Monday, August 24, 2015

Musings on perceptions of Americans by Malaysians and Indonesians

Welcome to America, sort of.

In Jakarta our class visited the “@America” cultural center in one of the many malls there. @America is a place for Indonesians to learn and interact a bit with American culture. At the time we went, there was popcorn going and a showing of Red Planet playing in the little theater. In the main foyer, there were couches, walls decorated with graffiti and signs to study in America.There were also TV screens all along the walls with slides telling of “American food,” like chicken fingers, french-fries, and gumbo, along with slides of various celebrities like President Obama or Eminem. There was even a 3-d printer that had printed out a bust of Abe Lincoln and a giant Google Earth screen that one could play with! 

Exploring "American life" @America.

This reminded me of a play I attended in KL about relations between Singapore and Malaysia called “Another Country.” It was a very well done play with many skits and long monologues, varying from the comedic to dramatically heart wrenching. One skit focused on a Singaporean who was studying abroad in the US and furthered the perception that Americans are were mainly Mid-Western, white people who viewed foreigners as “quaint.” Apple pie was pronounced to be one of our staples. Hilariously, one skit took the stereotypes in a direction I had never thought much about - the lack of bidets in America and how it has led Malaysians to think Americans don't wash their behinds. 

Google Earth-ing

One thing I encountered, mainly due to my racially ambiguous face, is that I often had to explain my background to locals in both Malaysia and Indonesia why I didn’t fully speak their language. I’d often get “Oh, but you don’t look American!” which usually wasn't said with malice. Sometimes, in those moments, I felt that for all the ads, movies and music imported from America – all the taxis, ubers and malls seemed to have the English Top 40 radio stations playing– much more needed to be done to promote the melting pot that the United States is. However, I must admit looking back to before this trip, I was equally guilty and ignorant about Malaysian and Indonesian culture. 

A little girl chasing pigeons at the Batu Caves.

Before coming to Malaysia, I had an image of what Malaysians and Indonesians looked like, that is I assumed everyone was “Malay.” I now know that both Malaysia and Indonesia are a melting pot of their own, similar to the United States. 

Walking around Old City, Jakarta


  I found that I personally really enjoyed how, in Indonesia, everyone was bound by the Indonesian constitution to be accepting of different religions and ethnicities.  Indonesia, with its over 300 mindboggling ethnic groups, is fascinatingly multicultural.  It was much more relaxing than KL where ethnic tensions were on the rise. In Jakarta, it was not uncommon for us to hear the Azan (Muslim call to prayer) and church bells ringing at the same time in the background as Professor Heng lectured.

On a different note, what locals viewed as “Western" could be a bit unexpected, especially in terms of food. For instance, there were many burger places and cafes in both KL and Jakarta, but if one were to specify "Western food" at a restaurant or food court, one would most often be given a menu of various Malaysian or Indonesian food with hotdogs and/or ketchup. Sometimes there would even be a choice of pizza or spaghetti with either chopped or whole pieces of hotdogs! 

What makes it American you ask?  Why the hot dogs, of course!

1 comment:

  1. I also wrote this one :) ~Stephanie Simpson