Travel through the eyes of a brown westerner

Today's Stamp (Blog)

Today's Stamp: Selamat Datang, Malaysia

    "Selamat Datang", means 'Welcome' in Malay.  I have to say, what a true welcome it was.  Though I had previously been to Singapore bordering Malaysia to the South), I noticed a slightly different demographic, and a slight difference in the way these cultures were perceived. I flew from Bali through K.L. (Kuala Lumpur) onto Penang, the northwestern tip of Malaysia not far fromm the border of Thailand.  

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

      Before I go any further, let me state, none of my posts are lessons in history.  I will include some references to articles pertaining to subject matter mentioned here, though I welcome you to do your own research, dig deeper learn more. These posts are an account of experiences, both mine and of those whom I meet.  I encourage you You (the reader)  to contribute to your own experience/s.  I also invite you to contribute your experience/s and opinions in the comments section below each post*.  Some of them (your experiences) may vary widely and opinions differ greatly.  Many of the experiences and opinions expressed in these accounts are quite personal, and do not claim to be the same opinions or experiences of ALL.  The commentary here is about observation and aimed at igniting conversation, not closing it.  I am not here to tell anyone how to feel, or how to react to one's own experience.

Goergetown, Penang, Malaysia

Goergetown, Penang, Malaysia

     Penang seemed to have a diverse population.  Penang had for centuries been a South East Asian hub for trade.  Prior to European involvement, it was predominantly settled by Indians & (the) Chinese, and along with, came Hinduism, Buddhism and Muslim Faiths.  Of course, several others throughout the region (Middle East/Asia) utilized what was known as "the Pearl of the Orient" as a hub for trade*. In the later part of the 18th Century, then under (indirect) British rule*, the city of Georgetown was formed. 

"......... I don't mean brown, I mean like 'Africa black'........."

     Georgetown, once a hub of trade, is now a hub of tourism.  Narrow streets with old European colonial architecture reminded me a bit of settlements in the Americas (Mérida, MX; New Orleans, LA USA; etc).  The best mix of Indian, Malay & Chinese food options I have experienced especially within walking distance.  

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

     Having just come from two countries with no bar culture outside of tourism & expats (Qatar & Indonesia), I could not help but notice there was a very lively local (non tourist only/non expat only) bar scene.  So, I parked on a stool at #JunkCafe  and chat up a few Malaysians & expats.  Now, this is the reason for travel. No, not to sit in a bar and drink overpriced Jameson's, but to connect with folks from different cultures on their own 'turf', learning  about each other in ways you cannot otherwise.  

Penang, Malaysia

Penang, Malaysia

     At first I sat next to Darshini.  She spoke with me about the racial makeup of Malaysia, and told me it's broken up into 3rds.  She said you are Chinese, Indian, or native Malay, all others were considered 'foreigners' (seemingly regardless of your state of birth).  I was told their religious holidays were celebrated equally, and often people of different faiths are invited to celebrate. One taxi driver who identified as Muslim, told me the mosques welcome people of other faiths so they can experience this faith and learn from one another. One very boisterous gentleman in the bar, who asked that I do not include his name (he worked for the government), said he rarely goes out but that his wife & kids were away for the holiday (Deepavali*). It's then, I asked about national holidays, as I was aware Islam is listed as the official religion of Malaysia, though others (religions) are widely recognized.  He and Darshini said all holidays were honored & celebrated equally (including Christmas).  I'm originally from what's considered a state of non religious affiliation, yet when in court you swear on a bible, and the USA has yet to be led by a president not claiming to be of Christian faith.  I find it fascinating within a country that claims an official religion/faith equally embraces the belief system of all faiths* of it's citizens.  

.....he didn't understand the word as derogatory.....without knowledge of the words historical reference.....referred to all blacks as niggers........

     My other big observation was that of the Indian population....they were (mostly) 'black'.  I don't mean brown, I mean like 'Africa black'.  I have yet to spend time in India (as of the time when I wrote this blog post).  Up until now, the majority of people I have encountered (and have seen in my limited Bollywood experience) of Indian descent have been primarily medium shades of Brown. I asked my new friends at Junk Bar about this and they said much of the Indian population in Malaysia comes from the Southern Indian states. 

