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Food For Thought
As We Spark
A Movement Of

Here's where we get to share some of our own experience and
insights as well as provide a place for others to weigh in on
how we can all better Celebrate Malaysian-ness.

The First Question Malaysians Ask About My Wife

By | Celebrate Malaysianness | No Comments


Whenever I meet someone new it’s not long before I tell them I’m married to a Malaysian. Their first question is always the same. If you’re Malaysian you might be able to guess what it is.

“What race ah?”

“Bangsa apa?”

“What race is your wife?”

For the first few years of hearing this question inevitably come up time and time again I wasn’t sure what to think. My impulse was to say, “My wife is Malaysian full stop!” As an American, it just felt wrong somehow that the most important thing about my wife was whether she was Malay, Chinese, or Indian.

It took me a long time to get used to this. Now I honestly see it as the fastest, although not always most accurate, way to understand who my wife is and therefore where we fit into the Malaysian experience. Essentially, it’s a great question if you want to get to know who we are.

For example…

If my wife was Malay then you could assume I converted to Islam to marry her.

If she was Chinese, you might guess that we are in business of some sort.

If she was Indian you could easily assume that I eat very well! In fact, I may enjoy curry a little too much.

I realized from this that Malaysians know instinctively the importance of cultural difference. Which is why they care to ask at all. At the same time many Malaysians are jelak of hearing race over-emphasized constantly and just want to be done with it. The result of this is that many are now moving towards a colour-blind mindset, which if taken too far will disregard the importance of race altogether. Whether we make the issue of race all-important or disregard it we will end up disrespecting people around us. So where is the balance?

I’ve been learning the answer from my two-year-old son, Judah.

As a two year old Judah obviously doesn’t have a handle on the race thing just yet, which is fine. However, he does interact on a regular basis with Malay, Chinese and Indian people. We want Judah to be polite so we are teaching him to greet people and call elders appropriately. The tricky part is that how you greet others depends on what race they are. For example, when do you salam* and when do you shake hands? It depends on race.

So we have to tell our son,

“You can’t call your Chinese uncle, Pak Cik.

“Your abang won’t respond to anneh.”

“And your mei mei probably doesn’t even know what a thangachi is.”

But of course, this is Malaysia, so when in doubt just call everyone Boss!

My point is this. We want our son to see race, not to show disrespect, but greater respect. And of late I have come to realize that by growing up in a multicultural environment, most Malaysians already intuitively know this.

It may be natural to use race as a starting point to guess at who someone is. So if we go that far we should use it as a way of knowing how best to respect one another. We should emphasize race only as far as it serves to honour and respect one another.




Co-developer of the Lepak Game


*Salam is the Malay handshake where for a young child, the child takes the hand of the older person and touches it to his forehead. Judah learned to salam at a young age and it’s always fun to watch people’s faces light up when he greets them in this way, regardless of their race.

The Psychology of Travel

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It’s normal to see the world through a certain grid. Not only is this true in relation to one culture seeing another, but in terms of personality, and even profession. An accountant backpacking through Europe might make excel sheets to minimize cost while maximizing the things to do. This person wants to make sure they get the most bang for their buck and they might see each excursion, ticket, and hotel stay based on profit or loss. Someone who studied History might be willing to spend countless hours exploring ancient ruins or going on guided tours all in an attempt to understand where it all comes from. This person may go deep, rather than wide. They might forsake the many modern cities for the one small town with “character” as they seek greater understanding. For myself, I studied Psychology. Naturally, that means I want to know the locals and understand their culture from their perspective. It also means that I think a great deal about what’s happening within myself, and those I’m traveling with, as a result of travel itself. I’ve found that in traveling, like in relationships, there are some typical stages of development.

The first is the “everything is awesome stage.” This is when you fall in love with the uniqueness of a new culture or place. It’s common in this stage to compare your new surroundings with your home country. Each time you do this new place wins in every way. In a relationship this would be the romantic dating phase, when all his or her little idiosyncrasies are cute and adorable.

Then comes the inevitable “whiplash stage” that results from seeing the less than ideal aspects of the culture or relationship. It’s common for people at this point to go to the opposite extreme into a pessimistic there’s-no-hope way of thinking. This is culture shock. The all too often reply to new information in this stage, “that’s just wrong.” In a relationship, this is when the honeymoon period wears off and you wonder for the first time what you’ve gotten yourself into.

To get to the third phase you may have to hang in there, but eventually you will emerge into the “hopeful realist stage.” You’ve experienced the positive and negative points. While you still see black and white you’re now much more familiar and comfortable with the grey. It’s not right or wrong; it’s usually just different. In a relationship you’ve learned to not judge too quickly and to choose your battles carefully. You now accept based on who that person is rather than how close they are to what you want them to be.

So it seems that travel has a lot in common with friendships, and like Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice.” As you expose yourself to different people you start to value them and in the process you learn to accept them for who they are.



Co-Developer of the Lepak Game

Being Colourblind is Not Being Unified

By | Celebrate Malaysianness | No Comments

We’ve all heard it. We may have even said it ourselves. “I don’t see race, I just see people. I’m colourblind.”

