Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Abang & Sayang

Out of the blue a Chinaman next to me on a tour bus going to Grand Canyon asked why Malay wives called their husband 'Abang' when the word clearly means brother as in a guy coming from the same womb as your mother.

I don't know.

And don't ask me why Malay husbands call their wives 'sayang' because I can't call anyone by that word, not even if my missus is Elizabeth Taylor.

And so this guy who sat next to me kept asking whether the wife doesn't feel anything calling her husband 'abang' while they are at it in bed. Doesn't it sound odd, or even incentuous, to you?

I don't know, man.

Don't you have a wife?
No, sir. I don't.

Maybe that's why there's so many incest cases involving Malay families?

I don't know, man. Maybe you wanna ask somebody else because I don't know about this thing and you can bet that I won't let my future missus call me by that incentuous name if this can make you stop pestering me because this bus is so comfortable and I feel like dozing off thinking about an all-American girl with a name like Mary Lou or something, and she's a homecoming queen. Whatever that is. No, I don't reckon on being a quarterback or a linebacker because I don't understand American football and I don't think it is a good idea to put on all those pads just to run after a pigskin one yardline after another. I prefer rugby, or Australian football. It's fast. And simple.

So what do you call your mother?
I don't have one.
What about your father, what do you call him.
I don't have one either.

Who are you, where do you come from? Are you alien? Everyone has a mother and a father. Everyone has a family.

Suddenly I felt so alone in the middle of Grand Canyon.


Blogger dr in the house said...


Is this your way of raising the issue of incest amongst the malay? By conjuring up a conversation with a Chinaman on a bus in Grand Canyon? hehe

Incentious or not, calling one's husband abang is equivalent to darling. It's like the word abang has dual meanings. And no it doesnt lead to incest! Incest is brought about in many ways and definitely not by calling the husband abang!

9:08 PM  
Blogger dr in the house said...

p.s. is the book ready? :)

9:17 PM  
Blogger Nekbat said...

I haven't been visiting for a while and you are writing a book already. Whoaa. Thanks to you now I can't get this song out of my head *Abang Sayang abang di mana-mana..hmm..hmm..hmm..hmm*

9:34 PM  
Blogger Nurelhuda said...

I m not going to comment on the Abang issue but here is something you d have to know about having a family , a mum and a dad and siblings as well as children and grandchildren:
If you are like me everytime a member of my family is hurting, I hurt perhaps footloose and fancy free is not too bad

9:36 PM  
Blogger Liza said...

Oh...I feel like I want to give you a big hug :)

No, you are not alone anymore. At least you have us all here reading your stories.

11:30 PM  
Blogger torts said...

The kay-poh apek obviously was so confused. Incest and abang has no equation.

Ada hikmah di sebalik every set of circumstances. Yet - it's our attitude that matters...

Abang? - nope, not moi - tak terpanggil!

11:34 PM  
Blogger AuntieYan. said...

I only 'use' "Abang" for my dear Hero Tamil...for any other man, I 'use' Encik or Mr. or just their name.

p/s:..I'll turn'green' when suddenly, out of no where some sweet preety ladies call my Hero Tamil 'abang'....hey!!!...hes my Hero...why you call him like that????....

***** unfortunetly, my Hero Tamil never address me as "sayang"...He sayang me anyway!!!!!:-)

9:05 AM  
Blogger NBB said...

i don't have brothers. i don't have husband. i don't know. and i don't care. as long as the name sounds good, it's fine with me.

9:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bergen,

Finally a non-blogger can make a comment...

Actually I myself do not understand why a husband is addressed as "abang" however, u can use any word or name as a form of endearment, correct?

I'd just want to comment on the family bit. A family does not mean having a father and mother and brothers and sisters per se. Family can be with whomever you are happiest with (that's my opinion).

Eg: During my student days, being thousands of miles away from home, my friends were my family. They still are (whenever I am with them). They were my brothers and sisters and sometimes acted just like my dad whenever I did something stupid and gave me a good knock on the head. hehehe

So, it does not matter that u do not have THE TYPICAL FAMILY unit, but u have family man... ur aunt su, and back then u had ur aunt, ur gran and ur cousin. When u were on the rig u had ur rig-mates.


Just my two cents worth.

9:29 AM  
Blogger LifeBloom said...

Always wanted to go to Grand Canyon....

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oppss and also now u have ur family of bloggers : )


9:43 AM  
Blogger thinktankgal said...

You are not know that Bergen...Hmm...I am not so sure what to call my soul mate when I get married....I guess I still stick to first name basis...for me it is actions and feelings speak louder than just a mere "sayang" or "honey"...:)

10:14 AM  
Blogger Noni said...

I never used to call anyone abang other than my biological abang's and older men whom I respect enough... but having worked for the entertainment industry, I was given a directive by the GM that it had to be done, I had to comform to the norm... people were starting to complain that I spoke too much English and came across as snooty. The directive only ever made me so much geli-er of the word. No, I don't call my husband 'abang' either... especially because we are of the same age... but instead I call him 'u'... so its "u... cepatlah"... "u... pls buatkan susu anak"... "u nak makan right now?"... we do call each other 'yang' once in awhile... especially when within my mother's earshot for the simple reason to make her gag... hehehe

10:34 AM  
Blogger anedra said...

I can't say I know how it feels not to be able to call anyone "Mom", "Dad" etc.. I never will know. But u had yr family in Aunt, Grandma and Cousin and from the stories you have to tell us, it seemed like yr childhood was filled with love. And that's what counts. Also sir, it's not too late for you to find YOUR "sayang" or someone to call u "abang" (if that's what u like) and for someone to call you "dad". Yes?

i don't call N "abang". He doesn't call me "sayang". I don't want to call him abang but I would love it if he called me sayang tho! Boleh ke?

