Tuesday, April 20, 2010

of baju kurung and living in Sabah

Being a Sabahan, I grew up without much awareness of the ethnic-stereotyping that is quite typical in Peninsular Malaysia. In Sabah, there's nothing weird about wearing a baju kurung and speaking Malay while eating pork in a Chinese restaurant because baju kurung and speaking Malay are not associated with being a Muslim. In Sabah no one thinks of others as being Malay, Chinese or Indian. That would have been difficult to do, considering that there are more than 100 ethnic groups here.

The most that people do to point out differences would be to label people as Muslims or Non-Muslims. It is only when it is really really necessary that people ask what your ethnic group is. It doesn't mean that people don't recognize differences. They do, quietly, because there's no need to be loud about it. Anyway, I think there are some exception to this. Like today for example, I met a friend's mom for coffee. I wore a baju kurung because I was working. We don't know each other that well, having met only once in Perth. She hesitated a bit then blurted out, "you are wearing baju kurung. Does that mean that you have become a Muslim? Because I'd like to invite you for a meal at home one of these days and I don't want to be serving you food you cannot take". Stunned, I looked at her then laughed my heart out. I explained to her that everyone wears baju kurung here, whether or not one is a Muslim. It is comfortable and easy to take care of so I often wear one. The aunty smiled and realized her mistake for generalizing.

That reminded me of the first time I got the same reaction. It was in KL, a few years ago when I was a student. I wore a baju kurung to one of the lectures at the uni and somebody actually congratulated me for having become a Muslim. It was a shock then, because that was my first introduction to the stereotyping, and back then, I thought the person who said that to me was kind of... rude. But that was before. Now I can laugh this thing off and do my best to explain my position. I live in Sabah and here anything decent that you wear is acceptable....to almost everyone :-).


smallkucing on April 20, 2010 at 4:42 PM said...

true, this side of the country they are more ahem ahem whereas in Sabah they are more easy going.

One friend who is auditors went there to do audit. Said the people there not so strict also. Can order Wantan Mee and eat minus the pork.

Anonymous said...

I love your anecdote about baju kurung. Baju kurung is, yes, synonymous to 'Malay'ness, and some would associate it with being Muslim. But in Sabah, where we always cherish what we share in common despite all the differences, we (regardless of which religions & ethnic groups we belong to) always love baju kurung. Baju kurung is a symbol of unity, grace and practicality (it's cooling and not forgetting its subtle ways of hiding love handles, bulges, spare tyres, etc). Bah, wait no more, pakai lah baju kurung sentiasa agar kelihatan lagi ayu (what a way to end this!).
Junn de Arry

Pete on April 20, 2010 at 11:23 PM said...

No pix of Verone in Baju kurung? LOL!

Alvin Aiwen Gatu on April 20, 2010 at 11:59 PM said...

Good post Mrs.Veron...I do agree that, in sabah,even non-muslims also wear baju kurung. It's common here. I had an experience in peninsular malaysia too when me and my friend (girl) walked into a chinese restaurant, my friend was wearing baju kurung during that time, the chinese lady was very confused. but we managed to convince her by showing our IC. haha..I love sabah!

Verone on April 21, 2010 at 4:15 PM said...

smallkucing- yes we seem to be more flexible here. I'm still trying to figure out why :)
junn de arry- i love baju kurung...sempat lagi ko promote sini arr
pete- not yet hahaha
alvin- being accepted for what you are is indeed nice. I guess sabahans really do represent "unity in diversity" :-)


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