By Lila Yunardi
Lila is an Acehnese who spent a few of her schooling years in the UK and Malaysia. She is now in the UK pursuing her postgrad degree and hopes to come back and contribute to Aceh’s progress.
My perception of Malaysia changed once my feet took the first steps in LCCT airport in November 2007. Prior to that, I was under the impression that Malaysia was fairly the same as my hometown, the northern tip of Sumatra – Banda Aceh, Indonesia. My country and Malaysia are very much the same, yet different in many ways. Just like twin sisters. How they look alike, but are completely different persons.
I came to Malaysia in 2007. I was 17 at that time, a fresh high school graduate from City of Leeds School, United Kingdom. I really thought I would just be going to local universities in Indonesia, but my dad had other ideas. Based on his friend’s recommendation, I applied to Universiti Tenaga Nasional, more commonly known as UNITEN.
I did not have high expectations of being accepted by the university, as I was a student from Indonesia. Earlier, I had heard from the Indonesian media that the police in Malaysia were not always kind towards non-Malaysians. Especially towards Indonesians. From my readings, I could sense that there was a burst of hatred from the Malaysians towards the Indonesians, which at that time, I did not quite understand.
I got UNITEN’s offer letter later that year, and my dad decided that I should go. Without much thought, I just said yes. I went to Malaysia with a thousand hopes in my eyes. As soon as I arrived, I looked at the people. They are not different from the people in Indonesia, so I questioned myself, “Why do the Malaysians hate my people so much?”
As the only Indonesian at that time, people looked at me as if I were a rare species. It is funny if I think about it again, but then, that is what people do when they look at something so odd. I was not used to it, as my very British-minded head saw it as a very rude thing to do – staring at a person because she is different.
When I told the registration lady that I was from Indonesia, her face showed disbelief. She said, “But your name does not sound Indonesian. It sounds Malaysian”, and I said “Well, my parents loved Arabic names”. It wasn’t an issue to me back then.
As soon as I started class, I made some very good friends, whom I am still in touch with until now. They were the people who stood by me during the 4-year period I was in Malaysia.
The first very memorable encounter that I had with my Malaysian friends was a visit to Nana’s house. Nana told me that her father has Javanese roots and her mother is from Pahang. I went to her house in Kampung Teras Jernang. I was mesmerised by her house. It reminded me so much of my own village back home. She had rambutan trees everywhere. Everyone was very nice to me – I had lunch at her house, and for the first time in my life, I did believe that random people could be nice to you.
I started going to her house more often. Her mother always gave me food right before I went back to university. She reminded me of my own mum whom I missed so much. After 4 years being in Malaysia, I can conclude that I just have to meet the right people. I just have to make everything positive and disregard the negative things about Malaysia.
I have another adopted family. My friend Fatin, took me back to her house once. Her house was in Ampang, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. I had dinner there and stayed over. Her parents were very nice. They invited me to go to their house over and over again. One common thing that we Indonesians have with Malaysians is our hospitality to complete strangers. I believe that my mum would have treated Fatin the same way her parents have treated me.
One day, I felt so lonely and sad, because all of my friends were going back to their hometown for the weekend, and I was stuck all by myself in university. Fatin, as always, invited me again to her house. I spent my whole weekend there. Her family took me out for dinner in a restaurant. We spent the other day shopping and just going around Kuala Lumpur. I felt relieved. This family treated me as if I was one of their own.
Since then, I have spent Chinese New Year and Eid-ul Adha with her family all over her country. I never thought the depth of love for me from a Malaysian family would be that deep. With what has been going on between Malaysia and Indonesia in the media, I thought they would have a deep hatred towards anyone who is Indonesian. But I am so glad that I met a family like Fatin’s.
The lesson learned was that I needed to look people in the eye and clear their perceptions of Indonesians. Yes, sometimes some Malaysians can be racist – not only to Indonesians, but also to their own people. But I guess all I needed to do was see people for who they are. In the end, I met great friends who were Malaysians with diverse backgrounds. We are still friends now. I will be coming back for their wedding ceremonies!
A little diversity in our life never hurt anybody.