Saturday, April 15, 2006

Things That Got Bigger And Bigger.

Who would have thought a simple get-together with friends over a few drinks could turn ballistic that left me being branded anti-Malay? Were we on the same page when it happened? I don't remember.

It is difficult to recall the events that led to an argument so heated that I ignored an important SMS from a friend. Now that the dust has settled, I believe it should be easy for me to re-construct what really happened on that fateful Saturday night when we could have avoided talking about what we talked about that very nearly left a few of us with a bloody nose.

I remember faintly that it was about Rais Yatim.

About what he wore to the parliament. And then someone disagreed and then the issue got bigger. Someone said, it's not about what he wore. It's about making fun of the dress code of an institution like a parliament. It's about a minister responsible for the courtesy campaign who doesn't practise what he preach.

Yea, I agree with that. And we drank to that. Cheers!

And then somone got smart and said something about what's wrong with that shirt? At least he doesn't put on a tie, something that doesn't belong to Malay culture. Maybe he was trying to display his defiance by not putting on a western style shirt that had to be matched with a necktie. I tried to sound intelligent and said something stupid, well in that case even these nice English shoes I'm wearing ain't no Malay thing, man. So if you wanna be a real Malay why don't you go around barefoot? And stop wearing western shirts and pants. Or jeans. Just put on a songkok and a sarung. Now THAT being a real Malay to the core, man. You can't be anymore Malay than that when you put on a sarung, man.

No one's laughing. Oh oh.

I know I shouldn't have pushed the limits of our friendship further, but it was really tempting that I kept going. If he (Rais Yatim) wanted to prove a point that it is time for everyone to stop conforming to the western rules, why didn't he put on a baju Melayu on the day in question? He should have known better that putting on a Nehru style shirt didn't make him less western than what he is.

So he should have put on a baju Melayu?
Maybe. But do you know that baju Melayu isn't something that belongs to the Malay? It was invented by a Chinese tailor and that's why he or she (that tailor) called it baju Melayu. It was a baju he had to make for a Malay customer.
Oh really? How did you know this.
Hey, I know this kinda stuff like the back of my hand.

And so this Chinese tailor designed this baju Melayu for his client. The client came in the evening, looked at it and said, can you put some pockets on?
Sure thing, awang.
And so the Chinese tailor put some pockets on. Three altogether. Next thing you know this Malay client put the shirt on and walked around the shop, looking himself in the mirror feeling like a handsome Malay prince. He asked, how much for the shirt? The Chinese guy said, four rial. He paid the guy and said to himself, what do I do with my sarung? He said, oh well I can wear it on top of the baju. Which he did. The Chinese guy said, if he wears it like that, how is he going to reach for the pockets? Oh well, the Chinese guy thinks to himself, that's what Malay is, quite impractical people. Funny but impractical. Unlike the Chinese. Good customers that they are so what the heck. Let them wear it the way they like as long as they come to me for more baju like that.

That's the story behind baju Melayu, man. And that's why I don't wear it no more. Last time I put it on was like twenty five years ago. No one can make me put that on, man. And you can be sure as your ears that I won't ever make one, not even if have to appear before the Agung to receive a medal or something. I'd rather put on a boilersuit before a Sultan than being seen dead in a baju Melayu. Unless you are P.Ramlee it is difficult to look handsome in a baju Melayu. It's not like a Samurai suit, or a pirate outfit, or a cowboy suit where a guy can look dashing in them. Besides, how do you match baju Melayu? Do you wear it with shoes, or capal? What kind of shoes? Oxford? Demiboots? Or Phua Chu Kang boots? Or a Wellington boots. Do you put on a songkok or that heap of cloth coiled like a dead snake on your head? I don't put it on because I don't want to look like a doorman of a five-star hotel, man. The most practical baju Melayu is the kind worn by Johorean. At least they've got the pockets outside and the sarung inside. In the 80s rockers posing for a Hari Raya posters in Malay entertainment magazine wore their baju melayu with a songkok and sneakers. They are not breaking any laws, it's their interpretation of what baju melayu is in the 80s influenced by malay soft rock.

Shouldn't have said that. I could sense someone is ready to boil over.

