Unless you have never found yourself in a situation where no one speaks the same language as you or in a room where you look different from everyone else then I’m sure most can relate to those feelings of alienation that comes with that territory. The funny thing about being a tourist is that you often purposefully put yourself in those situations that are uncomfortable and isolating. We turn the torture into a positive thing by calling it’experience’.
The other strange thing about the psychology of the tourist is that no matter how long you have spent in a place you will always remain just a tourist. That can be particularly said about being in a place where you are either of a different colour (quite literally) or where a language barrier exists. And quite simply – she who conquers the local language is more likely to be accepted and more quickly – but not necessarily. And just when you thought you were starting to blend in somebody or something comes along to burst your bubble. I swear I was beginning to look just like one of the locals, act and behave like one of the locals. Its amazing how powerful a self constructed image is, what you think you look like, how you feel you look like as opposed to what you really look like. If only it was impenetrable.
Discovering other people don’t see you as you see you is like hearing your recorded voice played back to you for the very first time – it’s shocking, ugly and totally unfamiliar. Here I was thinking that when I walk into a Chinese coffee shop, sit down on my own and order Nasi Goreng Kampung, that the waitress, the chef and all the other customers who have noticed me, only notice because I just walked in and not because I’m….different. And not just different but blatantly obvious that I’m not from around these parts or any part even close to here. But they are only partly right because these people watching me, staring at me rudely, don’t know who I am or what I am.
The truth is my mother is a local and without having to go into a really complicated story about citizenship and nationality and ethnicity suffice to say is that I have local blood and that blood has been significant enough for me, maybe not anyone else, to identify myself being able to share something with the…locals. But I don’t really look like them or sound like them or dress like them or eat like them so for them, I am not one of them. I tell you it has been a real eye opener for me as to how Malaysians define themselves as being Malaysian.
The Scottish have a similar plight. Having lived there for ten years I learned that the Scots are having an identity crisis and the only way they know to define who they are is by trying prove what they are not. It’s true isn’t it? You always know what you don’t want before you know what you do want. And like the Scots, Malaysians seem to be desperately trying to define themselves and discover themselves as something separate from a culture they feel used to define them.All cultural influence helps to define you so any act or gesture to deny that fact, in my opinion, is useless and pointless.
I come from a multi-cultural family and my life experiences have been influenced and touched by many cultures, therefore I have been influenced and have developed through these experiences. That’s who I am. I find the idea of one national identity so restricting and deceiving. What is a nation anyway? Isn’t it a collection of people with the same cultural experiences? Is it more than that? Is there even such a thing as a multi-cultural national identity? Malaysia is a multi-cultural nation. Is there anything else that defines a Malaysian but her obvious difference to the next Malaysian? I’m different. Could I be a Malaysian? Can I be Malaysian? To be continued…