Tengku Nur Qistina Petri

In my last column, I spoke of Asian culture possibly appropriating Western culture. In this article, I aim to discuss the differences between cultural appropriation and cultural diffusion. And so, I’ll continue with my nasi kandar story to supplement your Mamak visits. Cultural diffusion, as we know it, differs from cultural appropriation, as it is the spread of a culture from one group to another. The very idea of a spread instead of a “borrowing” suggests the difference between the two: one being organic and the other not so much. Did the West lend their culture of ladies’ clothing to our baju kurung? And, did we culturally appropriate the long dresses and make them “modern” baju kurung? Look to the stores (online, especially) and you’ll probably notice the variety of baju kurung − not just the ones with a teluk belanga neckline, one that identifies a Malay woman back in the 1960s. Walk into a local designer’s store and very rarely do you see the traditional baju kurung on the shelves. I admit it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is cultural diffusion. Malaysia is a multicultural country, in a multicultural region where there is bound to be cultural diffusion between every Asean country. We share at least some similarities with our neighbouring countries. Our wayang kulit has its brothers and sisters in Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar. The food that whets our appetites and reminds us of home when we set off to foreign lands, share similarities with those of our neighbours. And, the name nasi kandar itself comes from the Indian community who would sell lunch as they “kandar” the Indian food on their shoulders. The nasi kandar craze in itself, one enjoyed by Malaysians of every race, is evidence of a cultural diffusion. Char koay teow and even the participation of different races in open houses every time a festival comes along is evidence of cultural diffusion. But then again, Malaysia’s own culture is based on an understanding of cultural diffusion. As history tells us, we were once under the British. Look around you and you can see that today’s Malaysia is built largely on foundations laid by the colonialists. When the British packed their bags in the 50s, they could not take everything with them because they came and left us with something: their culture. Today, people of different religions celebrate Christmas − it’s no longer just the Christians who do so. Christmas has grown to be a symbol of gatherings and celebration for different races. A scroll through Instagram revealed evidence of this: My Buddhist friend organised Christmas parties for her Hindu, Christian, atheist and Buddhist friends. They dined together with their Christmas hats on, right after having their fair share of fun with their Christmas crackers. Be it from the direct influence of the British culture, or the acceptance of a general Western culture of celebrating Christmas, the presence of Christianity itself in our culture too, signifies cultural diffusion. Malaysia, as everyone knows, is a melting pot of cultures. Its geographical location between strong economies, even in history, has indeed contributed to the formation of what we call Malaysian culture. As much as we attempt to strive for a singular identity, we must realise that the Malaysian identity is a conglomeration. The differences and influences from various cultures, and even our openness and warmth towards foreign cultures is what defines Malaysian culture. Our fusion food, our channelled innovation towards the one thing we love the most: food. The passing food trends that come and go (currently it’s salted egg pastries, especially salted egg croissants, and cronuts) is evidence of this. Simply said, when it comes to culture (in this case, I mean food, as an example of a very strong Malaysian culture), Malaysians are always open to something new, tasty and innovative. Especially if we can appropriate it, diffuse it with our own local taste, give it a little twist of our culture, the Malaysian way, while still allowing every party to appreciate it. Compared to the culture of allowing for appropriation to offend, and diffusing to forget, Malaysians will do so. But probably only to make it tastier!

New Straits Times, 6 February 2016 at 11:01 AM
Gift for blending best of cultures
By Tengku Nur Qistina Petri
Read More : http://travel.nst.com.my/news/2016/02/126038/gift-blending-best-cultures

It has washed up on our shores. Almost. Like most millennials, I grew up learning of the consequences of terrorism. I would not know much or imagine living in the shadow of the Cold War because it was all about the 9/11 attacks. If there was one word that would summarise the weekend, it would be one: Fear. Warnings have been issued for places that would find us spending our weekends in − Bangsar, Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur City. After the terrorist attacks in Jakarta last week, terrorism has gotten too close for comfort for us Malaysians, especially those in the capital city. The day the attacks happened, I remember being glued to news channels. It was a terrorist attack, but it did not have the same effect the attacks on Paris or London did. The attack was too close for comfort. Everyone said it was slowly knocking on our doors. Despite the fear that gripped Indonesia’s neighbouring nation(s), the Indonesians retaliated, they responded by saying “Kami Tidak Takut” (We are not afraid). This is obviously in retaliation to the main aim of the terrorists: is to instill fear and to keep everyone indoors. Photos of an Indonesian man selling satay on the very same street where the bombs went off could not have been a better example. In this case, actions are stronger than words. In the recent months, Malaysians have to admit to a turmoil of events that have captured us and put a majority of the people in anguish. There is a threat to our financial stability, but now we have a threat to our personal safety. Albeit, this threat lies within a certain population (the whole 1.7million of them), but the possible spread of terrorism in our homeland and the possibility of a home-grown terrorism would pave the way and give an inclination towards the possible acceptance of terrorism. That, in itself, is a threat to the ethics and culture of us Malaysians. It is a part of our culture to be accepting and tolerant, given the multiple faiths and culture that exist. Terrorism is nothing new in Malaysia. We found independence while facing the threat of the communist insurgency. Not too long ago, Lahad Datu was attacked. It’s safe to say our government has had its fair share of experience against terrorism, and on both accounts, we won. But, it is nothing compared to the impending threat that we face now. Firstly, it threatens our capital city. The very concentrated space that homes 1.7 million people. The capital city is also synonymous to the definition of Malaysia – the skyscrapers, the food and the people. As I write this, messages have circulated about the beefed up security, and the risk of certain areas. I send messages to my loved ones to stay at home. But, I think of the reaction the Indonesians had when they were attacked − #KamiTidakTakut and wonder if I should feel scared. It makes me think of the reaction that we, as Malaysians, should have. After all, terrorism is nothing more than a psychological warfare. But, the fact remains that our personal security and safety is threatened, as so we voluntarily paralysed our lives to accommodate the threat of terrorism on our shores. When the most unpleasant thing happens to us, Malaysians, how will we react? We know what the government will do, but what will we do in our homes? Will we retract into our homes in the days and months to come, and be afraid of the terrorists, allowing them to fulfil their aims, or will we unite as Malaysians and tell them that we do not fear them, as how the Indonesians did? Do we allow the fear of an attack to control us, or do we move on with our lives to show the terrorists that they have failed in their mission? It was the same sentiments that I collected when the plane disasters happened two years ago. Getting on a plane became scary for us Malaysians. But after two years, the fear is slowly fading. Because, life has to go on. The psychologists call this the “Terror Management Theory” where the awareness of the inevitable death of self affects our behaviour. On that Sunday, KL saw the change in behaviour of Malaysians because the places that were normally crowded with families having their Sunday lunches were not anymore. But, should this continue to give the terrorist control over our fear? Of course, not. We must realise that the terrorists want nothing but control over us through fear. We must do what we can within our capacity to show them just that. We may not be army-men, we may not be a part of the Malaysian intelligence, but we are laymen, and we fight them within our own capacity. We are doing as much as we can to be vigilant while we walk around the streets, we block the websites that might recruit and spread terrorism, we try to stop those who have fled the country. We hope that nothing would happen to us, but if it does, there is nothing more to say to the terrorists, but “Kami tidak takut”.

