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Diary #03


In a curtain call, the theatre is warmly lit. Audiences on the seats and performers on the stage are clapping their hands.
Curtain call for 'Dance a Dance from My Body' choreographed by Chou Shu-yi, performed at Esplanade Theatre Studio

Being Malaysian Chinese

Last Saturday I watched ‘Dance a Dance from My Body 我所起舞的地方‘ choreographed by Taiwanese choreographer Chou Shu-yi at the Esplanade Theatre Studio, Singapore. Before we watched the show, Shu-yi spoke to us about his ideas of exploring being Chinese in different parts of the world. I don’t feel deeply resonated with the theme “Being Chinese”, “Chinese root” nor “Chinese diaspora”. In my generation, at least for me personally, it’s about being Malaysian.

Growing up, we often need to fill up forms in schools, and they all come with Race: □ Malay □ Chinese □ Indian □ Others. I went to a Chinese primary school and then the national secondary school, I never have to think much about it then. I can always tick the “☑ Chinese” without hesitation. I’m Chinese, but I’m not from China, we are different. Only when I was older, I realised ethnicity is used as political tool to manipulate and divide us especially in Peninsular Malaysia. Then I started to feel strange about mentioning the word Chinese. I’m not Chinese, I’m Malaysian, we are one Malaysia.

On another case, sometimes I would even think negatively of sth/sb is “so ceena” (sooo Chinese). I like it moderately Chinese, eventhough sometimes I like to make fun of my single eyelid, making my eyes really sepet (small eyes), just stereotyping Chinese. Until last year someone else was rewriting my artist statement for me, “Coming from a traditional Chinese-Malaysian environment…“. Then it strucked me that me being a Chinese is a fact and the truth. Why couldn’t I own the identity? I grew up as Malaysian Chinese, I love pork, I just doesn’t like mentioning I’m Chinese, as if it’s a sensitive-word-you-shall-not-named.

But why so?

I think the performance gave me opportunities to look at this. Strangely, I do find some resonance in it, despite I thought I wouldn’t. In the 90min, the performance was trying to speak so much. From the experience of being Chinese in Taiwan/ Hong Kong/ Singapore and bringing me to think about Chinese diaspora in a way that is humanised. Many of my hometown friends have moved to Singapore to seek for better quality of life, some might say Malaysia brain drain, but I’m still proud of them for bravely chasing the lifestyle they wanted. Perhaps that’s how my ancestors have decided to settle down in Malaya. Amidst political unrest, they left their hometown on a rocky boat to come down south for the promise of better livelihood. How was the concept of nation back then, I wonder? Was Malaya still fluid and uncertain? Are they Chinese or Malayan?

Who we are today, were shaped by many in the past before us. I was trying to find a language in the dancing bodies, does the way they dance tells us where they are from? As an untrained audience, I wouldn’t know. However, each of them spoke so much about their lived experience. I couldn’t process it all. From time to time, my mind jumped back and forth, thinking about the previous dialogue, the use of colour, symbolic meaning of the props, sounds, lights, and piecing my understanding together. At one point, I was thinking, they don’t even need to dance because words alot has triggered so much. But then the dancing bodies makes the words much more expressive, shaping an imaginary space, enveloping us, in deep reflection…

I’m from Malaysia, but what is my roots? It’s a question I often wonder. I do not want it to be China, but I’m not Malay either.

[Image description: In a theater, stage lights and house lights are turned on during the curtain call. In the foreground are rows of seated audiences, back facing, clapping for the performance. Dancers stand in a line onstage facing the audiences while clapping their hands.]

Pey Sien Low

Low Pey Sien (b. 1991) is a Malaysian artist from Kuantan, Pahang. She works in photography, film, and graphic media. Her works observe the relationship between space, place, and people. She also freelances as curator and producer.