Monday September 24, 2012
SAMBAL ON THE SIDE
By BRENDA BENEDICT
Our writer discovers there are several things about her that get people curious and eager to engage in conversation.
EXCUSE me. Are you Brazilian?” While this sounds like a poor imitation of the title of the late Singaporean model, Bonny Hicks’ biography, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked this question.
I’ve already been asked on the train, at the main train station and at our train stop. Come to think of it, perhaps it has something to do with the tedium of waiting for a train, that has people checking out their fellow commuters and wondering whether some random person might well be their fellow countryman.
“No, I’m not.” The reaction that often ensues is either a crestfallen look from older askers and complete mortification from the younger ones, all with their eyes moving upwards in bewilderment to my head. To ease their well... uneasiness, I often add, “I know. The hair throws you off right?”
And that’s an automatic opener for them to start explaining why they were convinced that I was one of them. Their questions then progress to my nationality and eventually ethnicity, and often ends with them saying, “I would never have guessed Malaysia. Maybe some island or Brazil or maybe even Spain, but definitely not Malaysia.”
Sometimes though, I suspect that some are uncertain as to where this country starting with the letter ‘M’ actually is.
Just two days ago, while I waited for my (you guessed it!) train, a friendly aunty come up and asked me if I was Brazilian. I politely said “No” and was going to continue reading my magazine when she probed further, “Spain?” and I simply answered, “Malaysia” to which came the rejoinder, “Ahh, so you are from Spain.” I guess she had probably assumed “Malaga”. I had to smile and explain, “No. It’s in Asia.”
Others immediately become animated at the mention of Malaysia and proceed to regale me with tales of their trips aeons ago to Ye Olde Smokehouse on Fraser’s Hill or Tioman or “Perhenchian” Island.
This is not new to me though. Not everyone in Malaysia can figure out where I’m from either. How often have our cabbies told me that they thought I “was a Negro” because “your hair, ah, macam Tina Turner lah.”
Curls aside, I’ve recently been addressed via other unusual ice-breakers like complexion and brand of perfume.
The former is often set in fitting rooms and has escalated over the past couple of seasons’ colour-blocking trend. I’ve had girls look wistfully at me as I tried on tangerine or cobalt blue clothes and comment, “You’re so lucky that you have the skin tone to use these colours. We’d just end up looking like corpses in them!”
While I sympathise with them, their comments often make me inwardly smirk as it underscores my constant rant against bleaching products that are rampantly marketed in Asia. Remember the bleaching product for the nether regions that was touted in India around April this year?
The most unusual opener to date, however, has been my choice of fragrance. A month back, I paid a visit to our car dealership to have our defective rear view mirror replaced.
This is your standard male-dominated dealership where almost everyone carries himself as he were a clone of Tim Allen’s character in Home Improvement.
After getting the said mirror, I went to the cash register that was manned by a burly, no-nonsense looking gentleman. Expecting the usual service without a smile, I simply placed the mirror on the counter and waited to pay.
“May I say something?” I looked up expecting him to tell me to go to the next counter. “I hope you don’t get offended – you smell really good! I deal with sweaty, oily men all day that it’s so nice to serve a pretty, nice smelling-lady for a change.”
I was gobsmacked and could only manage a “thank you.” After which, I was asked to write the name of the brand for him as he thought it might make a good gift for his wife. There have been several such incidents since.
While this may sound trivial to some, it’s unusual to have strangers – and pleasant ones at that – speak to you in a city where many speak to themselves instead. It’s out of turn for a place better known for its generally taciturn folk.
I take it in my stride. It never hurts to be civil and it’s always good to talk.
> Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. She would like to thank Estee Lauder’s Pleasures perfume for the many ‘olfactory opportunities’ for breaking the ice.