but I reminded him that it’s because of him that we ended up looking this way.  Maybe that’s not quite fair on him because both mum and dad are responsible for how my siblings and I turned out and we just don’t fall into any clear race category.


Mummy in 1952
It’s interesting that because we are so used to how we look, we don’t realize that others actually see us differently.  My brother is the classic example because in the month of Ramadan, some shops are even reluctant to serve him any lunch because of his looks.  In fact, he was quizzed by religious authorities while buying food during Ramadan and he had to show them his identity card as proof. 

By now I’m quite used to that inevitable question whenever I meet new people.  I’ve also found more creative ways to answer or evade such curious queries and get my share of fun in pulling their legs. 

But when these curious people meet my parents, they will understand.  One thing is certain – for as long as I meet new people, the queries will keep coming because it’s just so Malaysian to probe and ask such personal questions.

/pl

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