Someone might say this during a discussion about race or cultural differences in an attempt to smooth out any awkwardness. On the surface this statement isn’t all that bad. Most people probably mean to say that they don’t judge others merely based on their race or skin colour.

That’s good.

BUT, there’s a flip-side to this colourblind coin.

If we don’t allow ourselves to see one another’s race then we are essentially disregarding it, sending the subtle message that it doesn’t matter what race you come from. Without allowing ourselves to see each other’s race we can’t accept them fully and we are left unaware of how they have contributed to our own culture.

About six years ago I remember listening to the radio on the way to a friend’s wedding. The DJ said something that struck me so much that I can still remember it today.

He said, “Malaysians are high in tolerance, but low in acceptance.”

If you take the first part of that statement on it’s own it sounds really positive. Being high in tolerance should be a good thing, but when you realise that this tolerance is nothing like actual acceptance the problem can be seen more clearly.

We’re famous for our boleh tahan attitude. We can tahan practically everything from price hikes to the twice a day jam. But we would be much happier without those things in our lives. That is what tolerance is; it’s being able to tahan what you would rather live without.

Acceptance is seeing the worth of another person and wanting them close. Would you rather live among all the same race as yourself or in a multi-racial community?

Our Malaysian-ness is derived from the combination of all the races. We owe our identity to one another. The way to begin this move from tolerance to acceptance is to recognise each other’s differences.

Let’s appreciate the unique individual ingredients of Rojak that makes it so delicious as a whole.


  1. Recognise and value our differences.
  2. Choose to grow our awareness – Don’t assume you understand already. Be curious. Ask questions. And by all means bodek them to tell you more! Don’t be afraid to have conversations about our differences.
  3. Be intentional to pursue multi-racial friendships. Do not be complacent if the majority of your friends happens to be people of your own race. Make the extra effort to better get to know your neighbour or co-worker of a different race!

Let’s move from tolerance to acceptance and then we can really Celebrate our Malaysian-ness!


Help Spark a Movement of Friendship

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We believe the best way to dismantle walls of suspicion and to foster unity in diversity is by building friendships among multi-ethnic Malaysians. That is why our vision is to spark a movement of friendship through play. Everyone has a role to play in making this vision come true, and here’s how you can do your part.

Spread the Fun & Highlight Your Friendships on Social Media

  • Share the ‘play for unity’ vision with your friends.
  • Play The Lepak Game with your multi-ethnic friends, have meaningful conversations and celebrate our Malaysian-ness.
  • Take pictures of you and your friends enjoying the game and tag us @rojakculture and hashtag #playforunity #lepakgame

Be a Host

  • Calling all cafes, F&B outlets – be a host of one of our monthly Jom Lepak sessions to foster friendships.
  • Offer discounts to the Jom Lepak customers to help extend the vision.

Institutions & Businesses 

  • Partner or collaborate with us to spread the vision.
  • Use The Lepak Game as an ice-breaker, team building tool, or conversation starter to strengthen bonds amongst your staff or team, especially multi-ethnic teams.
  • Sponsor merchandise to incentivise Malaysians to highlight their multi-ethnice friendships

Media & Influencers

  • Share the ‘play for unity’ vision and encourage all to celebrate our Malaysian-ness.




How to ‘Ambil Hati’ Orang Melayu

By | Celebrate Malaysianness | No Comments

In the spirit of Celebrating Malaysian-ness we highly value helping people from different races connect and build friendship. With Bulan Puasa underway and Hari Raya coming up soon, here’s a few simple tips on how can you ambil hati orang Melayu.

  1. Be Respectful

Whether in a formal or informal setting it’s always smart to address people politely. Take the initiative to greet those older than yourself. Depending on the age and your relationship with them, you can use the terms ‘Pak cik’, ‘Mak cik’, ‘Bang‘ or ‘Kak‘, which carry a sense of familiarity. Greet your friends with the Malay handshake ‘Salam’. If you Salam and even teach your kids to Salam their elders it will go a long way in showing honour to your Malay friends.

  1. Be Interested

You may probably already know a lot about the Malay culture along with their traditions and celebrations, but there may be some other practices that have slipped through the cracks. Being curious and asking questions to learn about them is always a good idea. It’s amazing how people light up when they are asked to share about what they care about.

  1. Be Appropriate

If you’re invited to buka puasa or to visit for Raya, make sure to wear appropriate clothes and bring buah tangan. Also, simply speaking Malay can show your willingness to connect through their culture.

  1. Be Hungry

No Malaysian needs to be told to enjoy food. Many have probably been enjoying the many Ramadan bazaars whether Muslim or not. Remember, the fastest way to someone’s heart is through their stomach (or your’s!). Showing your Malay friends that you enjoy their food, especially during this time of year, is an easy way to show you also enjoy their friendship.


Simply put, find out what your Malay friends value and show that you value the same. That’s the sure way to ambil hati Melayu. And remember, your Malay friends know you’re not Malay, so it’s all the more special to them that you try so hard!

So what do you think of our list? Would you add anything?

Join us in Sparking A Movement of Friendship