I met a very interesting man the other night. His name is BK. Originally from Iceland, BK has been working in Kuala Lumpur for the past three years.
Over dinner, I asked him if Malaysia had been treating him well. BK smiled and nodded while happily gorging on his food.
“The weather is amazing. The food is wonderful. And the people are friendly. I can’t think of anywhere else I want to be,” BK assured me.
From our conversation, I learned that in his free time, BK travelled around the country. In his short spell with us, he has visited almost every state in Peninsula Malaysia except Perlis, Kedah and Penang. And his favourite destination – Pantai Cherating.
According to him, his three children are in love with Malaysia too. While in Iceland, they visited Malaysia frequently, not only to see their dad, but also because they simply enjoyed it here.
I was fascinated with BK’s story but mostly because I am so used to hearing my Malaysian friends getting all excited about migrating elsewhere – and here I was, listening to this foreigner, wanting to make our country his home.
“Funny to hear you falling in love with Malaysia because many of us are struggling to get out,” I told him matter-of-factly on our ride home.
“Well, another reason I like Malaysia is because I am treated very well here. It feels as if I am given a special privilege,” said BK, his eyes on the road.
I questioned him about this “special privilege” he was experiencing.
“Well, Malaysians seem to love us, white people! I go to restaurants and I get noticed fast. There are always people giving way for me because I am white. You know, I forgot to change my road tax and got pulled over by the authorities THREE TIMES, but on all occasions, I was merely given a reminder and was set free. And a few times I got stopped by cops for failing to stop at the red light – they waved as soon as they saw me. Seriously, there are so many examples I can give you, Fa!”
“Looks like you are really enjoying the special treatment,” I said, trying to hide my smirk.
“Don’t get me wrong, Fa. I come from a small country with only a 300,000 population. We believe in equality regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion. When I was first here, I was very surprised with the way Malaysians treated me – frankly, I’ve never been to Asia before and while I expect to be treated kindly as any other normal human being, I definitely did not expect to be treated as ‘special’ just because of the colour of my skin,” admitted BK.
The truth is, BK is not alone. I have heard similar stories from other “white” foreigners who are either tourists or expats living in the country. And honestly, I’ve witnessed it myself – that special attention afforded to white folks by our local flight attendants; that broader smile given by locals when meeting white folk on the street; that “Aww, your baby is so adorable” remark our local aunties offer up to their mat salleh friends – I can go on and on but I think you’ve seen it too.
Honestly, I used to think that special treatment was reserved for those who had accomplished something special to deserve it. However, when special treatment is afforded to certain people merely because of the way they look, or because they are of a certain skin tone or even because they belong to a certain ethnicity (or religion) – it is so uncool.
“But Fa,” BK continued, “I never thought I’d say this – but it does feel nice to have that special treatment.”
Perhaps if any of us sported that “special” look or “special skin tone” or was of that “special ethnicity”, we too would feel just as pleased.
“Of course it is, BK. Of course it is,” I said, sighing in silence.