Friday, April 17, 2009

Let Us Not Take Offence

In most places in Sarawak you cannot really tell who is Chinese or who is Iban or who is Melanau because all of us look quite Sarawakian if we have some mixed ancestry. One student called "Siti" is every inch a Chinese (grandma is Chinese) but she is Iban and speaks BM and Iban only. Another is totally Indian looking but only his grandfather is Indian. You will be surprised he speaks Iban or Chinese to you. In Sarawak you might find the Biblical Tower of Babel but you may be able to at least communicate in Bahasa Sarawak or Bahasa Malaysia. You will be surprised that today you have Bangladeshis who speak good Mandarin in Miri.!

I had this nice conversation with one of my coffee shop towkay neo friends. She told me that she often made embarrassing mistakes when she spoke Chinese to a customer who turned out to be Iban or Bahasa Malaysia to another customer who turned out to be Chinese!

We really must not take offence because it is really difficult to tell who is what from all my experiences.

Even I have been mistaken for a Malay whenever I wear Baju Kurong and Bahasa Malaysia would be our language of interchange. But the best communication faux pas was when a Chinese man spoke Iban to me and I replied in Iban knowing fully well that he was a Chinese. We would do this for a while until I allowed him to find out that I was a Chinese. On another occasion an Iban friend of mine was driving a Mercedes up to a petrol pump when the assistant asked in a friendly way how long he had been a driver in Bahasa Sarawak. The pump assistant was Iban! But my friend was very sporting as he said he had been a driver since he was 18 in excellent Iban with Bahasa Sarawak accent!!

Yong Huo is a lovely little shop located to the left of the Park Hotel. It serves nice Taiwan Toufoo Milk and Taiwanese Biscuits. It specialises in Yew Tiau with cucumber salad dressed with mayonnaise. Whenever I bring a friend for some accupressure with Mr. Hii Kah Ang and his assistant Madam Hii I would stop by for a coffee and/or bowl of kampua mee ( a connoisseur had some time ago told me that it is NOT kampua mee but Cantonese mee).

The towkay neo who is the daughter-in-law of Madam Hii is very honest when she told me that their mee was more kolo mee than kampua mee but it is made in the same way. But it does not really matter as I have found that the two are totally different over the years. The difference is Sibu Kampua and Miri Kampua! Confusing isn't it? So when in Sibu order Sibu Kampua Mee. In Miri..just any dry mee kolo or Cantonese. There cannot be a conclusion to this debate...:) :) :P

While waiting I would read all the Chinese newspapers available in the coffee shop even "old newspapers"! In times of recession this is a good way of saving some ringgit on newspapers. Parking is also expensive here as it is 50 sen for the first half hour. You cannot win can you? But the towkay neo will give you extra portion of noodles because you are waiting....(whisper : you can pack more than half of the bowl of noodles to take home (ta pau). :)

When you meet these two you will think that they are Chinese. Inda on the left is an Iban from Kanowit and Moi on the right is Indonesian who may just reply you in Chinese!! Being ever so cheerful and friendly they will never take offence.
These two waitresses always put their customers at ease .

Yong Huo is a very multi-racial coffee shop and is not the domain of only one race. You can see civil servants having their break here and early morning bus communters coming down from Niah having their breakfast. Some of the Senior Citizens of Chinese descent also patronise this shop. I like to see some old Chinese ladies coming to the pasar for their marketing and stopping by for their kolo mee and kopi-o. Some Foochow men will have a good conversation about the economy for a good hour or two even under the swirling fan. A cup of kopi-o can go a long long way for them. As for me I love this "waiting room". It is very much a social centre!

Customers should just enjoy the linguistic confusion which comes along with living in a multi-racial country.

Enjoy the cup of kopi and the kampua/kolo mee that come along with all the diverse mix! That's very Sarawak.

16 memories:

Superman said...

In Sarawak, all can sit on same table and eat which you cannot find in West Malaysia. Sarawak is a nice place to stay.

A.H.AWANG MOIS said...

