rakyat / Jordan

When I started this blog back in 2004, I wasn’t really sure if I would stay here for the rest of my life. It just didn’t feel like home. Sure, I’d been here for less than two years, but I was still adjusting. Being blessed with an understanding wife and a loving family here did help. But I didn’t really have many friends of my own. I didn’t feel like I belonged here.

Blogging made a difference. Through blogging, I became part of a community. This was back in the days of Project Petaling Street, when I was writing posts and publishing them and pinging PPS, and people were reading my posts and leaving comments, and I was doing the same at other blogs. I got to know a few like-minded people who I began to consider friends, even though I would only meet some of them in person once or twice (in fact, there are some I’ve only met in the last year or two, after knowing them online for so many years). Whenever I went to the Immigration Department to get another pass, the government made it quite clear to me that I was just a visitor. But that loose community of bloggers acknowledged me as one of their own — at least some did — which I appreciated even if the gestures were small. Little things can make a big difference. I was even included in a project called 50 Posts to Independence, which saw bloggers offering up various perspectives on Malaysia as it approached 50 years of independence in 2007 (my contribution was number 40 and shows I was still in the early stages of wrestling with what it means to be an immigrant in Malaysia). Being allowed to contribute, to be part of that online community of communities, made a difference to me. It helped me feel a little more at home.

Through the people I met online, I was able to get into writing professionally. I began to move in other circles. It wasn’t just about blogging anymore. Then Facebook and Twitter came along and became popular, and became the settings for many conversations that had once been found mostly in the blogosphere. I was (and still am) active on both platforms and kept making friends and taking part in those conversations. With each passing day I felt more at home in this country. I don’t recall waking up one morning and thinking Hey, Malaysia feels like home now, but that’s how I was beginning to feel, slowly but surely. Not just part of an online community, or a few online communities, but part of the community, period. It wasn’t just because of online interactions — I think I was just more comfortable with Malaysia generally, with the language, the culture, the food, maybe even the weather, maybe even (gasp) the way people drive here — but those online interactions really helped.

At the end of last year, someone nominated me to be ‘curator’ of Malaysia’s Twitter account for a week, and I was asked by the admins to give it a go. Well, it’s not an official account or anything (unlike Sweden‘s Twitter account, this one wasn’t set up by the government, just by some people who felt Malaysia should have a Twitter account). But it’s become Malaysia’s voice on Twitter nonetheless, with Malaysians of various backgrounds taking turns at the microphone. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take that on — how would people react to a foreigner representing the rakyat? — but I finally decided to go for it. Besides, Sharon Bakar was the curator the week before me, and she survived. So on New Year’s Eve I took over the account and spent a week chatting about Malaysia with Malaysians, and with people elsewhere. On my Twitter profile my name shows up as Jordan MacVay, but for that week I was rakyat / Jordan (my dictionary defines rakyat as “people; citizen; subject”).

It turned out to be a great experience. I’m sure there were some people who weren’t thrilled that I was the face of Malaysia for a week, and I had less-than-thrilling moments as well thanks to endless questions and wisecracks about How I Met Your Mother, South Park, and Justin Bieber. But it was a good week. I managed to cover a lot of topics, including the immigrant experience (mostly from the perspective of a ‘white’ immigrant anyway, but also generally), travel, language, culture, and even testicular cancer awareness. I also managed to tweet quite a bit in Bahasa Malaysia, the national language, which I also do sometimes at my own account. I think I managed to keep things interesting throughout the week, and was pretty well received by the account’s followers. Some people, including friends of mine, attributed that to cultural immaturity and an obsession with ‘white’ people. But while my skin colour or ethnicity or whatever likely played a part in the positive reception I got, I like to think I did well both because of and in spite of those things. Maybe people were pleasantly surprised to know there are orang putih who don’t live in little expat bubbles, who can speak the language, who know the culture. And there certainly are, though not as many as one might think. And more than anything I like to think I did well because I was me. Some of the friends I’ve made through blogging, and writing, and Twitter, these aren’t people who are immature or overly fascinated by ‘white’ people. They let me into their lives because I’m me, because they like certain qualities I have, whatever those qualities are. I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s about more than just something as crude as race. It’s about who I am.

Actually, who am I? That week really got me thinking about identity. I’m Canadian by nationality, but there’s more to one’s identity than just nationality. When I was growing up on Cape Breton Island, if someone asked me to put a label on myself besides Canadian, I probably would have said Scottish, as most of my ancestors were Scottish and Cape Breton’s culture has retained strong Scottish influences. But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t qualify to curate Scotland‘s Twitter account, because I’m neither from there nor do I live there. Yet there I was, representing Malaysia, something a much-younger me would probably find pretty wild. The notion of being a Cape Bretoner, or a Maritimer, or a Scot, or a Gael, or a Celt, or other labels I might use to identify myself in certain contexts, is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially since my time as curator. I’ll definitely be exploring the issue of identity in greater depth in the near future.

For now, though, I feel more than ever that at least one label I’m beginning to feel comfortable using to identify myself, besides Canadian and ‘citizen of the world’, is…Malaysian. Yeah, that is pretty wild. I didn’t need that week as curator of Malaysia’s Twitter account to make me feel like I am indeed part of the rakyat, but it certainly added to this feeling I’ve been having that this place I live now really is home, that it’s becoming a part of me. I’m Canadian by nationality, and a few other things by ancestry and ethnicity or whatever. And I’m a little more Malaysian with each passing day.