And then someone got really drunk and said something. tidak Melayu hilang di dunia. Now that got me really really pissed off that I almost shouted, do you know that Hang Tuah doesn't exist? And that he was just a character someone as drunk as you had cooked up? Had he really exist how come not a single decendant of his has ever been found in Melaka or anywhere in the world? And that Taming Sari bullshit? It's just a load of bull, man. Have you ever fought with a keris and have you ever experienced how difficult it is to hold a keris the way you are supposed to hold it and fight? When you fight with a weapon you hold it tight, man. You don't hold it like a Malay handshake, soft, loose and unsure. Do you know that Hang Whatever could very well had been Chinese? That's what Yasmin said in her movie Sepet. I believe Yasmin more because there is no written history of this Hang Bullshit any where. All you've got is a load of bull, oral history from people who don't know any better how to smelt metal to turn into sharp shining sword like that of Victorinox. He didn't exist, man. He is as good as other folklore like Luncai, Awang Kenit, Mat Jenin and the rest of the stories old people tell their children. Stories that don't mean nothing. Stories with gurindam and pantun using archaic, dead language that doesn't say exactly what you are supposed to say because it is not polite to call a spade a spade. Call whatever you want, man but to me that is as good as lying. Maybe that's why you guys are finding it hard to deal with me because I can be absolutely honest with my opinion and say it the way I feel instead of hiding behind this polite bullshit your ancestors taught you.

One thing I learned from facing a possible danger like a fight. You either make the first move punching your opponent cold or you can wait and wait until he got bigger and bigger in your mind that will make you wobble in the knees. Didn't want that to happen so I had better leave those guys to drink their sorrow away before I had to bundle them in a taxi cab to take them back to the hotel.


Blogger Sayuti said...

its funny the way you put it. i laughed as i read your entry.

yes, the true existence of hang tuah is still under question. if he did exist, he could be a chinese. just like hang li po. hang is their surname. the real name should be hang to ah, hang je pat, hang lee kiu, hang lee ker and hang kas tori.

if hang tuah really is a malay, muslim he should have a 'bin' in his name. hang tuah bin abdullah for example.

in sulalatus sulalatin, hang tuah is described as a crook, a villain, a molester. hang tuah is described as a hero in hikayat hang tuah. so, there's a conflict in the story from the two different source.

but, people love heroes. so, the hero version becomes more popular.

anyway, i will still wear my baju melayu to office everyday. yes, together with the sampin and songkok.

p/s: your fren was drunk? now, thats a shame for a malay (if he is one).

1:51 PM  
Blogger maklang said...

Right, Johorean are more practical. I agree to that..

3:11 PM  
Blogger dee3 said...

been awhile since i've been here.
in my humble opinion, wahai en. bergen, one word to describe your blog entry this time around: wow!

why 'wow'? exhilarating maaa...

do what you need to do, think as you wish to view it :)

3:28 PM  
Blogger dee3 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Ms.B said...

With all due respect to your friends and where they stood on the matter, I for one, share your stand on the matter.

For example, it isn't a big deal to me that I'm a malay. So what? And it really irks me when I find that quite a lot of malays are more interested in their malay identities or heritage than their Muslim ones (for those who are Muslims, that is). Isn't it much more important to be a Muslim than a malay, or any other race or ethnicity for that matter?

Just yesterday I was having a slight argument with a (malay) friend who was making a big deal about our mutual friend's indian husband, who is a Muslim convert, and of the fact that he doesn't carry the "bin Abdullah" in his name, choosing instead to retain his indian name. I said that well, he didn't need to carry the Abdullah, so long as the meaning behind his original name and surname are not contrary to Islam. My friend disagreed and then went on to say something about how it didn't look nice and that it would be a problem and all, as the malays won't know he's a Muslim.

I was like, "So? Isn't that his choice to make?" Besides, his malay Muslim wife has had all the religious education to know what's right and wrong and so if at all, she would know what's best for him. In any case, shouldn't the concern be more of the fact that perhaps other Muslims (rather than malays) won't be able to identify him as a Muslim? Suffice to say when the conversation ended, we agreed to disagree on the matter.

Of course, all this coming from me, a (malay) Muslim who's not quite got her head screwed on right, but if you ask me, I'm more interested in sorting that out than my malay identity. That's the least of my concerns, which is why I find it difficult to relate when people (including the political parties, etc) get riled up with the whole malay identity thing.

