Another year away from Malaysia means another Chinese New Year that I don’t get to celebrate with friends and family back home.
Seeing all the pictures of reunion dinners, ‘lou sang’, mandarin oranges and firecrackers on Instagram posted by friends from home made me feel a little extra wistful this year.
The main Asian communities here in Washington DC are primarily Korean and Vietnamese; and there are many Chinese students and professionals here.
DC is hosting a parade and the Kennedy Centre is hosting a family day. All that kind of feels foreign to me because that’s not how Malaysians celebrate CNY. Well, not me anyway. Mine usually consists of family dinners, visiting relatives and watching lots of Hong Kong TVB programmes.
This year, I decided to call the Malaysian Embassy to find out if they were having any CNY celebrations or events.
Someone picked up and couldn’t answer my question. The call was handed to another guy and I was told there were no events planned. Needless to say, I was not surprised. I said ‘terima kasih’ and hung up.
How very disappointing.
It got me thinking – as much as Malaysia touts itself as being multiracial, multireligious and multicultural, why aren’t there any CNY events for the Chinese-Malaysians in DC hosted by the embassy?
I know for a fact that the embassy hosts Hari Raya and National Day events. I’ve even seen on the embassy’s Facebook page postings of durian parties and get-togethers when a Malaysian minister visits.
In all the events with accompanying pictures, you will struggle to see any Chinese or Indian, let alone Iban or Kadazan culture being showcased. So when I tell people I’m Malaysian, they tend to point out I’m not dark-skinned or that I don’t “look like a Malay”.
This makes one wonder if the embassy here, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and Tourism Malaysia have all failed in communicating that the country is at all “multiracial, multireligious and multicultural”.
Sure, the current Pakatan government wants more anak Malaysia professionals based overseas to return home and contribute. Yet, they fail to see how important it is to reach out through embassy events, maintain a network and actively engage Malaysians because patriotism alone isn’t enough for us to abandon our careers here and start afresh in Malaysia.
How one gets on the embassy guest list is typically Malaysian – you have to know someone who knows someone to get on the list. If an embassy acts like some kind of private members’ club for the country’s elites – that’s not representation, that’s a problem.
To really drive this irony home, I had a Singaporean friend invite me to the DC Singapore Embassy’s Christmas event late last year. He told me many Malaysians with Singapore PR status get invited because the embassy knows where all the talent is in DC.
This is how they keep this network alive and they encourage these Malaysians to continue contributing towards Singapore’s growth and prosperity. I marveled at this smart and strategic way to recruit brains for the tiny red dot; and was saddened by Malaysia not being able to do better.
I guess I will go back to Instagram and see all the fun celebrations from afar. After all, the CNY spirit comes from inside me and not from the Malaysian Embassy in DC.
Gong Xi Fa Chai to all!