Friday, June 04, 2010

Living In Malaysia: The Child-Free Question

Anyone who tells you Malaysians are conservative people who don't like to talk about delicate subjects like sex is talking bullshit. Let me tell you why.

It's polite in Malaysia to start conversations with, "Where are you from?" "Are you married?" and "How many kids do you have?"

I have no children. Well, I have furkids, but no furrless kids.

When I tell taxi drivers, business men I interview, and other people I meet I have no kids, they ask, "Why not?"

The first time I was pretty taken aback. I mean, it's a rather personal issue, don't you think?

My pal Sandy who tried and tried but couldn't have kids cried so much when cross examined by a taxi driver about her childless state that he dropped her off and refused to let her pay the fare.

I am child-free (pardon the revolting expression) by choice. When questioned I have tried telling the truth, and ended up by being lectured on my Duty To The Family. Right.

I found the solution when driving in a cab one day. When the driver told me I really should have kids before it's too late (oh yes, he said that without a blush!) I told him that I'd love to have kids but that my husband couldn't have any.

At the mention of male sterility the man froze. I watched the blush wash up his neck and into his face. We drove home in total silence; blissful on my part, horrified and scandalised on his.

Luckily my better half has a wicked sense of humour.


Anonymous said...

You tell them to mind their own business. And for the record, "Are you married?" and "How many kids you have?" are Malaysians' template question to "strike" a conversation. The next questions to follow suit are "When is 2nd one coming?", "Are you trying one more time for a boy/girl?"

Life is more than having kids...

Ellen Whyte said...

This was supposed to be out tomorrow: pressed the wrong button....

Tim, I guess you're being questioned 24/7 now thanks to the new baby!

Katnip Lounge said...

HA! I LOVE it! I too only have fur kids...thank goodness I'm now too old to reproduce; or maybe that would be spawn...wicked sense of humor spans the globe!

The Chair Speaks said...

Love your solution answer to the unnecessary question. LOL!

Cat-from-Sydney said...

Aunty Ellen,
I love your wicked humour! I'm relishing that "padan muka" moment of that taxi driver. har har har *evil laughs*

Pelf said...

It's like that in Malaysia, Ellen. Single women are asked why aren't they married and maried women are asked why don't they have kids. We must be a nation of busybodies to ask such personal questions! LOL.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Malaysians tell you they're just trying to be friendly when they are really being very rude. I come from a family where we do not intrude on each others' privacy or ask sensitive or inappropriate questions. Imagine how startled I was when, having gained my independence in my late teens and having started working at temp jobs during the school hols, I was asked questions, by virtual strangers, like: "Why you look like boy? You lesbian aah?" or "You got boyfriend or not? Nochet ahh? Why ahh? Because you look like boy izzit?" or "Why you like Indians / Malays / Punjabis so much aah?"

My expat friends have it worse. We could be having a nice meal in a restaurant or a lively conversation on the LRT when someone just jumps in and asks my friend: "Hello! Welcome to Malaysia? Where you from?" And if they look Pan-Asian, "You mixed, aah?" and if they are of marriagable age: "You married ah? You married what? Local ah? Indian, Malay, Chinese? Got children or not?"

It's enough to make me pull the pins on my imaginary hand grenades and lob it at them.

SeaThreePeeO said...

I was a single mother at one time and going out with a Malaysian boyfriend.

His friends and family could never get their head around the fact that I had a child without being married. Of course this lead to lots of prying questions. Until one day when I was fed up of bveing asked for the millionth time how I managed to have a child outside marriage, I simply and bluntly stated, "I had sex."

They questions stopped after that and the relantionship didn't last.

I am now married with two children.

Mishkat said...

Really interesting post - and really interesting comments! We have an Egyptian friend who used to do this ALL the time. I have other Egyptian friends who don't do it, so I think it was just him. I also don't have children by choice, so I got harassed until I used the same solution that you did! Unfortunately, that didn't shut him up. (Incidentally, he finally stopped when he got threatened with harassment charges for asking a student at work too many personal questions about her relationship with her fiance, but this only worked because we are employed by a state university.)

Amy & the house of cats said...

Oh those questions drive me nuts. I don't understand why total strangers feel the need to know other peoples business. I have to say that is one nice thing here in the US - we do get it but it sounds like much less then you do there!

Cheyenne -Millie said...

My brother and his wife never had kids. They are in their late 40's now. I need to tell him this story.

The Oceanside Animals said...

You and Kristen Tsetsi are on the same page with this one!

BeadedTail said...

We only have furkids too and I don't remember being asked why we didn't have children. I've always found it interesting how other people feel the need to ask others such personal questions like this anyway. I wouldn't dare ask someone but others don't hesitate. I do love your comeback though!

Neri said...

lol, Ellen! This is, SO MALAYSIAN. and the reason why i dread going back to kampung and attending weddings. :) (avoiding the when are you getting married questions)

Unknown said...

Hiya Ellen,

On behalf of all better meaning Malaysians, I apologise for the intrusive questions. Love your retort to the cabbie's nosiness, though, that shut him up good I am sure.

And I laughed to bits reading CO78's response as well. Good one that!

The thing is I guess it is just some Malaysian's way of breaking the ice, thinking nothing of the possibly uncomfortable situation it places on the questionee.

I have family who have been married for years and are yet to be blessed with a child and it kills them a little inside eveytime one poses the question (well meaning or not), thus perhaps it has given me better perspective on how seemingly simple questions can unknowingly hurt.

As a single Malay male here (am thinking I could be a career bachelor, heh!), I too get the similarly veined nosy "When you getting married ah?" question. I used to try and be civil when responding but I nowadays I just smile and ignore the question (because the alternative would or rather could invite further scrutiny into my choice).

And Neri, I so agree with you on the balik kampung part. Which is a shame really, because I do miss my over extended (and occasionally nosy :P) family.

Oh well...

Ellen Whyte said...

Facebook comments:

Busy body taxi driver, huh? :P

yeah, and when you have 2...the busybodies ask you when you're going to have a THIRD...and when you tell them, tutup kilang oredi, they tell you, 'why lah, you still (STILL?!) so young, whaaaat'. Sheeeesh. But I liked the way you ended THAT conversation, Ellen!

I my self dont like ppl to ask personal question like, "how old are u?", "why u're not married?" Pffftttt!!!

yeah, but i like the way u end the conversation :)

Ellen - that male sterility excuse was "below the belt" - in more ways than one! xD

N - you can always use the excuse I use: Tell them that your potential hubby has not reached legal adult age... yet ;D

and there are those who ask you " how much you earn?" I think this really takes the cake.

Pam said...

LOL! Good answer. It should be a personal choice. I couldn't believe the number of times people asked me right after I was married, "So when are you going to start a family?" Sheesh.

Kristen Tsetsi said...

"At the mention of male sterility the man froze."

That is outstanding. I'll have to try that if I'm ever confronted by someone who dares to tell me what I should do with my uterus (and entire life).

(Author of the yet-to-be-released "How to (Not) Have Children")