And besides, I think I am somewhat entitled to criticise malays, chinese, indians, etc since my mom's 1/2 Indian Muslim and 1/2 Chinese, and dad's 1/2 Javanese and 1/2 Bugis.

And I end up being "Malay". Go figure! *laughs*

Anyway, this is a topic that not many are keen to talk about, and so my sounding board is usually my husband, who has to hear me rant on and on about this. Luckily, he's (almost) on the same page as me, otherwise we'd be at each other's throat's on this thorny issue!

Also a last note on sayuti's p/s at the bottom of his comment, where he said "p/s: your fren was drunk? now, thats a shame for a malay (if he is one)." Now unless bergses' friend was a malay non-muslim, which i doubt very much, my open question is as to why it should be a shame if he was a drunk malay, as opposed to a drunk Muslim? LOTS of malays are happily drinking their times away at the clubs, lounges and homes, but it's just that nobody really talks (or wants to talk) about it.

No malice here, aight - just my lengthy 2 cents. *winks*

4:01 PM  
Blogger yasmin said...

show me where in the koran or hadiths that says one ought to be proud of one's race, and i'll gladly abide.

but until then, i belong to the human race. as such a suffering human, irrespective of his/her race, is deserving of my helping hand.

borders can lead to wars between countries. racial segregation can lead to wars WITHIN.

4:29 PM  
Blogger d'arkampo said...


with permission.

They say, Armstrong has never set foot on the moon.It was all a fake.

and sometimes, there is no right or wrong. winner or loser.

We leave it the way it is and we move on.

4:41 PM  
Blogger MA said...

Melayu, Cina, Bugis , Jawa are all labels we (read : society) stuck on ourselves - not that I care much about labels.

So I am not a patriotic Malay. I don't wear baju kurung much except to funerals and weddings.

Shoot me.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other word would smell as sweet."

It's what we are inside that matters.

It's really funny that people can actually get bodily harm over such issue.

My dua kupang.

4:52 PM  
Blogger AuntieYan. said...

Bergen, sorry to hear that you had a heated argument over something which is not that important....
But...errr...I can't help laughing....its soooo lawakkkkk!

5:05 PM  
Blogger Nazrah said...

i am nazrah. i am malay.

My loyalty to my own cultural identity is none but a self-indulgence. i am fascinated with its history, arts and science, its people, norms, mores, what have you because i could relate to what i am feeling, what i am experiencing, what i see around me. there is beauty in it, as much as there are dubious merepekness that could shame the most glorified Malay ever born.

what i am selectively appreciating is the legacy that my ancestors have left me. For me it is my fascination with beauty, intricately woven in traditions,rituals and theories. however at the same time i make conscious efforts to deliberately ignore and diassociate myself from what's not in tandem with my religious beliefs, my conviction and submission to Islam.For me, appreciating my own race, gives me a sense of rootedness and a sense of community. which in more ways than one, makes me feel good about myself, and God willing,be a better muslim.

culture evolves so fast that no documentation efforts can keep up. they either fail miserably at keeping records, or misrepresent it so intricately with fictional bits( not without conscious intent to exagerrate though, all with reasons that was considered pertinent at the time).If you look for the good, chances are you'll find it.

every culture in my humble opinion, is borrowed and amalgamated to become something rather muddled and eventually get diluted in terms of originality.the symbols and material culture of a group of ppl are mere representations of the changes that it has gone through. there is no one culture in this world that has not been influenced by others. this applies to the baju kurung and baju long as it is tutup aurat, no matter how stylised it is or how it is styled, if a group of people who share communal practices and qualify as a distinctive society, call it baju kurung, or baju melayu, worn with or without sneakers and raybans,no problemo,don't think it is prohibited in's just an item of fashion. if you so choose NOT to wear it, let it be not because you find it not Malay enough, because essentially nothing ever is.

about malay literature that has been exposed to the young and old, depicting Malay traits that are reasonably abhorred by the Malays themselves,educated ones especially, i put forth a question to u, how many of us have delved into the hikayats enough to say that it's rubbish? the Malay language is far from dead, and i dare say that pantun and syair are very much alive today. hang tuah is a legend, probably a character created to boost the ego of one person, probably a conspiracy to make us look stupid till somebody replaces the iconic hero identity to some other characters, or it could be a product of a very scared writer, who was forced to write a book glorifying one kerajaan before its downfall, and it had to be as thick as a tree, so he had had no choice, but to exagerrate or risk having his head chopped off. hang tuah probably exists, but his heroism has been blown out of proportions, when kingdoms were racing with each other to produce the ultimate story book.or so i loosely presume.

i put it to you, what we know today is the result of nearsighted curriculum designers. touch and go selection of folk stories, fossilized into our brains thinking that's the constitution of a Malay identity.

