Third Culture Colonialism: A Critical Reflection of Lisette Scheer’s ‘Malaysian Memories’

“The area where the twin towers stand today was the Selangor Turf Club, a cricket ground and racecourse that was surrounded by traditional residential buildings. There were no malls. Everyone knew each other. And it was safe, too.

My father would finish work every day at five and go and play polo. In those days it was just different. That kind of lifestyle isn’t possible any more.”

Her accounts bring to question: what exact lifestyle isn’t possible anymore? Her reference to the cricket club and her father playing polo are indications of her class position. My grandparents’ kampung is in Rembau, Negri Sembilan. While Rembau is known for its stables, no one in my family has played polo because we’re not privileged enough to do so. Wan lost her mother when she was 8 years old and stopped attending school to take on domestic responsibilities for her siblings. Scheer’s disregard of her class privilege aligns with her generalization of safety. Crime and violence happen every day at any point in history. To assume safety is a given standard to everyone around you indicates an upbringing shielded from violence and adversity.

“Although I’m Dutch, returning to live in a small village in southern Holland was weird because I’d been educated in English up until that point. I never really managed to integrate. At school they called me the Little Chinese Girl and I was teased to death.”

As a mixed-raced immigrant who was raised in racist London, Ontario, I too was called Chinese while attending French Immersion school. I do not, however, empathize with Scheer’s account. How I wish my primary experience of otherness stopped at being “teased to death”. I switched into French Immersion school because my parents believed it would be better for job opportunities. I spoke English with a Malay accent because Mak and I briefly moved back to KL before immigrating to Canada. Wan babysat me while Mak worked as a lecturer and I grasped Bahasa Melayu while simultaneously communicating with Baba in English. I was 4 years old.

“But Holland was not the liberal place it is often portrayed to be and can be quite chauvinistic where professional women are concerned. You are expected to conform to stereotypes and I just didn’t fit the mould. I suppose I was homesick for Malaysia.”

This statement notes her experience of sexism in Holland but foolishly presents the belief that Malaysians aren’t expected to conform to stereotypes. Effectively, what Scheer was homesick for was a privileged, expat lifestyle that humanized her lived experience by affording her individuality through transnational institutions. It’s not Malaysia itself that affords her this individuality but rather her transnational privilege of being an expat in the so-called tropical paradise.

“My dream is to see the baju kurung return, to see Malays dressing beautifully again. I want people here to feel proud of their heritage. Growing up this country was full of beautiful fabrics and colour. I’m on a crusade to make sure that doesn’t disappear.”

Wow. Where do we begin? Crusade?! Evidently, Scheer’s paternalistic statement foolishly echoes sentiments of the White Man’s Burden. Kurang ajar in the literal sense. Baju Kurung never went out of style in the first place. Mak continues to wear kain batik at home here in Canada while Mak Ngah and Mak Busu continue to do so in KL. Since I’ve only spent a handful of rayas in Malaysia, I also wear baju kurung every raya here in Canada too.

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Sarah Barzak

Sarah Barzak

Born in Milwaukee, raised in Canada, I am Kak Long, an eldest immigrant daughter of Malay-Palestinian descent. Cultural Critic & Producer @sarah.barzak on IG