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.