That said,

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings"

it is at the end of the day , a matter of personal take charge of and be responsible with what you want to believe. the more we dwell on the nitty gritty, the more we lose sight on the bigger picture.

pls pardon my nenek kebayan ramble. just my 2 setengah sen.u struck a nerve today. we weren't taught to forget our race, and pretend we do not belong to our roots.But we were told that, it does not matter what race or color we are, but how deep is our conviction and submission to Allah.

In his last pilgrimage khutbah, the Prophet said,

"Oh humankind, your Lord is one and your ancestors are one. You are from Adam and Adam was from dust. Behold, neither the Arab has superiority to the non-Arab, nor the red to the black nor the black to the red except by virtue of piety (taqwa). Truly the most distinguished amongst you is the most pious."

Allah knows best.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous atn said...

hmm i think men (Malay or not) look dashing in baju Melayu, makes me want to just tengok and tengok lagi.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Queen Of The House said...

Some Malays, I think, do not know where to draw the line between race and religion. I am not sure which is good - is it when the lines are blurred, or is it when the lines are clearly defined? Maybe in the real world, things are just not so straightforward.

This is totally unrelated though - my son was in a school play about the pahlawan2 melayu - all the Hang(s) that he could not remember the names of. So we asked him to name the 5 sahabat. "Errrrr .... Hang Tuah, Hang Kasturi, Hang ... Hang .... Hang Li Po????"

1:42 PM  
Blogger Sayuti said...

mdm blabs,
non-muslim or muslim, being drunk is not a malay culture. tuak, not a malay cultural heritage either. we don't have any reason to be drinking something which may heat up our body system in this kind of climate.

mdm yasmin,

hadith: "i'm an Arab, and I shall act like an Arab".

koran: "and we created you many races, so that you'll get to know each other (ta'aruf)" this can be interpreted as keeping our own culture so that people can get to know us.

regardless what race are we from, we can be united under one creed. and Islam is not very rigid. as long as you follow its guideline, no matter what race or ethnic culture you are from, its still valid and relevant, morally.

proud of own race is not asabiyah. asabiyah is like what UMNO and PAS is doing right now. thats asabiyah, IMHO.

p/s: by the general law of heredity (is this the correct word), i'm a chinese. the father of my father is chinese, teowchew. but the other three quarter are malay.

10:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alhamdullilah, I am a Muslim and alhamdullilah I am a Malay. Allah creates us all in "variety" or "races" to make this life more interesting. Unfortunately,stereotyping, prejudices, and racism often mess up this diversity concept.In my humble opinion when we don't like something sometime it is best to keep to ourself because we may unfortunately hurt others feeling by being critical of a person's culture. You may not like baju Melayu but don't be too harsh on it. Also Allah is great, today you dislike baju melayu, but one of these days you may be wearing it 24/7 - and Allah knows best - so never said never - because that is arrogant and I have this perception that you are not arrogant. Also what do you gain by making your friends upset with you.
We can all be proud of our race but not to the point of being arrogant or thinking that we are better than others. I enjoy meeting people of different races and culture. I am thankful to Allah for providing me with these experience and it definitely make me humble because I am just like any other man or woman on this earth.
Nevertheless, if you want to wear the boilersuits to get "the pingat" - hei - that's ok as long as you are comfortable and those guys do not kick you out of the dewan - ha ha ha. So are you going to be Dato Bergen or Tan Sri Bergen? I always prefer to be plain me but you can call me Puan Sri.
Take care.

10:22 AM  
Blogger bergen said...

To everyone who came in and participated in this entry, thank you.

Do forgive me for any terkasar bahasa or things I shouldn't have said.

Thank you. Ampun ma'af dipinta dari abang, kakak, adik, saudara, saudari sekelian.

I am a Malay. Nothing can change this.

12:20 PM  
Blogger NBB said...

tapi cakap macam koboiii je...

11:28 PM  

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