Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The essence of change

I was at an Armani Exchange store at the Pavilion a couple of weeks ago. Picked up some shirts and some jeans. Nice stuff all in all. But as I headed for the counter I asked for a shirt that a sales assistant had run off to get. The sales staff I spoke to then calls out across the room a name followed by ‘Hak Chai Wan Lei’… For those who are familiar with Cantonese, loosely translated it means the black guy is calling. I was taken aback and asked the store clerk to repeat what he had just said. He looked at me startled then muttered that he had told his colleague that the customer was looking for him. Haht as opposed to Hak….We’re dealing with phonetic translations here but the semantics are clear.

I am familiar with Cantonese and know what I heard. I am however prepared to give the clerk the benefit of the doubt. But, two things struck me. One, why do we regress to our ethnic tongues in public places in front of other people who are a part of that conversation? It is uncouth, boorish and downright uncivil. A call out in Bahasa Malaysia or even in English would have been more appropriate. The other thing I noted that day? That the entire store was manned only by ethnic Chinese. I could have walked into a store in Hong Kong or even mainland China for all the difference it made to the personnel I noted there.

The more we cry out for change, the deeper we need to look into the mirror. Our daily language is littered with ethnic derogatory terms (each of us Malaysians have terms for the ‘others’; as I said look in the mirror). This should stop. We see Malaysians congregating and employed (as witnessed at the AX store) predominantly along racial lines. In meetings we regress to our ethnic tongues whilst fully aware ‘others’ can’t understand us, in fact such regression oft times being with deliberate intent.

Yet we cry out at rallies (Bersih being the most recent) for equality. To be treated with respect and equanimity. But are not prepared to give the same… So the more we cry out for change, the more we personally resist it. Or perhaps it’s not really change we want…..

Because if it is, then we should be taking a long hard look at that mirror and judging ourselves first by the standards we expect of others…..That is where it has to begin...That would be the essence of change…

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