     I recall a gentleman I met from Southern India, speaking with me about this.  To paraphrase what he told me, in (much of) India, if you are lighter skinned it could mean you spend less time in the sun.  Less time in the sun might be due to your not having to work outside in the sun, you have a 'better' less laborious job or a 'better' job or even might have people working those jobs FOR you, therefore it would mean you are better off financially, in turn (subconsciously) a 'better person'. he was essentially stating there is often a stigma against those with darker skin.  He went onto state other stereotypes he grew up with, and how those dissipated as he began to travel, including his understanding of the word 'nigger'.  Apparently, in his youth, he didn't understand the word as derogatory. He said he grew up hearing that word in American films most often said by Black Americans to one another.  Not having seen any African Americans in his youth, without knowledge of the words historical reference, he shared with me (as a kid) he referred to all blacks as niggers (or quite possibly 'niggahs'.. I'm not sure if he was aware the difference in pronunciation).  He did state, of course, he's since learned otherwise. 

"The Skin Complex Goes Beyond That..." (see video here)

        At the airport awaiting the (almost always late low budget) Air Asia flight to KL, I met Mohan.  He's 1st Generation Indian/Malaysian (Malaysian born, from Penang, of Indian descent).  He now (at the time of our meeting) lives in Germany.  We chat about everything from politics, to race relations in both Malaysia, Germany & the United States. It is he, that informed me of the N.E.P. (New Economic Policy) in Malaysia which favors native Malay (bumiputra) over other it's other (ethnic chinese & Indian) Malaysians.  NEP is somewhat like an affirmative action policy for native Malay. The N.E.P. gives (in some ways) preferential treatment to those considered native Malay or 'bumiputra' (namely ethnically Chinese & Indian).  As in an article from the Economist states:

*Malaysia’s Chinese and Indian citizens chafe at being second-class citizens. Quotas in university admissions are particularly resented. Most universities in Malaysia reserve 70% or more of their places for bumiputras. Chinese and Indian students flock instead to private and foreign ones. Those who leave often stay away. A World Bank study in 2011 found that about 1m Malaysians had by that stage left the country, which has a total population of 29m. Most were ethnic Chinese, and many were highly educated. Some 60% of skilled emigrants cited “social injustice” as an important reason for leaving Malaysia. This exodus makes it a less attractive place to invest in.*
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

     In The (United) States, Affirmative action is in place to help a minority group have a fair chance at 'success', whereas in Malaysia, the bumiputra are actually the majority, and by now, over 45 years after it's enactment and over 25 years after it was initially set to expire, some argue that this policy seems to be giving a massive advantage over Malaysians not identifying as bumiputra.  It (NEP) was described to me as being extended from it's initial 20 year implementation to keep what was viewed as having happened in Singapore from happening in Malaysia.  I asked what that meant, and was told that for many in Malaysia, they feel the majority of money and power in Singapore does not belong to those of native/indigenous descent*.  

     As an (U.S.) American person of color (1/2 'black), hearing a different perspective of what seemed to be a type of Affirmative action in another nation, definitely caused me to reflect on my own beliefs/opinions on the matter.  At what point has this policy completed its mission?  How often do we as nations review and potentially revise policies of the like to best serve the nation in question in it's current state?

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.
Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad 

Gamma, a Barista (& new friend) I met while traveling in SE Asia. I asked him if he had seen any Black/ African American travelers. Click on video below for his answers.....

"Woah....Black People are not only basketball players...". "’s stereotype form the movies to show that black people is the bad guy. it’s very different the movies than reality..." quote from s.

Gabrielle, met Gabrielle in Kuala Lumpur.  I asked her to share her experiences as a young African American female traveler.  Click on video below.  

"YAAAAS, Queen, it's good to see YOU.."
"You're still black, you're still a that's, that's it.."Watch Gabrielle Hickmon share her experience of travel as a young African American woman. Video shot on location in SE Asia. Gabrielle & I met at the Kuala Lumpur airport.  "OMG, wait you too, let's be friends and hang out..."

*British Rule:  Brief History Of Malaysia

*British Rule: Brief History of Penang 


*In their eyes it belongs predominantly to those of Chinese Descent