Where are you really from [Day 14 of Thankfulness]

by - Thursday, January 14, 2016

currently: listening to YOUTH - Troy Sivan.


Day 14 - Where are you really from
No matter who I talk to, the pattern is very much the same.

"Where are you from?"
I'm from New Zealand.
"Yeah but... Where are you from?"
Auckland.
"Okay but where are REALLY from?"

I know what answer they want me to say the minute they ask that first question. They Facebook my name, they look at my face, and they question it. No matter how often I tell people I'm a New Zealander, I don't "look" it. They want me to say my family, "my people", come from Malaysia.

When I was younger, I actually did start lying and saying to people I was from Malaysia. It made conversations shorter and easier for people to comprehend. I'd tell them "home" for me was in Kuala Lumpur where all my extended family was. The people would then nod and do the whole "Ohhhh, yeah I know where Malaysia is. Your English is really good."

Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur in particular) is very different to New Zealand. It's fast, crowded, humid and polluted. Rain comes in floods, and the heat comes like a thick blanket. It's noisy, busy, messy, run down and yet new and urban at the same time. It's a remarkable place.

Every few years since I was born, my family would travel to Malaysia. Many of my family members haven't moved homes in my lifetime - so even if I haven't seen it in years, it always feels familiar.

I've written all sorts of stories about Malaysia (check out my Asia diaries on my blog) but the one thing I fail to mention between the stories of amazingly cheap food, amazingly cheap shopping, and ridiculous hot weather, is why I always travel back. It's to spend time and see my extended family.

Both sides of my family mainly stay in Kuala Lumpur, so there's a full reunion involving a massive gathering of people every time we return. And with that many people, I am always learning something new about my family each visit. There's a new story, a new location, a new place with a story behind it that we'll pass by. It lives like a monument in places around Kuala Lumpur.

I guess the difference between people who say they're from New Zealand and have generations of history in New Zealand, and people like me who are the first generation born New Zealanders, is that I have a history that I don't live in. Malaysia is where everything before me ever began. The places where my parents met, where they grew up, where my grandparents worked, and where they lived. I haven't seen half of these places but the home for this history, my history, is in Malaysia.

By the way, this could be a fascinating fact for some people, but I also don't "fit in" when I'm in Malaysia. My skin is shades lighter for one, and my voice is completely foreign no matter how I try to quietly blend in. I'm a stranger there too and it doesn't take long for people to ask me where I'm from, but that doesn't matter too much for me.

I may not say I'm "from" Malaysia, but Malaysia will always be a big part of who I am.

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For the month of January 2016, I'm writing 31 personal stories about things in my life I'm thankful for. See all my posts during my month of thankfulness here.

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