Keeping an Identity – Culture

In six months time, it would been eleven years that I moved away from ‘home’ – the country of my birth. I try hard not to call it ‘home’ anymore, because that’s not where I live, that’s not where my child was born, that’s not where my heart lies.

Materially, making a home away from home, has not been hard, it has after all just needed money (the house, the car, the furniture etc. ) What has been a little more of a challenge is trying to recreate or replicate certain childhood experiences and memories for Georgia, that we (being from Penang, Malaysia) have so loved and treasured. In short to try to give her the experiences of the culture that defines us, and the worldliness of the variety of religions in the country that we come from, as opposed to the country we now live in.

I know it’s easy to say, she will have her own experiences, make her own memories, but so much of what we experience defines who we become, and while living comfortably and affluently in a developed country now, I sometimes lament the fact that she will miss out on the extremely, diverse, mullti-culture, multi-religion environment, that I took so much for granted when I was growing up. Like they say, you won’t miss it until you lose it!

Granted, the Malaysia of today is no longer the Malaysia of my formative years, policies, politics and the media have changed the views, and skewed outlooks, however one can never escape the diversity of the people, and how well they really get along, regardless of what the politicians say!

When we moved Georgia in to her current school, we did it with eyes-wide-open, yes we knew it was a Church school and yes we were prepared for the ‘subtle-ness’ in which Christianity would become part of her every day experience. In all honesty, what I never really considered was how reactions might be to different cultures.

Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival, is the major cultural event of all Chinese people, it is in essence, non-religious although there may be certain religious aspects (that are not universally practised). It is a time for family to get together, to eat, share food, wish everyone well and make new starts for a new year. It’s a bit like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled in to one.

As this years Chinese New Year descended upon us, it fell on a School day. I made a casual mention of this to her Class teacher, a few days prior, in hopes that perhaps they might try to talk about in Class. Their reaction was rather disappointing, “Oh” , they said, with a smile. And so that was that.

We did make it up to London this year, for the firecrackers, and lion dances, but I did wonder what kind of message that sent to Georgia, that we were so eager for her to see and experience an event that was not even mentioned in school.

You see, in Malaysia, the multi-culturalism, diversity, and variety of religion, are all scheduled right in to the country’s calendar. Every major religion and festival has a public holiday on the annual calendar.
Deepavali, Divali
So we celebrate, the Chinese New Year with the Chinese, the Hari Raya (or Eid) with the Malays and Muslims, Deepavali (Divali) is shared with our Indian friends, Thaipusam is another day of (with the Hindus), Wesak Day (for Buddhists), Christmas (for Christians), Hari Raya Haji (for Muslims) and the list goes on.

We visited friends who celebrated each of these religions in turn, we shared food, red packets (ang pows), beef rendang and my favourite muruku (an indian biscuit). Homes were always open and welcoming, you never really had to ‘call ahead’, and if you did it was only to make sure that your friend was home.

That to me is the epitome of integrated diversity and tolerance.

And so when the British government talks of ‘integration’, of ‘integrating’ immigrants or asylum seekers in to the British way of life, I am struck by how the term ‘integrate’ sounds. In the crudest sense, it’s rather like training someone to be something they are not and the foremost question on my mind is, what do these immigrants have to ‘give up’ in order to be integrated? And who judges if their ‘integration’ is complete?

© 2011, Li-ling. All rights reserved.


  • That’s wonderful that you have such a rich culture to share with your daughter! And with your community, really. Do you think in the future the school might have a better reaction if you offered to give the class a presentation about a certain holiday? Assuming you have time, that is, not that it should be something you add to an already full plate. You just have such a beautiful appreciation of and connection with the traditions you grew up with, and imagine how much it would benefit the children to experience even a bit of it!

    Being an American, I have often wanted to be a part of some kind of different, more meaningful traditions. All of our holidays have become so shallow: Christmas is about presents and some fake fat man taking all the credit for them, New Year’s is about finding the best party, even our independence day is just about where the best fireworks are happening and who’s offering the best BBQ. It doesn’t feel like there is any soul to any of it.

    • Elena, Thanks so much for reading and commenting.
      I did consider offerring to give a talk/presentation (something I did at another nursery G went to), but us being ‘new’ and the school being a Christian school made me a bit hesitant. Perhaps I will next year.

      I know what you mean about the commercialisation of so many holidays. I see a lot of it here in the UK, and it happens a lot too in Asia/ S.E.Asia. Perhaps the fact that there are so many cultural and religious public holidays gives everyone more of an excuse to take some time out and get to know more of another culture.

      Perhaps in your new place, you’ll be able to have more meaningful get-togethers with like minded neighbours.

      Your description of St Nick cracked me up! I have another post where I describe my honesty to Georgia’s question about Santa Claus.

      We seem to be in agreement 🙂

  • Military Integration (or not?) a Teachers Perspective – an excellent post articulating different issues and challenges, clearly not considered by Gove and his warriors.

  • I am also from a multi-cultural country. In Trinidad, we have public holidays for Divali, Phagwa, Eid-ul-Fitr, Spiritual Baptist Day, Emancipation, Independence, East Indian Arrival Day and oh the list could go on and on. They’ve also recently introduced Chinese Arrival Day. We joke a lot about Trinis just wanting lots of holidays but the good thing is that we’re annually connected to our cultures and history, and children learn about all of that in school. Even if you’re not a Hindu, the likelihood is that you’ll be eating at somebody’s house for Divali and driving around to look at lit diyas. And I do wonder what it will mean, raising a child in Britain, without the richness of that experience.

    • Hi Circus Queen, how amazing is that! One of the things that we noticed when we came here to the UK was that there were no ‘holidays’, and apart from Christmas and Easter, it was only Bank Holidays.
      We have just been trying to ensure that Georgia is made aware of it all, whether through books or online videos, nothing will be quite like the actual experience of being there and doing it though.
      The only thing i can think of now, is perhaps make more ‘multi-cultured’ friends and visit them during those festivals 🙂 you’re welcome over at ours for Chinese New Year – just across the severn bridge 😉

  • I too am from a place where different cultures are what you’re exposed to and part of. I’m from India and much of what you say I can completely relate to – about open homes and just dropping in, about my child missing out on the richness of something like Diwali etc. I guess it’s up to me to make sure that my child understands both cultures – the western and Indian. It does take effort and perseverance but I think it’s worth it. Do you have many Malaysian friends? If you do then celebrating CNY and other events with them would be lovely. I was also extremely pleased that my daughters nursery had a CNY themed week where they painted dragons, ate with chopsticks (or tried!) and other little activities. I’m hoping they do something similar for Diwali too.

    • Hi ebabee! Sounds like your daughter’s in a great nursery. Yes it will definitely be worth-while, the effort to share our experience and knowledge of cultural differences.
      Thanks for visiting and for sharing your thoughts.

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