Growing up in a small Pahang town like Temerloh, one learns a lot about the other races.
My best friends when I was a kid were two boys from my neighborhood - one Christian Indian, and one Malay kid who was just as skinny as I was (or rather, am). We'd play badminton in the evenings, and later progressed to chasing each other around on our bikes and crashing them into one another.
And we'd never think that we were inferior to either friend because we had different skin colors.
At school, I learnt to speak Malay like a kampung-bred Malay, while learning Chinese at the primary school. Even now, I''ve been mistaken for a Malay more than once. I even had a conversation once with a Malay guy for half-an-hour before he realized I am Chinese.
Anyway, in my school, Malays were the majority. However, the Chinese and Malays students all got along pretty well. There were even a few instances of Malay guys going after Chinese girls, and Chinese guys chasing Malay girls. I even had a little crush on a cute Malay girl once in secondary school.
And it was all normal to us.
In fact, one of my closest friends on the state athletics team was once in this long distance romance with a Malay guy in Johor, and would only be able to meet each other whenever we went for national sports meets. I was often asked to tag along whenever they met, so that no one else would suspect anything.
Should race, religion, skin color or even language be an issue when two people fall in love? I certainly don't think so, but sometimes, stereotypes and prejudices are hard to avoid. Like that friend of mine, who was afraid that her parents and teachers might punish her if they found out about the Malay boyfriend.
Thankfully, racial prejudices in Temerloh were not really rampant, even though there were still fights among Chinese and Malay gangs sometimes. Many of us had good Malay friends, and those of us who left Temerloh for bright lights and big cities have carried that attitude with us.
Malaysia is all about the different races coming together. Sure, some races may tend to be more dominant than others in different fields, but the fact that having all these people from different cultures, different religions, and different languages coming together under one flag is a huge miracle in itself. And I haven't even mentioned all the inter-racial mixing in Sabah and Sarawak. Will leave THAT story to Erna.
However, I still hate it when the race issue is played up, where in big national news, or small day-to-day interaction. It grates on my nerves.
I may complain a lot about certain traits and quirks of certain races sometimes (including my own, if I may add), but I don't hate them. Some people have actually questioned my 'Chinese-ness' since I usually only talk in English, and I write in English for a living, so they usually just assume that I'm 'betraying' my race. I just LOVE the look on their face when I return their insult in Chinese.
Nevertheless, I don't really give a damn what people think. The fact is, that I don't really think of myself as Chinese.
I'm a Malaysian, and proud of it. Live with it.
Oh, BTW, go watch Sepet. It'll make you think.