Monday, May 17, 2004

Being Polite

Being Polite

The Chinese in Thailand are very well assimilated with the natives and it is quite difficult for foreigners to differentiate between them. Hardly any of them speak any Chinese dialects anymore and like in most other South-East Asia countries, they are a very successful community here, even though they only make up 10 percent of Thailand's sixty over million population. PM Thaksin himself is of Chinese origin.

The good about being in a foreign country is that, I'm are always regarded as Malaysian first and Chinese a very distant second. That always puts me in an interestingly neutral position between the local Chinese and the natives. For example in Indonesia, I can freely ask a Javanese what he or she thinks about the local Indonesian Chinese. And they will not hesitate to give me very frank answers.

The other day I asked a Thai colleague what he thought about the differences between the people in Bangkok, KL and Singapore, since he had had the opportunity to work in all these three cities before. He said that there are a lot of similarities between the people in Malaysia and Thailand but Singaporeans are a different breed altogether. He told me that he is more comfortable working with Malaysians.

I probed him a little bit further: "but don't you find Malaysians relatively rude compared to the Thais?"

He said: "Perhaps the Chinese are...".

Intrigued by his answer, I offered a polite explanation: "Perhaps it is the aggressive nature of the Chinese that's often misconstrued as being brash or rude?"

"But Thai Chinese are not rude", he said. He knows--for he is a Thai Chinese himself.

In Indonesia, I learned to identify the local Chinese from the way the talk--there's a brash edge to their style. But in general I find Thais and Indonesians--both Chinese and the natives--among the most polite people I've ever met.

There was a report recently in our local press about poor manners among the airport staffs who were screening passengers for SARS. Perhaps, like what our PM said recently, development has made Malaysians greedier, uncaring and rude.

It's probably unfair to generalize and it could be my own personal bias, but everytime I return to Malaysia, I always get the feeling that I'm returning to a less gentle world. It often takes me a day or two to readjust myself. So are we less polite compared to our neighbours? I don't know; It's difficult for me to judge--I'm Malaysian and I'm Chinese.

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