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like to read your stories: interesting and intriguing.However like you i also do not no the right reason why a wife calls her husband abang.Nevertheless, i love to call my husband "abang" and he also calls me "sayang".But most of the times he will call me"ibu" and i call her "ayah" so that our children know that there are ibu, ayah, abang and adik in the family.


11:43 AM  
Blogger Diran Kesuma said...

Dear bergen, very nice vignette you have here. Hemingwayesque.

12:06 PM  
Blogger bergen said...

Dr Roza: Like I told the guy, I don't know anything about this thing. All I know is I've gotta think about that all-Amercian girl named Mary Lou, or Jenny or something.

It's a long journey to getting it published, ma'am. I got a feeling it won't see print at all.

Nekbat: I think it's Julie Ramie. She's got a unique voice like the rest of them from that generation who defined the era through their songs and music.

Dr Nurul: At times I feel like giving everything I've got for a family, even if it's only for a day.

Liza: Yes, ma'am. No way I can be alone with friends coming in here for a visit, or just dropping by to say hello.

Torts: I am not the right person to ask actually but I was right next to him and a wife a few seats in front called her hubby 'abang this' and 'abang that.'

AuntieYan: Hero Tamil? You mean like Vikram? Nothing to worry about if you have someone like him to take care of you. Obviously you are in good hands, ma'am.

Dr Nurul Bahiyah Baharudin: It sounds good, alright. People who call me abang a lot are those VCD sellers. It's nice though.

Anonymous: I know what you mean. We a member of somekind of family whenever we are in a group. But this can't change the fact that it's nice to have a regular, everyday, all-Malaysian family for a change. But I've learnt to let this go for good when memories of Grandma, Aunt and Cousin all come back to me. They treated me good. Even better than a real family. So I don't miss anything. It doesn't matter anymore.

Lifebloom: It's a nice experience to feel so small amidst those towering rocks. All of a sudden things that matter to you don't matter anymore because in relation to the size of the universe, we are but a tiny speck that make such a big fuss over small things like having to drink cold coffee, or the toasts didn't burn right.

Anonymous (Aida): Thanks, ma'am.

Thinktankgal: I am for first name basis. It equalizes the position and it makes communication easier. Abang simply means you have to someone lower, maybe an adik, and therefore you've gotta be submissive, which automatically puts you at a disadvantage to make a deal. Of course I'd be the last person qualified to talk about this.

Noni: They actually instruct you to call people by THAT name in the industry you are in? Amazing.

Anedra: You've got good things going for you, ma'am. And coming from a family with extensive network of relative makes it very nice to know that you are an aunt to someone.

Anonymous: You mean you call your husband 'ayah?' And he calls you 'ibu?' Amazing.

Diran Kesuma: Do you really think so, ma'am?

1:00 PM  
Blogger Noni said...

WERE, not ARE bergen...i left the industry when I got married. The hours that I kept did not agree with married life. And I had had to have too many Abangs than I could tolerate...

1:27 PM  
Blogger AuntieYan. said...

Bergen:..Even though he is A Hero Tamil....He looks like Shah Rukh Khan!!!!!....:-)

3:08 PM  
Blogger Queen Of The House said...

I don't know either. I can only call him Sayang and by no other name ;)

3:20 PM  
Blogger AuntyN said...

Have never called my hubby "abang" before. Either by the name his family calls him or Ba as in Baba to his children.

T thought you have a kakak now?

4:36 PM  
Blogger bergen said...

Noni: Oh okay.

AuntieYan: You must be Kajol.

QOTH: You do good, ma'am.

AuntyN: I do?

6:38 PM  
Blogger Sayuti said...

i keep a dictionary on my table. i have to open it everytime i read your blog. its a good learning experience. i'm trying to keep up with your updates, though.

regretted declining to the 'quality super reading and knowledge mapping application' course. training budget overutilized.

8:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yup We call each other ayah and ibu especially when the kids are around.I can't imagine calling my hubby by his name or using "i" "u" or "saya" "awak" sounds so we stick to "abang" ,"sayang" or " ayah and ibu"..

9:31 AM  
Blogger bergen said...

Sayuti: It's good that you point this out because I have always been under the impression that I don't use big words in my entries. I can't use them because most of the time I don't know what they mean, and I don't want to look them up in the dictionary because I have the tendency to spend hours looking for one word after another.

Anonymous: You got nice things going for you, ma'am.

10:46 AM  
Blogger RedKebaya said...

Bergen - incestuous thoughts just by calling the guy abang? hmmm no way man. its more out of respect for his position as the boss/ketua keluarga, regardless of age differences.... takan nak panggil encik kot lol. and of course you get to spice it up with your fav endearments along the way :) neeways for each their own.

12:34 PM  
Blogger mai said...

When we first got married my husband asked me to call him abang That time I refused n said "oh,so kampong" has in malay dramas.Then I found out his mum n sisters called their husbands abang.I call him sayang or dee short for daddy.But I find my parents in law are so loving until their old age.Now that my husband is gone I cant help thinking I should have called him abang .When u call ur husband abang it is an endearment,he is there to protect u (suami tempat berlindung n tempat bermanja)n it reflect the role of the husband in that endearment.Not too late I shall ask my daughters to call their husbands sayang.Also the intonation used when u call ur husbands be it sayang abang darling will give different reactions eg manja way of calling or otherwise.

5:57 PM  

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