What Set You Apart From Other Kids When You Were In School?

Ooooh, brought to you by Quofda and Chawlk, let me count the ways shall we? But first, a brief background information.

Malaysia’s schooling system while not officially in the books, is culturally segregated by race and religion. With the three main races being Malays, Chinese and Indians, everyone pretty much sticks to their own groups. In primary school (that’s 1st to 6th grade for you American folks), they even have different schools that teach different primary languages So in government schools they teach Malay as the primary language, Chinese schools teach Mandarin and Indian schools teach Tamil, you get the idea.

So to start things off, I started off in a Chinese primary school. At this time, being the only Malay in one didn’t buy me any points with the other kids. I think whatever points I had started to subtract because while I wasn’t brilliant, I was certainly kicking a lot of kids asses grade wise. Now culturally speaking, Malaysian Chinese don’t like to lose on a principal, much less to people they are different. I was beaten up a lot for it. Didn’t take the second punch to realize I was different from the rest.

I was too much of a geek back then too. I would spend my time reading books over by the quiet school verandas trying to avoid the next beating. I didn’t make many friends either. At least not until the final year before high school.

High school on the other hand was a whole different story altogether. I went to a public high school, which meant an institution that most people in Malaysia grew up in culturally speaking. As a person who has a different blood and was educated and spoke differently with mannerisms that aren’t of my own race and even culture, blending in with people who have been together since primary school wasn’t a walk in the park.

Because the curriculum is set for you and you can’t choose them out on a whim, it makes the segregation more apparent. Here I was, someone who believed that race shouldn’t matter, without a religious bone in his body, forced to take mandatory Islamic classes which separate Muslims and students of other beliefs.

Needless to say, the first 3 years of high school were the toughest in my life. More so knowing that not even the other races welcomed me because to them, I was just another Malay who’s supposed to stick with his own group.

When I look back on those days, being a geek would have been the last of my problems. I had my fair share of messing around the chem lab. Being in the school debate team that went all the way to being district champs for 3 years. Heading the choir club as head tenor for a couple of years. I was the bookworm. I was the techgeek who knew his way around any computer. I was the know-it-all troubleshooter. Being the oddball that that allowed myself to be used didn’t really hurt me as much as being singled out because of what I believed in and what I am.

The upside of course was that I was in the company of a lot of girls, most of which liked the company of a guy who they could talk to and lean on. It helped build the experience and reputation I enjoy with women today. So not all was bad. At least I can see that standing where I am now so far away from the people and events that were painful to me.

Yet I would always look back at my school life with a kind of horror. One that I would never wish on anyone I cared for, nor one I wish to repeat ever. It’s made me someone utterly unique and for that I still wouldn’t change a thing. Yet as far as being different from other kids. I took the cake. I knew it. They knew it. I just didn’t know that at the end of it, I would probably be laughing my head off at everyone who turned away for me being any less of myself.

9 thoughts on “What Set You Apart From Other Kids When You Were In School?

  1. i was “transferred”(1) to another school at 9 years old pending “disciplinary problems”(2)

    1) either i left or be expelled
    2) i was a myriad of problems including severe anti-authorianism and generally snottiness, and they’d run out of ideas on how to control me.

  2. Dont forget… i wash my seniors undies, and run around hostel with a big bag of vitagen bottles over my back singing ” JinBogel ” instead of jinglebells

  3. Doesn’t anyone do English as their primary language?
    Also, don’t most of the Chinese in Malaysia speak Hokkien, Cantonese, etc and not Mandarin? That would be a bit like saying “I’m Germanic so I’ll have my children educated at school in Dutch!” when actually our language is English (English and Dutch are more similar from what I’ve observed than Cantonese and Mandarin)…

    your exposee on the Malay educational system is fascinating. I will give you a shout on my blog tonight.

    Take it easy!

  4. Lainie: Now that’s what you call a young rebel. But then you’re always nice, in a bordering insane, almost calming way. Maybe that’s just me. 🙂

    Ajlaa: That’s what you did, but what set you apart as a person from the rest?

    Gledwood: English is taught as a secondary language in Malaysia rather than a primary. At least when I was in it. They are trying to teach science and maths subjects now, but as long as most of the subjects aren’t done in English, I don’t see how that’s going to be of much use.

    While there are so many different chinese dialects, certain states have their preference on the distribution (Sounthern Malaysian states have a predisposition for Mandarin where as Kuala Lumpur itself have a lot of Cantonese speaking people). Mandarin is pretty much the unified language that most chinese educated Malaysian chinese do understand. I don’t know about Dutch, but I can understand Cantonese because it’s similar to Mandarin so I’m not completely lost.

  5. Interesting background, and how it has had an impact on you. I’m glad you look back at it as a positive experience.

    I’ve had some horror years at school, but unlike you, I still don’t see anything good about it, nor will I ever.

  6. Well Cléa, it makes us who we are, for better or for worse. To love yourself is to accept that some pasts cannot be rewritten. Guess if we look at things that way, it’s thoughts like this that set me apart even as a kid.

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