Are you Malay, Chinese or Indian?


“Are you Malay, Chinese or Indian?”

When I first moved to Selangor (or rather, Peninsular Malaysia), I often get shallow questions like this from taxi drivers, shop owners, acquaintances or just random people in general who took a long look at my face and skin and proceeded to ask such ridiculous question.

New in town, I would usually tell the truth; “I’m a Kadazan.” which some of them (not all, but some ignorant ones) confidently continued with a “Ahhh! Orang Sarawak rupanya! (Translation: Ahh! A Sarawakian!)

Fail. Total fail.

I hate being asked this question. I know that they are just curious, but often times, I feel that they just want to figure me out but couldn’t, so they would ask me if I was either Malay, Chinese or Indian just so that they could perhaps, ‘handle’ me according to my race? 

Just an assumption, but a very strong one considering how I was treated on days when I decide to be Malay, Chinese or Indian. (Yes, after awhile, I toy around with this question to which the reply I often get is, “Wah! Indian! Very fair ah your skin!“)


Fellow cab drivers, please take note! In times of utter curiousity, please follow what many cab drivers (especially in my dear old Kota Kinabalu) do. Instead of asking what race your passenger is by shamelessly limiting to only the three races, you might want to ask where we’re from instead. Just a thought.

See, in Malaysia, none of us are exactly Malay, Chinese or Indian because we’re all (like 90% of us) mixed of something. But unfortunately, none of that matters because everyone wants to put us in a box closely related to the three (supposedly) main races here.

It’s like they’re scared or something when they can’t figure out what you are. If you did tell them what you are according to what ethnicity you associate yourself with and if they don’t approve of it, they’ll totally ignore you and remind you again the ‘actual’ ethnicity that you’re in.

Like what my cousin faced today. (You know who you are!)

Idiot: “Excuse me, you ni Melayu atau Cina?” (Excuse me, are you Malay or Chinese?)

Her: “Campur Cina. Bukan Melayu, tapi Kadazan.” (I’m mixed Chinese. I’m not Malay but Kadazan.)

Long pause.

Idiot: “Apa agama you?” (What is your religion?)

Her: “Muslim.”

Idiot: “Laaaa… Cakap la yang you ni Melayu!” (You should have just said that you’re Malay!)

Her: *smiles* “Kalau orang putih Islam, jadi dia Melayu lah?” (If a Caucasian/non-Malaysian is Muslim, so he is Malay then?) *walks away*

Smart move cousin! Smart move!

More than 3 races in Malaysia! No way!

I don’t understand it sometimes.

If Sabah and Sarawak are the only states in Malaysia that has non-Malay, Chinese and Indian people roaming around and if Peninsular Malaysia only have Malay, Chinese and Indian roaming around, then I would understand how some people from Peninsular Malaysia would only limit their list of races to only the three races in whole of Malaysia (because we’re pretty disconnected like that). But Peninsular Malaysia is super rich with so many mixed-raced people! Some of which, I have never heard about or have only heard stories of!!

Like Swedish-Indian or Hawaiian-Chinese! How exotic!

But here in Malaysia, if you tell (ignorant) people that you are Swedish-Indian, their response will be, “Oh! Indian la!!!!


To all the mixed babies out there, consider yourself lain-lain (others) when anyone ask you what you are.

(P.S.: I am not here to talk bad about my country, Malaysia. I love Malaysia. It is home; my home. I am just here to correct mistakes made by SOME of my fellow ignorant Malaysians.)

Author: Jasmine

Jasmine is from tropical Borneo. She loves traveling, fashion and all things lifestyle.

14 thoughts on “Are you Malay, Chinese or Indian?”

  1. That’s why i’m so curious sometimes, whether Malay is even a race, because according to the constitution even a white dude can become Malay (like WTF?)

  2. I got that all the time. To finally find someone who actually felt the way I felt are such a relief. My dad are a chin-dian ( Chinese mix with Indian) and my mum are a malay, and we are muslim

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