Not everyone is an Ah Beng or Inspector Saab


WHEN Stacey Lim turns on the radio or watches an advertisement, she is often left unamused.

“I don’t understand why most of the time radio deejays who speak Mandarin or actors who portray a Chinese speak like an Ah Beng or Ah Lian.

“If they think it’s cute, it’s not. It’s actually a misrepresentation of the community. We don’t go around speaking like that,” said the 37-year-old Kuala Lumpur-based business manager.

“I think there must be a sense of responsibility in educating the masses.”

Lim isn’t alone. Such stereotyping happens elsewhere.

A huge debate erupted in the US after The Simpsons’ goofy Indian convenience store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon was heckled despite being introduced to the cartoon television series nearly three decades ago.

Apu simpson
Apu became a subject of controversy in recent months. Image: istolethetv

Indian-American comic Hari Kondabulu argued in a documentary last year that Apu is a character borne out of racial stereotyping. Hollywood and Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra weighed in on the issue earlier this month.

The Quantico star, during her appearance on The View, said:

“He (Apu) was the bane of my life growing up. I was always asked when I was in high school – like at 14,15, – why I didn’t speak like that … I always had questions like that.”

In Malaysia, a similar stereotyping is seen in characters like Mei Mei, Jarjit and Muthu in the cartoon show Upin & Ipin.

And in recent days, Federal Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID) director Datuk Seri Amar Singh, has been referred to as ‘Inspektor Saab’ – a character in Keluang Man.

Are Malaysians aware or ignorant of such stereotyping?

“Malaysians remain ignorant in many ways and don’t realise what is happening,” says prominent historian Prof Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim.

“When you see a Sikh man, most Malaysians will call him a Bengali. But a Sikh is not a Bengali.”

Khoo, who lectures at University of Malaya, said the level of ignorance was evident among his students.

“In class, when I speak about the history of Malay society, the Chinese and Indians look lost. When I speak about Chinese society, the Malays and Indians look lost. And when I speak about Indian society, the Malays and Chinese are lost.”

“The problem is with our schools which don’t take the trouble to explain to and educate our children about all this and they grow up stereotyping fellow Malaysians.”

Khoo said he is often criticised by the Chinese media as they say he is “not Chinese”.

“Even when I attend national-level meetings, the other representatives will speak about their race first. I speak up for the country. But it is not appreciated.

“Some Chinese leaders have accused me of not being Chinese enough. I only have two questions for them: which is the first Chinese school in the country to teach in Mandarin and name me two towns in peninsular Malaysia that have Chinese names. They can’t answer.”

SJK(C) Foon Yew in Johor Baru, established in 1913, was the first school to teach in Mandarin while the two towns with Chinese names are Taiping (eternal peace) and Yong Peng (everlasting peace).

He pointed out not all Indians are labourers, Chinese are not all businessmen and Malays do not just work in the civil service – as such roles are often portrayed in commercials and movies.

Should people be mindful of such stereotyping?

“Yes we should. In fact, we should start portraying Malaysians as Malaysians.”