Mrs Sawan or Changyi,

I always tell myself not to visit this website too regulraly because there are so many pictures of nice and delicious food. Mi Kolo, Laksa Swk Laksa Penang, Ikan Jelawat uuuhhhh. They all make me hungry, the more I visit the more hungry I get. Wonder how Mr Sawan manage to keep slim. Keep it up and what about publishing all the useful ethnographic material? Found a good publisher yet?

sarawakiana said...

Good afternoon Mr. Superman. I hope you had a good kampua this morning in a nice coffee shop.
Sarawak is really a paradise if you can look deeper!!

sarawakiana said...

Hi Prof H.
Thanks for the great compliments. Made my day!
Mr. S is slim because he always takes good care of himself by jogging and walking a lot.
So far no publisher interested yet. Too costly in Miri too.
Keep down the comforting flour based food and eat lots of vegetables especially bunga kantan.

bliss said...

I am glad you raise this issue. For many years my grandmother would refuse to go and have coffee because she did not know how to order. Later when we brought her to better restaurants she could not read the menu well. And she would always say get the same for her. She would always be uncomfortable. I think it is culture shock for her.

Daniel Yiek said...

I have strong Cantonese accent and when in Kuching, people asked me where I'm from.

sarawakiana said...

Dear Bliss
There are many shy people who find it hard to face the public. The public may be one stranger or a whole place of strangers.
Their comfort zone is very limited. Hence their fears.
Many people also find languages can upset their comfort zone. Hence a person may find it very tough to go to a Cantonese speaking function when he can only speak Heng Hua. The levels of education can also cause discomfort.
We have to be very understanding and give them a lot of confidence. Cheer them on. Little steps.

sarawakiana said...

Daniel - Kuching business people may be very sharp - when they sense that you are from outside they may be giving you the signals that they know and they are proud to let you know that they know. When you respond the conversation which is then carried on can be very warm - or very cold....
Do you remember in the olden days the elders would ask " Wow you are dressed well today!" Now it is up to you to tell why you are all dressed up....(usually if you don't they will say that at your back you are rather stuck up????:) :) hehehe
Now I have to pay attention to all the Sarikei Cantonese and listen to their accents

Thanks for visiting.

RW FINE ART said...

read your article making me feel proud to be a Sarawakian.

Superman is right. we mixed well in Sarawak.

i myself have been mistaken for Chinese both in Sarawak and here in KL. 'nasib' i know mandarin. my great grandma was a chinese.

sarawakiana said...

RW Fine Art
Welcome to the beautiful of Sarawakians!
All of you of mixed descent have to be strong and proud to make Sarawak a good place.
Carry on your good work.

justin said...

This exposure about linguistic richness is great. We Sarawakians usually speak more than three languages and that make me and my siblings feel good.

(It is true sometimes coffee shop keeprs are not good to their if it is so hard to buy food from them......)

Thanks for your article.

ngoh said...

I think a mixed Iban and Cantonese with roots from Kanowit and Sarikei will easily fit in with many people here. Miri is a good place - as long as no one is too proud.

sarawakiana said...

Justin Thanks for visiting. One point that businesses must bear in mind always : train their employees (waiters and waitresses) to respect customers and business will flourish.
Customer service is still the rule of the day!!
A discerning customer like you must always be welcome and well treated.
My grandfather always said "Respect even the 5 cents you earn from a person and be grateful to the person who parted with the money. That is the beginning of business..Shen Ee..grow meaning. Good relationship is in the centre of business."

sarawakiana said...

Ngoh This is already the 21st Century. And you are right! Respect for each other is the key. And in times of economic downturn it is even more significant to realize that we are all part of a shrinking economy but every little member of the society will strengthen the link!
Pride should not have a place in our community if we are to build it up together.

chung said...

Ah! I heard from many people that the chakoi there is nice. I love tahoo chui. Thanks.

sarawakiana said...

If you like mayonnaise you will like the chakoi sandwich there.
I only like Toufoo chui with plan chakoi or yew tiau.
Give it a try.


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