New Straits Times, Published: 21 January 2016 at 11:01 AM
Fight or flight?
By Tengku Nur Qistina Petri
Read More : http://travel.nst.com.my/news/2016/01/123225/fight-or-flight

Cultural appropriation is normally seen through the lens of the Western world. A quick Google search would lead to only the Western take on the topic, and criticisms of Western culture appropriating South American, or even Asian cultures. Even the definition of cultural appropriation shines a negative light: “Adopting aspects of a culture that is not one’s own.” For example, the practise of yoga (Note: yoga was deemed an insensitive instance of cultural appropriation by Canada’s Ottawa University). Are “fine dining” foods cultural appropriation? What about the use of local sources to create food that has been inspired by Western influences? Looking at Malaysia, products of cultural appropriation surround me. I think that sometimes, they disguise themselves as remnants of our colonial past. The presence of a colonial building, in itself, might actually be an example of cultural appropriation; not one of a Western appropriation of an Asian culture, but rather, the other way around: Asian appropriation of a Western culture. The Asian appropriation of Western culture comes served to us on a plate. I, for one, have grown accustomed to, and grew up eating, fusion food. Maybe it is in Malaysia’s tradition and history that we consume fusion food. After all, we are a melting pot of different races, different histories and different traditions. Many Malaysian favourites, such as roti canai, murtabak and roti John, are examples of our take on cultural appropriation, or rather, cultural diffusion. Cultural appropriation, defined by the Western world, normally connotes a negative impact. However, since we are viewing things from a localised, and Asian, perspective, we should also view things from a different and more positive view. Roaming the streets of Bangsar, Pudu, or even the “old city” of Kuala Lumpur, I feel a strong sense of familiarity with the three years I spent abroad. The concept of revitalising the old ruins and historical past of colonial buildings and turning them into cafes, echoes my days roaming around Manchester’s Northern Quarter, famous for its “hip” and “cultural” scene. The comparison between the two is enough to encourage a thought of cultural appropriation in me. How much cultural appropriation do we, as Malaysians, participate in? Would we be able to say that we have culturally appropriated ourselves to the Western world since the colonial period? Or is it cultural diffusion? We adopt their political system, we have adopted their clothes. We have also adopted their food, and their celebrations: Christmas and New Year play an important role in Malaysian communities: many of my non-Christian friends celebrate it with much joy, and even more so than Chinese New Year. Is that our example of cultural appropriation? Or is it cultural diffusion? Or is it just because we were once a colonised nation? When visiting restaurants, being the foodie that I am, I have found new restaurants being innovative with their cooking. Too often, the food they make is called “fusion food”, but, there is a sense of cultural appropriation in them. Having a Quinoa Lemak (a modern, healthy and possibly Western take on our traditional nasi lemak) is definitely fusion, and culturally appropriated from a healthy Western favourite for the Malaysian palate. Similarly, when I visited a famous Malaysian restaurant in Manchester, famed for its “authentic” Malaysian dishes, I found neither the curries nor the char kuey teow as spicy or as flavourful as at our local ‘Uncle’s’ at the hawker stall; so much so that some would say it is not how kuey teow as it is meant to be, but a Western take on our local favourite. The emergence of fusion food obviously comes from the availability of resources; but right now, we are importing Western resources into our local culture and food. Would food, then, be an example of cultural appropriation, or cultural diffusion? In trying to figure out, and expand on ideas surrounding a Malaysian take on cultural appropriation, I will try to draw the lines between cultural appropriation, cultural diffusion and simply being a country with a colonial past. In the next few articles, I will attempt this, in hopes that, as we Malaysians walk past buildings, or have lunch, we are more aware of the origins of our food, and our past. And maybe then, our nasi kandar will taste a lot better with that little bit of historical spice that comes with it.

New Straits Times, Published: 2 January 2016 at 11:00 AM
Malaysia's borrowed culture
By Tengku Nur Qistina Petri
Read More : http://travel.nst.com.my/news/2016/01/120108/malaysias-borrowed-culture

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