• Melissa Kartini

#MyFamBam: 50 Shades of Brown

“What are you?”


I get asked that a lot. A question I dread but also kind of enjoy explaining in minute detail. I have extraordinary storytelling skills. Some call it exaggeration, I call it attention to detail. Sometimes, the sadistic part of me enjoys the look of increasing confusion when I talk about my heritage.


I think I owe you an explanation as to why people ask me what I am. I mean, aside from being obviously human and a pretty basic female, what would coax anyone to drop all human decency and political correctness to ask, “What. Are. You? EXPLAIN!!”


As my boyfriend aptly put it, “You look something else; so confusing.”


He meant he couldn’t put a finger on my ethnicity. Because you see, I’m Chinese-Eurasian. Yes, Eurasians still exist in Malaysia. One of them is currently at home watching TVB dramas and grumbling to her husband—my father—that I left my hair clogging the toilet drains, again.


Photo by Alicia Chrissy

My father is ethnic Chinese and my mother is Eurasian. And here’s where it gets interesting; she’s Kristang (Anglo-Indian with Portuguese descent).


And it’s their story I want to tell.


Hold my hand because we’re going back to Brickfields, 1989, the great age of boomboxes and cassette players.


Growing up, I was extremely curious about how my parents met. I would ask my mother and she would tell me different variations of the story. She has a wicked sense of humour. Unfortunately, I inherited that trait.


But one time I got her nostalgic and she told me this story and it made the most sense.

My father was a Taiping boy and my mom a KL girl. He was a Taoist and she, Roman Catholic. He burned joss sticks, she burned incense.


If it was a match made in heaven, I wouldn’t know because when they met, they both believed in a different heaven. Lucky thing is they met on Earth, where the greatest stories are made.


Photo by Alicia Chrissy

Mom lived in the famous 100 Quarters, my father had just relocated to KL to work in the infamous Hock Hua bank. My parents were pretty active when they were young and enjoyed morning runs.


My mom would run with her white spitz every morning. One day, a sweaty Chinese stranger came up to her with a completely original opening line: “I’ve been watching you run every day.”


I think you can imagine my mom’s horror. Good thing her hobby is running.


That was how they met.


Obviously, my father (somehow) managed to woo my mother and 6 months later, they were engaged.


My parents married in the 90s, a time when interracial marriages in Malaysia were taking root in society but still rare. There was still an obvious lack of merging between traditions. An interracial marriage meant that certain traditions would be compromised. My mother’s father refused the traditional Chinese dowry and my parents had both Chinese and Christian wedding ceremonies.


And then they had me and ugh, my two brothers.


Photo by Alicia Chrissy

So good are my parents’ genetic concoction that I have successfully passed off as almost every South East Asian nationality. I’ve been mistaken as a Vietnamese and a Thai, a Sabahan and even a Burmese!


It doesn’t help that I burn easily from Malaysia’s scorching sun and I’m a different shade of brown every other month. My brothers too, hence why I say we are 50 shades of brown - the innocent alternative to 50 Shades of Grey.


My parents raised us Roman Catholic but with Taoist influences. My mother’s favourite story to tell is how I as a baby, left unattended, drank the tea offerings from my paternal grandmother’s altar.


Growing up, my parents were very strict. Sometimes, it became stifling and I rebelled in almost every possible way. If you ask my parents, though, they will tell you a different story about love and toys.


Despite being overprotective of us till today, they unexpectedly supported my intense need to travel and explore the world. With their blessing and sometimes even their funding, I managed to explore several destinations within two years.


It was through this exploring phase that I came to understand and appreciate my parents’ work. I realised how tough it would be for a marriage like theirs to exist in a different geographical location.


Their story was centuries in the making and I call it a twist of fate. I selfishly believe that all the workings in the universe went into making two very unlikely individuals from very different ethnic backgrounds, cultures and religions meet off Jalan Tun Sambanthan. And for that, I am grateful.


Now if only the universe would help me unclog the toilet drains.


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